Reflections on the Revolution in France "Superstition Is The Religion Of Feeble Minds"

Edmund Burke

"Superstition Is The Religion Of Feeble Minds"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Edmund Burke detested what he saw happening in France during the French Revolution, as his essay amply shows. He was not, however conservative his position, a man to forego improvement in society just because improvement involves change, but what he saw as the appropriate way to effect betterment was to work through existing cultural institutions, not to destroy them. One reason he gives for using existing institutions is that they afford the great leader additional power for improvement, that he can use them as a mechanism, a pry, which will help him accomplish good. Burke comments, ". . . institutions are the products of enthusiasm; they are the instruments of wisdom." But he recognizes that institutions have some dangers, too. He believes they "savour of superstition in their very principle." And Burke, as he does consistently in his writings, expresses a fear of superstition; he wants to make a sharp distinction between it and religion. He says that in its excesses superstition becomes a very great evil, and then he goes on to explain how superstition differs from true religion:

. . . Superstition is the religion of feeble minds; and they must be tolerated in an intermixture of it, in some trifling or some enthusiastic shape or other, else you will deprive weak minds of a resource found necessary to the strongest. The body of all true religion consists, to be sure, in obedience to the will of the Sovereign of the world; in a confidence in his declarations; and in imitation of his perfections. The rest is our own. It may be prejudicial to the great end; it may be auxiliary. Wise men, who as such are not admirers (not admirers at least of the Munera Terrae), are not violently attached to those things, nor do they violently hate them. Wisdom is not the most severe corrector of folly. They are the rival follies, which mutually wage so unrelenting a war; . . .