What do you mean by the Religion of Humanity?

At the heart of Auguste Comte’s program for resolving the ‘crisis’ of industrial society was a project for ‘positivising’ religion by instituting a religion of humanity. There was an urgent need for a fundamental consensus in the post revolutionary industrial society for a new form of spiritual power with a new ideal as an object of devotion to bind the society together. In other words there was a need for a new religion. Comte believed that the positive religion would provide the scientific-humanist equivalent to the systematic theology of the Middle Ages and could serve as the intellectually unifying basis of the new industrial order.

During what he termed as his second career Comte the historian and philosopher of positivism became the high priest of the ‘Religion of Humanity’. His passionate love for Clothilde de Vaux and her death had profound influence on his life and gave an insight into the true source of happiness and changed his whole conception of life.

The change in his personal life manifested in his desire to transform his philosophy into a new religion. The function of religion is to gather up and organize human life. So it must deal equally with all parts of human nature; namely, thought activity and feeling. Thus religion requires first of all a scheme or synthesis as a basis of belief, i.e. a creed, secondly a set of institutions and principles to discipline and guide one’s action, a code of conduct; and thirdly a set of habits to cultivate the emotions and educate the heart, a cult. A creed is a set of beliefs dealing with the meaning, purpose and destiny of human life.

The code of conduct obligates the believers to behave in a certain manner because of what they believe. There must be an object of devotion and duty capable of being invoked and worshiped, which can bring forth in the believer feelings of security and providence. The human race itself, real and ideal at the same time, including the past, present and future was Comte’s object of worship and devotion. This grand existence, “Grand Etre’ as he termed it is capable of invoking devotion. Now if the object of one’s worship is humanity itself, Comte believes that this ideal can impel the believer to love and sacrifice for the sake of humanity. Humanity as the great ideal and object of worship needs our help unlike the ideal beings/Being of traditional religions which are omnipotent and thus does not need human beings.

(Source: BPY008/Block 4/Unit 4/Page 45)

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