The believer’s inner needs »« Like so much garbage

It wasn’t like that

A couple of “Really? Is that actually true? Do you really know what you just asserted?” items from a review of three books on god, meaning, what to do without god, emotional needs, and the intersections between them all.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution…

The fundamental tension, however, remained unresolved: between, on the one hand,  the views of an expanding educated class who saw the many holes in Christian  doctrine, and on the other, the people’s need for guidance and meaning that the  Church had long fulfilled.

It had? Really?

I don’t think so. I think Stephen Cave is reading backward, from the way people view religion now, and assuming that’s the way they viewed it then. But I don’t think the 18th century Catholic church in France did fulfill the people’s need for guidance and meaning, any more than a boss does that for the workers now. I think that idea is a very contemporary, cozy view of religion which makes sense at a time when religions have to work to appeal to people, but makes much less sense for a time when religion was pretty much mandatory. I think the 18th century Catholic church in France was a great deal more about telling the people what to do than it was about fulfilling their need for guidance and meaning. (Of course, you can translate “telling them what to do” into “fulfilling their need for guidance” but it’s a considerable cheat. It wasn’t “guidance,” it was orders. Much of it isn’t “guidance” even now.)

The inspiring stories of the world’s holy books are about troubled souls courageously choosing the rugged path of righteousness over wickedness and temptation.

They are? Really?

I don’t think so. A lot of the ones in the bible are about loyalty to the tribe and its god versus other tribes and their gods. True, there are also some stories about chaste, loyal-to-the-tribe young men resisting wickedness and temptation in the form of some whorey slutty woman trying to lure them into whorey slutty sex, but there’s more fighting and plotting and revenge among the men. Righteousness doesn’t really come into it most of the time.

It’s the pious orthodoxy of the moment: that religions have always been what some of them try to be now, and that they are fundamentally about meeting people’s needs as opposed to controlling them.

Comments

  1. says

    In the 18th century the entire liturgy of the Catholic Church was in Latin (except for the Kyrie which was in Greek). Although there were translations for the individual prayers and of the bible, there were no parallel translations of the mass or other church services. Thus even the majority of educated French could not follow what was going on as only the sermon would be in French and to the illiterate majority it was just incomprehensible magic. Religion was seen as a legitimate means of control even among the more “enlightened” bourgeoisie. The attitude was that you made sure the servants went to church and did not talk about anything as controversial as atheism within their earshot in case they started stealing the silverware. Apparently whether you were capable of being good without God depended on your social class.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Bernard Hurley #1

    Thus even the majority of educated French could not follow what was going on as only the sermon would be in French

    In the 18th Century Latin was the language of education. Most university classes were given in Latin and almost all scholarly books were written in Latin. I think you mean “literate” rather than “educated.”

  3. Stacy says

    The attitude was that you made sure the servants went to church and did not talk about anything as controversial as atheism within their earshot in case they started stealing the silverware. Apparently whether you were capable of being good without God depended on your social class

    That attitude’s still around. That’s why atheist Leo Strauss thought political leaders should promote religion, and why the American neoconservatives he inspires–a fair contingent of whom are Jews and/or agnostics–support the Christian right.

    I think Cave’s view of the church is remarkably ahistorical.

    It’s part of religion’s privilege–to be seen through glasses that reveal a blurry, rose-colored vista of benignant generalities.

  4. sailor1031 says

    “…and on the other, the people’s need for guidance and meaning that the Church had long fulfilled”

    This isn’t ahistorical it’s contrahistorical. In fact the church was one of the main oppressors of the poor and raggies, dedicated to keeping them in their place. They existed as yet another taxing organization to take what little the King and the nobles had left the poor with. And, as pointed out above, there was not much attempt to console the poor; rather for centuries the church used privilege and superstition to keep the poor ignorant, afraid and obedient. A la lanterne! Mort aux vaches!!

  5. says

    ‘Tis – in the 18th century? Are you sure? That wasn’t true in Britain, for instance, and I think it wasn’t true in Europe in general. University classes had been taught in the vernacular for…three? four? centuries by then, surely. I don’t think that’s even true of scholarly books. 16th century, yes, 18th, I don’t think so.

    Think Erasmus, then Montaigne. Erasmus wrote mostly in Latin; Montaigne (and Cervantes and Shakespeare) didn’t. University students had to be fluent in it, but they weren’t taught in it by then.

  6. says

    ‘Tis Himself, OM says:
    ‘Tis Himself, OM says:

    Most university classes were given in Latin and almost all scholarly books were written in Latin. I think you mean “literate” rather than “educated.”

    Well it depends how you look at it. Descartes wrote both in Latin and in French, in Latin for the international academic audience and in French for the French speaking bourgeoisie. When he argued, in French, that the brain not the heart should be considered the place where the soul interacted with the body and that we only felt emotions in the heart because there were nerves connecting the two, he was not targeting an audience with only basic literacy. There was a vast cottage industry of private tutors servicing the sons (it usually was sons) of the neauveau riche, very few of whom would end up in university. But I wouldn’t call them uneducated.

  7. says

    And Descartes was 17th century, not 18th. I’m pretty sure the vernacular was universal for almost all purposes (except the church!) by the 18th century, especially the late 18th.

    Dave would know. Dave wrote a book about the French Revolution.

  8. stripey_cat says

    Latin persisted as a useful way to communicate if you didn’t speak the mother-tongue of everyone you wanted to reach. However, it had been replaced by English or French (or whatever) for meetings and publications of national scientific organisations.

  9. says

    I was dragged to Catholic church with the Latin Mass as a child, and as a classical music recording engineer, I have heard the Catholic liturgy (sung) in Latin a lot

    You know, the priest says exactly the same stuff, week after week. By no means do I speak or read Latin, but I sure know what “quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae” means. I think the average Joe Blow in the pews in 18th century France did also.

    And, by the way, I too can’t see how the Church “fulfilled the people’s need for guidance and meaning.” That makes it sound like attendance was voluntary, that someone who had some kind of spiritual longing would find solace in the church rituals. What, like if they found the Catholics too strict, they could shop around of a denomination that suited them better? (Without going to prison, I mean)

    And even today, I suspect most churchgoers wouldn’t think of “guidance and meaning” as a reason to attend.

  10. says

    Peter N, you went to a very strange Catholic church if you heard that line every week as it is from the Magnificat which is not part of the Tridentine Mass. Bach’s setting of the Magnificat is very popular so you are probably familiar with it from your work as a recording engineer.

  11. says

    Bernard,

    Quite right you are. My earworm du jour happened to be the Magnificat from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers — must have clouded my judgment!

    – PN

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>