Jul 192010
(asked by Megan, from Brisbane, Australia)
On reading your blog I can tell that you are very disillusioned with religion (perhaps with some good reason) but I was wondering if you could tell me a little about the L’Église Réformée de France (Reformed Church of France) as my own distant ancestors were Huguenot refugees who left France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (thanks to Louis XIV and his dragoon thugs. )
There is very little information about them on the Internet in English. I understand that they only make up about 2% of the population now but from what I gather, they are no longer hardline Calvinists like the original Huguenots but have taken on the much more moderate theology of Karl Barth. Do they have much of a presence in society and are they like most French or are they seen as a little bit apart?
As you mentioned, Louis XIV kicked most Protestants out of France and very few came back since. I consider that to be a good thing, as Protestants are obviously the most psycho of all among Christians, just see what happens in the US when you leave them unchecked and allow them to have any sort of political power. Now, where Louis XIV failed miserably is in kicking all of the other religions out of France but we all know that he was a Catholic Fundamentalist himself so that was not going to be about to happen at any time during his reign. The Revolution tried to correct that with some success, but unfortunately it didn’t finish the job, neither did the 1905 law about separation of Church and State.
Back to your question and on a more serious tone (I was just in the mood of getting some hate mail with the previous paragraph), today, partly because they constitute a negligible amount of the population (between 1 and 2%, not sure as we can’t have exact numbers on this topic), partly because in France most people respect the fact that religion should stay a private matter and should not spill over in the public sphere, Protestants in France are quite irrelevant.
Do they have much of a presence in society? Are they seen like most French or are they seen as a little bit apart?
Well, if I tell you that I don’t think I personally know any French Protestant -maybe I know some, I just don’t know that they are if I do- and that the only Protestant public figure that I can think of is former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (and we all know that he started his political career as a Troskyist, so that tells us how religious he is), does this answer your questions?
If anybody (any French Protestant here?)

More Questions Answered:

  27 Responses to “What about Protestants in France?”

  1. Oddly enough, the two French wedding I was invited to were held by protestant pastors.

    I think it's important to point out that no statistics are kept on religion (or race) because it's against the law in France unlike in most anglo countries.

  2. Yes, I just implied it and assumed I was going to detail it another day (about the no-statistics about race and religion in France).

  3. Thanks for answering yet another of my questions. Well, I might as well rebuke you for your first paragraph. Most protestants, worldwide, are the most moderate of Christians ( Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans (although the US Lutherans seem to have very strange ideas), Quakers etc.) Unfortunately, it is the extremist evangelicals and Pentecostals in the US and their close associate with right wing politics that give the silent majority a bad name.

    Unfortunately, there is more and more of this rabid US influence here in Australia now as well, which is, I guess, partly why I am interested to see what form the remnants of Protestantism have taken in France as a refreshing change from the US garbage.

    I am curious to learn a little more about how religion functions as private matter. Say there was a particularly controversial issue, such as nuclear weapons testing by the French Government, as occurred in recent decades, would church-led groups not be involved in protests? Do they speak out on other social issues like poverty (I am including Roman Catholics now as well.) Just how is religion kept purely private? I don't quite understand.

    Thanks again. Yes, your last paragraph really makes it clear to me just how low-profile the protestants are after they were decimated by Louis XIV.

    Cynthia, what were the Protestant weddings like? Were there any particular rituals that stood out as different from other weddings you have attended? Many thanks. Cheers.

  4. Well, to be fair, yeah, all the German, English or even Australian Protestants I've met were very tolerant and moderate. But they were also not religious at all, and I don't think they qualify as being called "Protestant", just like I find it laughable when I hear people saying that the French are Catholic…

    Concerning the "private" dimension of religion, to take your example, well first, nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean never was controversial in France (whoops), but more important here, there are no such things as "Church-led groups", or if they exist they're so influential that I cannot name a single one. Actually I can name one, a Jewish one. Supposedly, its goal is to fight antisemitism, but lately they have had a very strange definition of antisemitism: for them, anyone that dares to criticize or say anything negative against any Jewish person and/or Israel is an antisemite. But I digress.

    So how is religion kept private? Well, you just don't talk about it in the public sphere, and people that do get very negative reactions usually. It's the whole idea of "laïcité" I guess I'll talk about it in more details sooner or later (in the meantime, the link I put in the article introduces the idea).

  5. I agree with Megan. The nuttiest Christians in the US are typically Evangelicals. Though there is certainly a contingent of them (the crazies), most of the Evangelicals I know are nice people (nicer than average even). They just want to go to their big, country club style churches and live their lives. Most of them aren't political activists by any stretch, though quite a few take up social causes - raising money for the poor, serving in soup kitchens or going on missions trips where they bring medical, food and/or other provisions. I don't agree with all of their beliefs, but I don't have any animosity toward them either. Okay. Maybe I have a little…but not much. On the other hand, you seem to have a fair amount of anger toward religion (not just Christians, it seems). Or is it simply that you don't want other people pushing their views on you…and you feel religious people try to do that more than others? (Just curious…hope this doesn't qualify as hate mail.)

  6. I just would like to add that the protestants have a very influential place in Strasbourg. for several reasons:
    1) When the Edict of Nantes was revoked, Strasbourg was still a German place so lots of Huguenots moved there
    2) even now, there is no separation of Church and State in Alsace-Moselle (!)
    3) some great protestant philosophers lived in Strasbourg (Goethe, Sturm…)
    For instance, the "best" high school in Strasbourg is a Protestant school

  7. Oh yeah, I had forgotten about them. But then again, are Alsatians really French?

  8. I just found your blog and frankly I have been fascinated by the posts and the comments. I have spent a couple of hours reading many of your back posts.
    I don’t have too much to comment on the topic of the current post. Growing up in France I only knew one person who was “protestante.” She was our housekeeper. She went to a “temple” close to where we lived then (Paris 9eme and St Leu la Forêt – Seine et Oise) but I never saw it. She wore a funny little medal, but never talked about religion. Of course, to tell the truth I only knew 2 catholic girls who went to Church on Sundays, and only until their communion, then they stopped. Religion was not something we talked about then, and when I go back to France I still rarely talk about religion – unless it is about how religious the US is.
    I was just explaining to my friend that where my cousin lives, near Melun, there is one church (13th century) for 24,000 people and maybe 60 people attend mass on Sundays – there is no protestant temple anywhere near.

  9. E: Well, be aware that whoever is nutty in the Protestant world, they're giving a bad name to all of the Protestants in the non-Protestant world… Maybe it's time to swipe your own doorstep and cut the bad weeds (am I mixing up French and English idiomatic expressions here?)

    Personally, yeah, I'd be happy if religions were banned altogether as they create only bad things, and how could it be otherwise with one bases one's outlook on the world on imaginary concept. And what do you get? Always the same things since the dawn of times: people easy to manipulate because they can't think for themselves, persecutions, wars, over and over again. So, sure, not all religions are created equal, as some are quite tolerable (animistic religions, and some polytheist ones) and some are the worst of the worst (those professing one truth and one truth only, said "truth" usually being written down in a "holy" book that is the one and only truth (because "if it's on a book it gotta true") and at that, the three monotheistic religions are the worst of all (and have created more human disasters in the world than anything else)

  10. David,

    I understand your sentiments and your accusations are mostly true but look at this way: the extremist evangelicals in the US take the Bible literally but the Protestants in the rest of the world were the first to accept Darwinian evolution. German Lutherans and English Anglicans accepted evolution from the end of the 19th C and moved on. It is these US protestants that drag the others back with their rigid blind adherence to a book.

    Yes, Christians have been responsible for many of history's wars and politicians exploited people's religious beliefs to make their imperialistic attacks on other nations. However, the flipside is that Christians created the first anti-war movements. Protestant groups like the Quakers were opposed to war and persecuted by the state for these beliefs. In the 20th Century, the largest anti-war movement of all, the Peace Pledge Union was founded by Dick Sheppard, an Anglican priest. The Anglican Church is explicitly anti-war now, as per successive ruling of the Lambeth Conference since the 1930s and has its own active anti-war movement.

    On the Catholic front, even our American friends have yielded up some truly great Christians who were opposed to war such as Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.

    To be honest, the way I look at it is that there must be many, many honest good Christians working at the grassroots level, the many Francis of Assisi and Therese of Lisieux of this world, or institutions like the Roman Catholic Church would have totally collapsed under the weight of their own corruption long ago.

    Anyway, given France's history of the wars of religion and the terrible events in Iraq I can understand why anyone would be anti-religious at this point in time but I hope the pendulum will swing back now and more moderate Christians will be heard once more.

    Anyway, I have looked at that link you provided now. Thanks for that! It makes the position of religion being a private matter clearer. Still hard to believe that no Church led social action groups are really prominent over there, though.

    Thanks to everyone else for responses so far. I have really enjoyed reading them. Would love to learn some more about the actual teachings and also the liturgy of the Reformed Church of France though, if anyone has attended any of their services or knows more about them.

    Thanks again.

  11. Hey David,

    Just one more thing to clarify: I know under Anglicanism there is the concept of the three pillars of the faith, all of which have equal stature. These are scripture, tradition and… reason.

    The idea is that the founders of Anglicanism were trying to avoid the excesses of the Catholics and the Reformation and deliberately create a more moderate strand of Christianity. So the Bible is still important, as are traditions and past precedents but one also has to use one's brain and reapply faith in the modern world as new knowledge comes along.

    Doesn't always work in practice but at least they have long been trying to address some of your concerns.

    Thanks for the lively debate, though.

  12. Hear hear! Nice that so far there seems to be a mild-mannered discussion rather than a flame war. Yes, most of the craziness and problems are caused by the extremists (ignoring for the moment the institutional rot in the Catholic church and the hateful pronouncements by 'moderate' religious leaders on many subjects such as homosexuality), and yes many religious people are perfectly lovely, and yes atheists have caused their fair share of misery as well (Stalin, come on down) but I agree that on balance the world would be a happier place without religion. I absolutely can't fathom what it must be like growing up in the States, particularly the Bible belt! I'm not 100% sure where I stand on banning the voile intégrale, for example, but at least in France when they say 'separation of church and state' they mean it (mostly - I still think they should rename the jours fériés, not that it bothers me, but just for the sake of consistency) unlike in the US where it's an absolute political requirement for a candidate for high office to be visibly churchgoing (very occasionally mosque or temple or whatever going, but certainly not atheist, or even just fairly indifferent in the case of the president). Anyway, I'll shut up now!

  13. As an Episcopalian of Quebecois decent I would have to agree with other sentiments here. In the U.S. there are mainline Protestants (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, etc.) and there are evangelical Protestants (Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.). The only similarity we share is rejection of the Pope (which is what the definition of "Protestant" refers to.) Otherwise mainline Protestants, even the devout ones, tend to be moderate to progressive, and very tolerant or affirming of other types of people.

    I also have to respectfully say that banning religion would do nothing to make the world a more peaceful place. Human beings are tribal in nature due to our evolution, and if religion was banned we'd merely pick something else to use to attack others, like: language, race, ethnicity, class, culture, political orientation, etc. Other hominids, like chimpanzees, have been observed organizing into tribes, exhibiting xenophobia and declaring war on neighbours. It's built into our genetic code, and the key is not to get rid of our differences, but learn how to see past them.

    Thanks for your blog. It's a fascinating read!

  14. Hi everyone…just came across this blog (fantastic, by the way! I look forward to submiting my long list of questions ). I just thought I'd weigh in a bit on the Protestant question. My husband comes from a french huguenot family and he is the family's sixth generation of pastors. I'm american, so how you can even know who your ancestors were six generations ago baffles me. ANYWAY, he's not much of a blogger, but if you have specific questions about the swiss or french reformed churches (Megan, I'm sure he'd love answering by email). You can contact me: [email protected].

    Frenchman, these conversations are great! Thanks for bring such great banter to life.

  15. "how you can even know who your ancestors were six generations ago baffles me"

    This is called genealogy…

    My earliest known ancestor was 17 generations ago, in the 15th Century… (the guy was a Sicilian knight who went to France for some unknown reason)

  16. Thanks for your kind offer Sarah. Email is on its way.

  17. "This is called genealogy"


    I'm an American and I can trace my family back to the 12th century. I know some people can't go that far, but going back six generations isn't really that big of a deal.

  18. I discovered your blog today, and I think it's the most intelligent and truest anglophone blog about France . Let's say I'm French and I feel very close from most of your points of view.
    The thing with religion and French attitude is the eternal connexion between the Chuuch and the Power, or Wealth . If the Great Revolution, if Republican warriors of the XIXth century have fought the Church, it's because the Church has always been an ally and a weapon for the high class . Aristocrats, then bourgeoisie, always hostile to socialism . If we happened to make a simili separation between Church and State, it's because progressist leaders were aware of the brainwashing the Church was imposing to the masses. Unfortunately, from Iran to Kentucky and from Tel-Aviv to Texas, class struggle has never reached this point .

  19. Hi Phildange and welcome to the blog…

    You may be able to find more details on religion in France on this blog, for example there:

    (one detail: no need to post your comment several times, if it tells you it's been submitted, it's been submitted, it just takes me a little while to publish it sometimes)

  20. Hello everyone,

    I'll admit I didn't read in much detail all the comments on this post. But I'll add in my two cents anyway.

    I am a French Protestant, of the Eglise Réformée Libérale, my great grandfather and his forefathers were pastors.

    That being said, I can't tell so much about faith in itself because it's just impossible to cathegorize a protestant, unlike in the US for example. A pastor I know very well once told me that in l'"Eglise Réformée", 50% of believers did believe in the virginity of Mary. Which is kind of what most people would pin as typically catholic (or at least, un-protestant).

    I can talk about the culture and traditions of protestantism, though, and especially a piece of jewelry, called "croix huguenotte". (it looks like that: http://www.augis1830.com/img/p/206-250-thickbox.jpg). I was given mine the day I was baptized. And I have never heard os seen anything like that in any country I have lived in (and that includes a lot of places).

    Interesting trivia: I used to wear that cross everyday to my high school. One day, I just didn't. A classmate asked me why I wasn't wearing my "nazi cross".

    The point is, few people know what a protestant is. They are an unseen minority. And they will remain that way because there is not one big protestant organization (synodes are just a joke). Just small series of congregations here and there.

    However, protestants from the South of France have an extremely rich history, from the Dragonnades, up to l'Assemblée du Désert. Its historical center is a small village in the South of France, called "Lasalle".

    I hope I helped.


    PS. We also cook 13 desserts on Christmas evening and make wicked Crèches filled with santons which are really like this huge mignature traditional southern village.

  21. I forgot to say…
    personalities who are known to be protestants:
    - Lionel Jospin, as the Frenchman stated, politician
    - Renaud Sechan (a.k.a. Renaud), singer
    - Eugène & Armand Peugeot, and yes, they founded the brand Peugeot
    - Ambroise Paré, the guy who invented surgery (at least in France)
    - André Gide, author
    - Lou Doillon, model, actress, daughter of Jane Birkin
    - Xavier Bertrand, politician.

  22. Thanks for your feedback, Marine.

  23. And thanks for the add-on.

    Yeah, I knew about Gide (duh) and a few others, but I meant living ones (and indeed, I had no clue that Renaud, Lou Doillon and X. Bertrand were protestants)

  24. Ah Frenchman… You’re such a perfect French indeed. It’s a delight to read you… even if I don’t agree with many things that you write. (Alala, those weird French… genuinely enjoying to argue and contradict each other).

    I don’t know if you explained that somewhere, but if you haven’t, then I’d like to point out something foreigners generally fail to see about France. And it is that in France there is NO recognized minorities. There are some like everywhere else of course, but they are asked to go with the majority. They don’t have any political legitimacy or influence. The French Republic is supposed to be “one and indivisible”, so is supposed to be the French nation. So it would be a complete nonsense for black people (for example) in France to ask for special rights. And that’s why the concept of “positive discrimination”, directly coming from the UK and US, targetting special parts of the population is SHOCKING. It will have perverted effects (as in the UK and US… it’s already really obvious), just like the creation of a ministry for a certain religion will too (and already has indeed). The Anglo-saxons divide, while the French would like to unify… But with the Anglo-saxonisation of France, things are changing more and more (mostly thanks to our… oh so beloved and popular current US-addict President).

    So in France being part of a “minority” (we don’t recognized this term in the US/UK meaning) makes no difference. You are not supposed to be treated differently. Nor better or worse than others. It’s here that the “private thing” appears. Of course, everyone wants to express one’s uniqueness (we are said to be very original and inventive in France - certainly to stand out of the majority). And you are given all the freedom to express it… privately. That means in your family. Not in your COMMUNITY. Communities don’t exist in France (at least they are not recognized). We are a very strong anti-communitarist country.

    I think that this should be said to avoid disappointments. We ask everyone to erase their differences in the public sphere so that we could all be citizens with the same rights.

    One last word on the “private sphere” to everyone. Think of it as if the French nationality was a suit. In public you are asked to wear that suit. It’s just called decency. And you wear underwears that can be black, or embroidered with a protestant cross, or with exotic ethnic origins. And decency ask you to only show those underwears… in private. We wouldn’t want everyone to see our underwears (even though they generally are worth being seen in France… but I digress). Right ?
    This metaphore has always had great success among my Anglo-saxon (male) friends. They generally say that only a French girl could talk about politics and underwears in the same conversation. Haha. I definitely love foreigners…

    • Wow, Frenchgirl, you write long ass comments. If you wonder why I take long to publish them, this is why, I need to find the time to respond.

      FYI, I have tackled here and there most of the issues you raise here. If you feel like searching the blog (but be warned if your comments are always that long, I will take time to publish them).

      I just want to underline a few points.

      “Affirmative action” comes from the US, not the UK, where the law regarding minorities is relatively similar to the one in France if I’m not wrong.
      So it doesn’t have any “perverted effects” in the UK as to my knowledge, it doesn’t exist there. (if anyone British reading this cares to comment, feel free)
      In the US, while it’s a complicated issue, it would be dishonest to say that Affirmative Action has only bad sides. It has helped creating and developing a Black middle-class, and I’m pretty sure Obama would never have been elected President without it.

      Also, I should underline that in your comment you are mixing up religious and racial minorities, which are two very different issues in my opinion (although our current government is doing a great job at creating confusion in people’s minds about the issue these days).

      And I also think that some form of Affirmative Action is necessary in France nowadays, even if it goes beyond the “Idea of the Republic” (but that’s one of the French main problems sometimes, hanging on to their ideas and forgetting how the real world really is in the meantime). If not, I don’t see how the ghettoization of the suburbs of big cities will get any better and I see all too well how it will get worse to the point of implosion or even major and ugly (because racially tinted) civil unrest, or even worse.

      One side note: “the Anglo-Saxon this, the Anglo-Saxon that”… Mmmm…. Bundling all Anglo countries like this (under this oh-so French term) is the path to saying inaccurate things. While Anglo countries have some similar cultural traits that I mention here and there, they’re all very different countries as far as laws and society are concerned (and the UK is much closer to France than to the US in those points). For example: “The Anglo-saxons divide, while the French would like to unify…”
      I call bullshit here!
      Oh and there too: “the Anglo-saxonisation of France”!

      Concerning the private sphere, nice analogy, although you’re mixing up religion and ethnicity again. And while, yes, I think religion should be like underwear (although I like to see girls in underwear much more than I like to see religious girls), you just can’t keep your racial background private for obvious reasons.

  25. Sorry !

    Yes I did read a fair amount of all your posts. Most of them are brilliant.

    Well, “affirmative action” seems to exist in the UK… although I’m not sure it is called like that. Because I’ve never seen that term. But the will is definitely here. We can see it at school. But also on Blair’s politics. How he was targetting a specific part of the population that needed help.
    One could never say that it is not a good thing. It even seem quite reasonnable. And it has great effects. But it also has perverted effects yes (the other side of the coin… I guess it can’t be helped, I’m not saying we have a better solution). According to polls and reports, the people targetted become scapegoats. In addition people tend to be more
    As I’m writing I remember an episode of “Skins” when at school a black girl is asked to fill in a form for “égalité des chances” (our French nickname for this US “affirmative action”) to be part of a musical contest (for the good reputation of the school).

    The “French tend to unify while blabla” thing was written by an American (or by a couple US/France, I don’t remember well, but there was an American involved in the writting). So I won’t argue on this.

    As for the “Anglo-saxonisation” of France. It was to not point out England directly. But I was just referring to all the reforms of the current gouvernment. Quite amusingly, it has become very easy to know what our president is going to do next. We just have to look at Blair’s policy. It became very obvious for me when I studied the school systems in depth. (And I don’t forget that Mme Royal was also a great admirer of the third way). The crisis has changed many things… but still. I think that France has really become closer to the UK those last years.

    I don’t know were you live right now Frenchman… but here (in the South) it is really impressive. Many people are dressing with British items and clothes. British fashion is really trendy (this summer it is THE thing to wear). Most of our new talents in pop-rock music are doing britpop, singing for the largest part in English. And not only in pop-rock, in soul too. And I’m not even talking about all the adds and titles that now remain untranslated.

    I keep my racial (and social) background private… why do you say it’s impossible to do so ? Perhaps that’s why I’m confusing racial and religious matters. Those are things I refuse to let people know about. They generally are annoyed. Sometimes they keep on trying to figure out “where I come from”. And I just answer that I’m French. After all, France has always been a land of mixed races and blood. Those who call themselves “pure French” really are funny in my view.

    I can see that I wrote a novel again… arf sorry… last time, I promise !

    • If you don’t know the term “affirmative action” it is what some people call “discrimination positive” in France.

      Maybe nowadays there’s some sort of Affirmative Action in the UK, I admit I haven’t paid much attention.

      So sure, Affirmative Action won’t fix every problem of a country, but I think the positive effects outweigh the negative ones by far.

      Concerning the infamous “anglo-saxonisation” of France, I still think it’s much important than some people believe (usually, the ones that still live in the delusion that France is a major country in the world, or blame the “Anglo-Saxons” for it not to be one anymore).
      First, we live in a global world today. Ironically, a lot of people complain of the “Anglo-saxonisation” of France, but few complain of its Spanishification, its Nipponisation, its Germanisatition and whatnot. Subjectivity? I dare say so.

      Laws? Every country inspires itself from other countries for their new laws (but not France? France invents things out of scratch, right? Another delusion…) And seriously, laws comes and go, they have an influence on the culture of a country only when they last decades, not because they were passed two years ago.

      Clothing? Seriously? Is that a proof of anything? Fashions always come and go and inspire themselves from other countries constantly.

      “this summer it is THE thing to wear”

      Oh my god? Some people are still brainwashed into believing that? I thought that this stupid habit of having fashion magazine and the media in general tell people what they should wear this summer (and why not other seasons, btw?) was over since the 90′s?! (irony and sarcasm alert here)

      (By the way I’m in the South of France too)

      Now, don’t get me wrong, France was strongly Americanized after WW2 (see the entry about the Marshall Plan somewhere on the blog), just like most of the Western world, nothing specific to France here. Only the people alluded to earlier are convinced it’s only a French phenomenon, the people that still think that “France’s greatness” exists or could come back. And I seriously advise those people to go visit Germany, Scandinavia, Japan to a certain extent, and even England. They’ll see that France is not as Americanized as they think.
      As far as France being “Britishized” I’d like to see how, because I fail to see it.

      “I keep my racial (and social) background private… why do you say it’s impossible to do so ?”

      Are you serious? Can you explain me how you can keep the fact that you’re Black or Arab or Asian private? (I mean in a country where the majority of the population is White, like in France)

      “Those who call themselves “pure French” really are funny in my view.”

      Yet, they’re usually the same that think that France is being “Anglo-saxonized”

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