Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in pre-Revolutionary Europe tells the remarkable story of a clash of two competing worldviews. The first emanated from the works of the baron d’Holbach, a German-born aristocrat at the heart of the Parisian pre-Revolutionary philosophe community. His highly organised campaign of anti-religious propaganda flooded book markets and caused an unprecedented furore. Yet, for many, the baron’s extreme dogmatic atheism was beyond the pale. It neither delighted nor enlightened.
The second position was a more conservative affair. Scores of Christian writers, Catholic and Protestant alike, railed against the baron’s works in books, pamphlets, sermons and journal articles. They fretted about France’s moral collapse and upheld scripture. Yet, beyond the rhetoric, something interesting took place. Sensing an opportunity, these authors tackled the philosophes on their own terms, turning to reason, persuasion, humour and no small pinch of venom. They embraced the Enlightenment. Atheism, Religion and Enlightenment in pre-Revolutionary Europe, as such, is a tale of two Enlightenments.