Voltaire’s Satirical Catechisms: Secular Confessionalism

J J Ponti Venter

Abstract


This article is the second in a series, focusing on middle Modern secularist documents entitled “catechism” or “confession”; intending to understand this peculiar phenomenon. Here I am trying to disclose the format and contents of five catechisms published by Voltaire (in the 1760s) and to link this to the idea of catechisms and confessions as discussed in another article. Voltaire apparently initiated the writing of secular catechisms. Catechisms are preparatory confessions of religious commitment to true doctrine and associated lifestyles to be confessed to and lived by. Voltaire chose the format of a catechism for satirical, dialogical attacks on intolerance, superstition, and irrational beliefs; also to express his own faith in a universal supreme being, the god of a rational civil society controlled by a totalitarian philosophical government, a rational soul that is immortal (and will receive reward or punishment in an afterlife), a life of honest work, justice, dignity, under “natural law”—the commandment of love inscribed a priori in the hearts of all humankind. The catechisms expressed a substitute religion, a confessional faith in scientific and practical reason, within a liberal, enlightened, totalitarian civil society—a Modern cultic replacement for Christianity combining Classical ideas with a Modern philosophy of power.


Keywords


catechism; church; civil religion; mystic; natural law; neo-Platonism; pantheism; patriotism; philosopher king; Rousseau; secularism; teaching; totalitarian; utility; Vico; virtue; woman

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.25159/2413-3086/2081

Copyright (c) 2018 J J Ponti Venter

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