Reflections on the Revolution in France "Man Is A Religious Animal"

Edmund Burke

"Man Is A Religious Animal"

Context: As a conservative, albeit one of originality and relatively liberal views, Edmund Burke deplored the French Revolution. He believed that it would do more to injure mankind and society than it could do good. He believed in the slow accretion of culture, and so he hated to see institutions which had been brought into being over centuries erased within a few days or weeks, to be supplanted by theories which could be used or abused by persons in power. Specifically, he felt that religion is important to mankind as "the basis of civil society, and the source of all good and of all comfort." Realizing that others might argue that England had undergone a religious revolution in parting from the Roman Church, Burke defends the Anglican Church, saying that the British have chosen it from zeal, not apathy, and that it has more of Christian principle in it, rather than less. He also defends it as part of a social fabric which, along with its success, contains established monarchy, established aristocracy, and an established democracy, as well. What is happening to religion during the French Revolution he sees as a surge of atheism which cannot last long:

We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell, which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness, by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and among many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might take the place of it.