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Rousseau On Civil Religion Essay

2004 words - 9 pages

Religion is a component of almost every society.
Knowing this, one might look at the function it
serves. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, religion,
specifically a civil religion established by the
Sovereign, is an instrument of politics that serves a
motivating function. In a new society people are
unable to understand the purpose of the law.
Therefore, civil religion motivates people to obey the
law because they fear some divine being. For a
developed society, civil religion motivates people to
maintain the habit of obedience because they grow to
understand and love the law. First of all, it is
necessary to clarify Rousseau’s ideas on religion. In
Chapter Eight of On the Social ...view middle of the document...

Ch. 8).
Rousseau defines the second type of religion as the
“religion of the citizen.” He states, the other,
inscribed in a single country, gives its gods, its own
tutelary patrons. It has its dogmas, its rites, and
its exterior cult prescribed by its laws. Outside the
nation that practices it, everything is infidel, alien
and barbarous to it. It extends the duties and rights
of man only as far as it alters (SC, Bk IV, Ch 8).
Rousseau believes this type of religion is good
because it unites “the divine cult” with love of the
laws. On the other hand, this type of religion has the
potential to make men superstitious and intolerant.
When the boundary between Church and state is clouded,
men may begin to “believe they are performing a bold
action in killing anyone who does not accept its gods”
(SC, Bk IV, Ch 8).
Rousseau points out a third type of religion, which in
his own words is “more bizarre.” He calls this
“religion of the priest” and states “in giving men two
sets of legislation, two leaders, and two homelands,
it subjects them to contradictory duties and prevents
them from being simultaneously devout men and
citizens.” An example of this type of religion is
Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholics are subject to the
law of the Church as well as the law of the state.
They are subject to the authority of the pope as well
as the authority of the leader of the state. Also,
they are commanded subject to the rule of the Vatican
as well as the rule of their homeland. For Rousseau,
“religion of the priest” is “so bad that it is a waste
of time to amuse oneself by proving it. Whatever
breaks up social unity is worthless. All institutions
that place man in contradiction to himself are of no
value” (SC, Bk IV, Ch 8).
Because Rousseau finds serious faults with the first
three types, he calls for people to adhere to a fourth
kind of religion. He defines this as “civil religion.”
He asserts that it is the Sovereign’s duty to
require a “purely civil profession of faith” and to
establish the dogmas of a civil religion. Rousseau
elaborates on this by stating; the dogmas of the civil
religion ought to be simple, few in number, precisely
worded, without explanations or commentaries. The
existence of a powerful, intelligent, beneficent
divinity that foresees and provides; the life to come;
the happiness of the just; the punishment of the
wicked; the sanctity of the social contract and of the
laws. These are the positive dogmas. As for the
negative dogmas, he is limiting them to just one,
namely intolerance (SC, Bk IV, Ch 8). Furthermore, the
Sovereign can banish any man who does not believe
these tenets. However, one is not banished for being
impious, but rather, for being unsociable. Keeping
this in mind, one can address the reasons why Rousseau
feels a civil religion is...

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