The topic of the last book in Chateaubriand’s apology is supposed to concern the cult of Christianity. In essence, the book divides into two different strands of argument. Firstly, Chateaubriand continues the theme he touched already in the previous book, namely, the experiential side of religion. While in the last book he mentioned the ability of churches to provide human beings with a feeling of infinity, here he emphasizes burial rituals as a way to face the impending reality of death.
This part of Chateaubriand’s argument is probably the most important. Religions interest people, because they offer vivid emotions – the lure of hope, love and self-certainty is rather understandable. Even more interesting are the mystical experiences, like the inexplicable feeling of being filled with divinity. These experiences are certainly not felt by all members of a religious community, but they could be quite important for people who are most ardent followers of some religion.
Even if these strong experiences and emotions are the core of religion, one must still wonder why they should be coupled with any strict dogmas. Even if a religious mystic would describe her experiences through certain concepts that would seem to commit her to some clear dogmas – such as the existence of divinities – there literally would be no need to take these concepts as referring to anything. Chateaubriand’s strongest argument then leads at once to a quite different outcome from what he envisioned – to a notion of religion without any dogmas, that is, to a sort of embracing the mysterious without any need for explaining it with some theories.
Chateaubriand’s second argument concerns more the supposed benefits Christianity has provided in the development of society. One might be a bit skeptical about the beneficence of some of the things Chateaubriand mentions, such as the founding of militaristic religious orders, but some developments, such as the disapproval of infanticide and the abolition of slavery, are clearly positive (although Bible has also been used for justifying the enslavement of Africans). In a manner fitting to a romantic age, he even speculates of the possibility that the spiritual being of humanity would directly cause changes in the material state of both humanity itself and nature in general – barbaric paganism, with the massacre of innocent Christians, caused the destruction of Roman Empire and the spread of atheism might as well destroy Europe. This speculation is, of course, quite unbelievable, but also against the very dogmas of Catholic Christianity – no lesser authority than Augustine stated already that the coming and goings of earthly empires have nothing to do with the fate of the heavenly kingdom.
Chateaubriand’s laudations are probably far from impartial – he ignores all the havoc caused in the name of Christianity and is silent about any positive effects of other religions or Enlightenment. Still, it is true that religions might at least have the potential for good effects – religious experiences might e.g. make people more charitable toward one another. Yet again, we might well ask, firstly, why this religion need be Christianity in particular. Secondly, we might also question whether these beneficent effects should be connected with any religious dogmas at all. Indeed, a religion without dogmas could satisfy the need for more humane society a lot better than any religion with strict dogmas that might always leave out some human beings outside their influence.