French atheism

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France has the 8th highest rate of atheism in the world with 43–54% of the population being atheists/agnostics/non-believers in God.[1]

Due to its past, namely the anti-clerical French Revolution and its after effects, in 2005 France had the 8th highest rate of atheism in the world with 43–54% of the population being atheists/agnostics/non-believers in God.[2] In 2015, it was estimated that at least 29% of France's population identifies as atheists and 63% identifies as non-religious.[3] In addition, France has the 4rth highest belief in evolution in the Western World.[4]

Rate of secularization in France was zero in 2010

See also: Desecularization and Growth of global desecularization

French scholars say, evangelicalism is likely the fastest-growing religion in France – defying all stereotypes about one of Europe's most secular nations. In 2011 alone, the number of evangelical churches increased from 769 to 2,068.[5]

In April 2010, the British academic and agnostic Eric Kaufmann declared that "the rate of secularisation has flattened to zero in most of Protestant Europe and France."[6]

Like many irreligious/nonreligious countries, France has a subreplacement fertility rate which is help causing an increase in immigration (especially religious immigrants), but some of France's pro-natalist policies is making the situation better and it now has a fertility rate better than many developed countries (see: Atheism and fertility rates).[7] See also: European desecularization in the 21st century. In 2016, France's fertility rate was 1.96 (a replacement level of births is 2.1 children per woman).

France has had a significant amount of evangelical Christian and Islamic immigrants in recent years. Many of France's immigrants are from former French colonies in Africa and Asia.

Growth of French evangelical Christianity via immigrants

On July 12, 2012, the Christian Science Monitor reported:

French scholars say, evangelicalism is likely the fastest-growing religion in France – defying all stereotypes about Europe’s most secular nation...

Daniel Liechti, vice-president of the French National Evangelical Council, found that since 1970, a new evangelical church has opened in France every 10 days. The number of churches increased from 769 to 2,068 last year.[8]

Atheism vs. Islam in modern France

See also: Atheism vs. Islam

France has the largest number of Muslims in Western Europe.

2015 Muslim terrorist attacks

According to Pew Forum, by 2030 Muslims are projected to make up 8% of Europe's population.[9]

On November 13, 2015, an Islamic terrorist attack sponsored by ISIS took place which killed 129 people in Paris, France.[10][11]

The Telegraph wrote about the November 2015 Islamic terrorist attack:

The feelings of isolation and exclusion can be overwhelming, with few high profile Muslim role models in business or politics. France's stridently secular state, the banning of the burka and the power of the Front National have not helped to ease tensions between communities.

Mohamed Merah, the Toulouse shooter of 2012, grew up in a tough banlieu, began as a small-time delinquent, was sent to prison, and emerged a hardened jihadi with "meaning" in life...

Inside France's prisons, 70 per cent of the inmates are estimated to be Muslims – by law, France cannot ask a person to state their religion, so official data is unavailable. In England and Wales, by comparison, Muslims account for 14 per cent of the prison population, according to Home Office statistics, and five per cent of the population nationwide.[12]

A USA Today column of the Paris attack declared:

Which should tell you all we need to know about "why France?" Clearly there is no place in civilized society to blame the victims. But there may be some real reasons why France—and not Britain (which is flying way more sorties over Syrian and Iraqi territories held by IS), or Germany or especially the United States. A lot of it is a lingering perception of France as a soft target.[13]
Charlie Hebdo incident

Charlie Hebdo is a secular left, French, satirical weekly newspaper that often features: generally vulgar cartoons (often with stylized cartoon versions of homosexual acts on the cover), articles and profane jokes that "celebrate" freedom of speech for liberal values. It also frequently engages in blasphemy - especially in relation to Christianity and Islam. It was first published from 1970 to 1981 and again since 1992.

In November 2011, the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo were fire-bombed by Muslim jihad terrorists and their website was hacked. On the 7th of January 2015, in the gun free zone of Paris, three extremist Islamic terrorist French-born males armed with fully-automatic AK-47s murdered, execution-style, 10 of the staff and 2 policeman and wounded other ten people. Well known socialist cartoonists Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski were all killed.[14]

Clandestine French atheism in the 1600s and 1700s

The historian Jonathon Israel declared in an interview about French atheism in the 1600s and 1700s:

At the same time, there was a semi-clandestine, philosophical underground, that I call the Radical Enlightenment. The French have been interested in this phenomenon since before World War II, but English and American scholars were not interested in it until quite recently. The age of Bayle and of the Huguenot diaspora was also a time when atheistic and near-atheistic texts — rejecting religious authority and revelation — were circulating. Perhaps the most famous example of these clandestine texts, which was circulating from the 1670s, though the first printed version was in 1719, was The Treatise of the Three Impostors or Le Traite des Trois Imposteurs. But there were dozens of others, some of which were circulating on only a very small scale and others of which were actually quite widely diffused in various European countries, often in manuscript form. If they did appear in print those printed versions were suppressed rather harshly by the authorities, so in many cases only small quantities circulated and very small numbers survive today.[15]

French Revolution and atheism

See also: French Revolution and atheism

On July 14, 1789, the Bastille was stormed by a mob and its prisoners freed, which is regarded as the start of the French Revolution.

The University of Cambridge reports the following historical relationship between atheism and the French Revolution:

Between 1700 and 1750 thousands of atheistic clandestine manuscripts circulated across Europe (although still only read by a very small minority)...

The French Revolution (1789-94) would dramatically transform the power relationship between belief and unbelief in Europe: whereas before atheism had been 'high brow', discussed in the cafes and salons of Paris, henceforth it would set itself down among the people. A strident unbelief became a real political factor in public life, as the anticlerical 'dechristianisation' period following the revolution would demonstrate. The impact of the French Revolution in inspiring people to put the irreligious ideas of the Enlightenment into practice would extend beyond France to other European countries, and to the American colonies (although in the latter it would take a deistic rather than atheistic form).[16]

The Reign of Terror of the French Revolution established established a state which was anti-Roman Catholicism/Christian in nature[17] (anti-clerical deism and anti-religious atheism and played a significant role in the French Revolution),[18][19] with the official ideology being the Cult of Reason; during this time thousands of believers were suppressed and executed by the guillotine.[20]

Kenneth Weinstein wrote in The American Interest:

Charlie Hebdo has suddenly become the best-known example of a venerable French tradition: vituperative and unrelenting anti-religious satire, a provocative yet regular phenomenon of French public life. And now—not, alas, for the first time in that nation’s history—it has occasioned actual bloodshed.

Lampooning of the Bible, Christian doctrine, and clergy dates back almost 400 years to the “strong thinkers,” French learned skeptics in the 16th century. The primary target of anti-religious satire was France’s official religion, Catholicism, the Church’s ties to the state, and its control over education. And the ridiculing wit long directed against these targets would eventually play a central and crucial role in reducing the status and influence of religion in the French Republic...

The method of the forerunners of Charlie Hebdo—unrelenting and vicious satire of religion and clergy — proved so effective that France became a fully secular state, to such an extent that certain of its practices, laicité, would be regarded as unsettlingly alien and intolerant by most Americans.[21]

See also


  1. Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics(Zuckerman, 2005)
  2. Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics(Zuckerman, 2005)
  3. La carte de l’athéisme dans le monde : la France numéro 4, L'Obs, 2015
  4. Photo: Evolution Less Accepted in U.S. Than Other Western Countries, Study Finds
  5. In a France suspicious of religion, evangelicalism's message strikes a chord
  6. British academic Eric Kaufmann says "the rate of secularisation has flattened to zero in most of Protestant Europe and France". Also, Kaufmann writes that secularism "appears exhausted and lacking in confidence"
  7. France, a Pro Natalist Country
  8. In a France suspicious of religion, evangelicalism's message strikes a chord
  9. 5 facts about the Muslim population in Europe by Conrad Hackett, Pew Forum, November 17, 2015
  10. Muslims Around the World Speak Out Against Terrorist Attacks in Paris, Time magazine
  11. Paris attacks: Many arrested in raids across France, BBC
  12. Paris terror attacks: Why has France been targeted again?, The Telegraph
  13. Why France?, USA Today
  15. Jonathan Israel on The Enlightenment
  16. The material was formerly at the University of Cambridge's Investigation Atheism website. A website which closed down. The material has been transferred to 18th Century History, Investigating Atheism
  17. War, Terror and Resistence
  18. Forging Freedom: The Life of Cerf Berr of M Delsheim by Margaret R. O'Leary, iUniverse (June 1, 2012), pages 1-2
  19. Multiple references:
    James Adair (2007). Christianity: The eBook. JBE Online Books, 461. Retrieved on July 18, 2014. “Although the Civil Constitution called for religious liberty, which was extended to Jews as well as Christians, many revolutionaries pushed for the establishment of a new state religion, either the Cult of Reason (atheists) or the Cult of the Supreme Being (Deists). Changes to the calendar eliminated references to Christian holidays, and even the ancient seven-day week, and a list of officially recognized saints included such famous thinkers such as Socrates, Jesus, Marcus Aurelius, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A period of political persecution, often with religious overtones, broke out, known as the Reign of Terror. Thousands of people were executed by the guillotine, including many of the original leaders of the French Revolution.” 
    William Belsham (1801). Memoirs of the Reign of George III. to the Session of Parliament ending A.D. 1793, Volume 5. G.G. & J. Robinson, 105–6. Retrieved on July 18, 2014. “In allusion to the monstrous transactions of this portentous period, it has been eloquently and energetically observed, 'that the reign of atheism in France was avowed the reign of terror. In the full madness of their career, in the highest climax of their horrors, they shut up the temples of God, abolished His worship, and proclaimed death to be an eternal sleep:—in the very centre of Christendom, Revelation underwent a total eclipse, while atheism, performing on a darkened theatre its strange and fearful tragedy, confounded the first elements of society, blended every age, rank, and sex, indiscriminate proscription and massacre, and convulsed all Europe to its centre, that the imperishable memorial of these events might teach the last generations of mankind to consider religion as the pillar of society, the parent of social order, and the safe-guard of nations.'
    "It is wonderful that, amid the horrors of this dismal period, while 'the death dance of democratic revolution' was still in rapid movement, among the tears of affliction, and the cries of despair, 'the masque, the song, the theatric scene, the buffoon laughter, went on as regularly as in the gay hour of festive peace.'”
    William Kilpatrick (2012). Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Ignatius Press, 57. Retrieved on July 18, 2014. “Actually, it's helpful to think in terms of two Enlightenments: the Enlightenment that cut itself off from God. The former led to the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement. The latter led to the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, the suppression of church by state, and the godless philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche and their offspring—National Socialism and communism. More recently the abandonment of God has led to the regime of cultural relativism that regards rights as arbitrary constructions.
    "It's this second Enlightenment tradition that Cardinal Ratzinger referred to when he wrote, 'The radical detachment of the Enlightenment philosophy from its roots ultimately leads it to dispense with man.' Actually this transition happened not 'ultimately' but almost immediately. The first instance occurred when Enlightenment worship of abstract 'reason' and 'liberty' degenerated quickly into the mass murders committed during the antireligious Reign of Terror in France. 'Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name', said Madam Rolande as she faced the statue of Liberty in the Place de la Revolution movements before her death at the guillotine. She was one of the early victims of a succession of secular systems based on rootless notions of 'liberty', 'equality', and 'reason'.
    "As many historians have pointed out, the atheist regimes of modern times are guilty of far more crimes than any committed in the name of religion. Communist governments alone were guilty of more than one hundred million murders, most of them committed against their own people.”
  20. Charlie Hebdo and France’s Irreligious Tradition by Kenneth R. Weinstein