Is the essence of Christianity a disenchanted world? A critical discussion of Marcel Gauchet

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 38, issue 3, 2019 , pages: 313–329
DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2019.1655313
Author(s): Patrick GiddySchool of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, South Africa


Marcel Gauchet argues that whatever impulse previously gave rise to religion is now fully translated by the values of representative politics, empirical method, future orientation and productivity as an end in itself. The good and productive citizen replaces the dutiful Christian. His foundational thesis is twofold: (a) religion is the surrender of human autonomy to a power other than human beings, issuing in a hierarchical social structure thought to be given by nature; and (b), paradoxically, religion has at the same time been the impulse to move away from religion. Christianity in particular is “the religion to exit from religion”, propelling society, particularly in the West, toward a disenchanted world-view, one that is non-supernaturalistic and implies non-hierarchical social arrangements. In recounting his argument, I conclude by agreeing with (b) but disagreeing with (a). I suggest that what Gauchet terms “religion” is better thought of in terms of Sartre’s concept of “bad faith”. In this project, Sartre’s – and Gauchet’s – concept of human freedom in terms of the power of “refusal” may well be complemented by the understanding of the person as empowered through interpersonal solidarity. I argue that this supplies a corrective to Gauchet’s interpretation of Christianity, and, further, is a reason to move away from his liberal idea of the state as neutral towards religions. As the secular and humanist re-articulation of religious traditions, the democratic state of its nature challenges rival interpretations of those traditions, whether fundamentalist or reductionist.

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