Lahontan and Gueudeville: Natural Religion from Canada
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The real successors to Gilbert’s rational deism are the manuscript treatises, the Examen de la religion and Difficultés sur la religion, but chronologically they are preceded by another dialogue between the religious representatives of Europe and a distant country, in this case Canada, or New France. In order to compose the Histoire de Calejava, Gilbert had devised a Utopian setting for an indigenous French form of natural religion, based on Cartesian rationalism. Lahontan reversed the process: he observed a real primitive religion in the New World and, apparently with some help from an ex-Benedictine named Gueudeville, transformed it into a conventional natural religion including some criticisms of French Catholicism. In the resultant work, known now as the Dialogues curieux, Lahontan discusses religion and other matters with a Red Indian chieftain, ‘Adario’, the spokesman for a simple deistic religion which is not merely a theoretical construction. Adario comes from the tribes in Canada among whom Lahontan had lived and whom the missionaries were trying to convert. His views in the Dialogues are a compromise between a descriptive report of Red Indian belief and the abstract idea of natural religion which had long been current in French thought.
KeywordsDistant Country Natural Religion Free Love Religious Representative French Thought
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