French versus American Revolution: A Comparison of Their Attitudes towards Religion

The last quarter of the 18th Century saw two countries fight revolutionary wars that changed the course of history. While the French and American Revolutions sought to achieve almost congruent goals, there were significant differences between the two conflicts in terms of complexity, outcome, and context. The American Revolution involved a society seeking to govern itself, thus requiring existing powers to surrender. On the other hand, the French revolution involved a group of people who sought nothing to react to the ineffectiveness of existing leadership. One key difference that stands out between the two wars was their attitude towards religion. The attitudes of the French Civil Constitution of the Clergy and De-Christianization program differ from those of the American colonial Founding fathers and the U.S. Constitutions’ First Amendment.

The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, Constitution Civile du Clergé, was aimed at transforming the church. Specifically, it sought to regulate and reorganize the catholic church of France and bring it in line with the objectives and lines of the revolution (Radif & Ahmed, 2019). Additionally, it was passed by the French National. The civil Constitution significantly reduced the number of the clergy members and made the bishops and archbishops civil servants.  The clergy was also forced to take an oath of office, one establishing loyalty to the nation. Earlier on before the French Revolution, the church was often represented as having failed to represent holiness and goodness it claimed to hold dear. The passing of the Act become one of the most decisive policies and a critical turning point of the French Revolution.

The dechristianization of France intended to excise religion from French society. Ideally, ‘dechristianization’ was used to describe a number of policies adopted by various governments in France during the revolution. The key goals of the policies ranged from the public announcement of the vast power and wealth held by the Catholic Church in France to the cessation of religion practices. Initially, the church was attacked because of the corruption and extensive wealth of the clergy. Many French nations, even Christians, identified with the action due to the preeminent role held by the Catholic Church during the pre-revolutionary period in France (Radif & Ahmed, 2019). Dechristianization program became more prominent with the enactment of the Law of Suspects in 1793, which advanced policies, such as the destruction of different signs and statutes in places of worship.

Both the American Revolution and the U.S First Amendment did not seek to suppress the religion, as seen in the case of the French Revolution. For instance, the First Amendment provided that Congress shall not make any law prohibiting the excise of religion. The American Revolution was spearheaded by a group of individuals known as Founding Fathers who occupy a place of unparalleled dignity in American History. Similarly, these founding fathers did not align themselves with any religion, but rather fought for openness and freedom of worship. These leaders united the thirteen American colonies, led a war against Great Britain, and built a new government (Perl-Rosenthal, 2017). They oversaw the creation of a new nation as well as drafting the U.S. constitution, a crucial document that still remains the supreme law of the land. Some of the most common individuals among this group were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.

Conclusion

While the French Revolution had a great deal of hatred towards the Catholic Church in France, the American Founding fathers and the First Amendment did not seek to suppress any religion. During the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was antagonized as opposed to the American Revolution, where freedom of religion was fought for. Most of the American Founding Fathers who spearheaded the revolution did not align with any particular religion.  Conspicuously, many of the American Founding fathers, such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, were neither identified as Deists nor Christians but supporters of ‘theistic rationalism. Additionally, many of the founders largely avoided public discussions about their faith.

 

 

References

Perl-Rosenthal, N. (2017). Atlantic cultures and the age of revolution. William & Mary Quarterly74(4), 667-696.

Radif, M. E., & Ahmed, A. H. (2019). Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Journal Of Al-Frahedis Arts2(35), 193-208.