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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

9 - The Early Development of the Religion of Humanity

Summary

The natural existence of altruistic instincts [is] the principal discovery of modern science and the direct source of the positive religion.

Comte to Tholouze, August 26, 1852

INTRODUCTION

In 1849, as Comte was preparing his lectures on the history of humanity, he increasingly devoted himself to planning in great detail different aspects of his new religious era. Figuring that it was more effective to prescribe “more austere rules” than give in to the concessions that people wanted, he maintained that “the positive regime regulates all of real life – the private sphere as much as the public one.” Touching on all aspects of existence, the positivist cult had three principal components: the “intimate or personal cult,” characterized by “the adoration of the guardian angels”; the “public cult of the Great-Being, represented as abstract and developed as concrete in…[the] Positivist Calendar”; and the system of seven sacraments. Yet Comte added many more components in an effort to convert people with all types of world views.

MEMORIES: THE CULT OF THE DEAD AND THE POSITIVIST CALENDAR

Comte's religion was rooted in his fascination with history. As Patrick Hutton has pointed out, history is the modern age's “art of memory,” a way of maintaining lost worlds. Especially in the nineteenth century, when everything was changing because of the industrial and political revolutions, history was a source of stability. Although celebrating what was to come, Comte seemed more and more mired in the past, his own and society's.

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