Discover more from Adaobi’s Newsletter
Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity
‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?’ — Frederick Nietsche
Auguste Comte believed a scientific society and God could not co-exist. A scientific society and religion, on the other hand, absolutely. He saw God and religion as separate entities, and that God’s ‘death’ should not lead to the death of religion, for the sake of humanity.
Auguste Comte was born in 1798, France. He is often cited as one of the founding fathers of sociology. Known for his theory of positivism, he believed that just as there are ‘laws of physics’, so too are there ‘laws of society’. Essentially, Comte believed social sciences should be studied like natural sciences. Within positivism Comte put forward the ‘Law of 3 stages’ for societies, they are as follows:
The theological stage. According to Comte, the theological stage is a state in which all phenomena are explained through the use of a ‘God’ or ‘God’s’.The God or God’s in question are concrete, clearly defined divine beings.
The metaphysical stage. Supernatural and divine beings are no longer clearly defined. Phenomena is now explained through an abstract force or guiding power. This stage is seen as a transitory stage to the ‘positive’ stage .
The positive stage. Comte believed this is the ultimate stage, societies ‘final form’. This is when societies rely on scientific methods to explain phenomena.
Stage 3 is where God usually ‘dies’, but Comte believed God’s ‘death’ should not be the death of religion too. He recognised the cohesive function and moral values religion provided society, and feared that total death of religion would create unwanted side effects. According to Comte, to be a true sociologist you must not study society for the sake of understanding, you must study to understand and create solutions that will better society. Based on this principle, Comte created a new religion, the religion of humanity.
The goal of this religion is to love, know and serve humanity. Just as previous religions had ‘pillars’ and sacraments so does the religion of humanity.
The pillars are as follows:
Altruism. Individuals are expected to be generous, selfless and to care for the needs of society above their own.
Order. Societies are expected to have some sort of order, what that ‘order’ looks like is subject to debate.
Progress. Scientific and technological breakthroughs are achievements society should continuously strive for as this pushes all of humanity forward.
The sacraments are as follows:
Introduction (his equivalent of baptism)
Admission (the end of your education)
Destination (your career)
Separation (from society)
Absorption (an individual dies and takes their place in history)
Similar to Catholicism, the religion of humanity has hymns, prayers and holidays. They also believe that we should honour ‘great men in history’ instead of worshipping a God. Comte created a ‘positivist calendar’ which includes 13 months all with 28 days. He named each month after a ‘great man’ and named days after great men in history too. In total the positivist calendar includes 558 names of great men. The months were named as followed:
Fun fact — Clotilde de Vaux was a strong muse for Comte when he created the religion of humanity. He was in love with her but they could not be together. Her death caused him to ‘idealise’ her (specifically her morals) through his new religion.
The response to Comte’s new religion was harsh to say the least. People liked the concept of a secular religion but felt the implementation of Comte’s religion was poor. His religion did not take the world by storm , but it did get adopted by a few people in France and Brazil. In fact, there are still people who practice the religion of humanity today.
Although I don’t agree with certain aspects of his religion I do believe he was ahead of his time. The west is experiencing a decline in religion, but globally it is a different story. Europe’s christian population is expected to fall from 553M (2010) to 454M (2050). That said, by 2060 it is expected that 6 of the 10 world’s largest christian nations will reside in Africa, with growth rates continuing to match global population growth rates. So, what does this mean? Well, I don’t really know. One hunch is that this could serve as proof of ‘The law of 3 stages’, but it is probably too early to tell.
As societies continue to progress, they may experience the loss of God, but also his rebirth and the separation of God and religion. I believe the loss of community and a larger sense of belonging will be replaced with something that has religious like properties, we just won’t call it religion.
Yes, God may have died but is God dead? I’m not sure. Does God stay dead? I don’t believe so!