When the revolutionaries of France began building their new order, they knew it would have to include religion. Even the atheists among them saw that the people needed comforting rituals and sanctioned celebrations to usher them through life. The Christian God, however, had been sent to the guillotine; an alternative was required. Their answer was the Cult of Reason.
Just like old-style religion, the Cult had centres of worship, virtue-stiffening sermons and a calendar of festivities. These climaxed with the Fête de la Raison of November 1793, for which churches across France were renamed “Temples of Reason”. The altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame was replaced with a model mountain, atop which a mini Greek temple stood dedicated “To Philosophy”. Beside it burnt the Torch of Truth and the lengthy proceedings culminated with the appearance of an attractive women dressed in red, white and blue embodying the Goddess of Reason.
…After all, stealing the best ideas of other faiths is itself a venerable religious tradition. The great creeds have never been afraid to appropriate rituals, saints or myths from earlier belief systems – even Christmas and Easter, Christianity’s two most important festivals, are revamped versions of older rites. Secular society too should therefore be unembarrassed about adopting what is best from the believers. It is time for a new Cult of Reason.
I’m going to ignore the low-hanging fruit about how well that worked out for the Jacobins and instead reach higher up the tree for the suggestion that obedience to authority, ritual repetition of empty slogans and deference to symbols learned by rote, and, last but certainly not least, the very idea of a “cult” itself are all anathema to what most people who use the term reason in opposition to religion understand it to represent. Good thing I don’t have an irony meter.