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    Rousseau On Civil Religion Essay

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    Religion is a component of almost every society. Knowing this, one might look atthe function it serves. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, religion, specifically acivil religion established by the Sovereign, is an instrument of politics thatserves a motivating function.

    In a new society people are unable to understandthe purpose of the law. Therefore, civil religion motivates people to obey thelaw because they fear some divine being. For a developed society, civil religionmotivates people to maintain the habit of obedience because they grow tounderstand and love the law. First of all, it is necessary to clarifyRousseau’s ideas on religion.

    In Chapter Eight of On the Social Contract,Rousseau distinguishes four types of religion. The first of these is the”religion of man. ” According to Rousseau, this type of religion is”without temples, alters or rites. ” It is “limited to the purely internalcult of the supreme God and to the eternal duties of morality–is the pure andsimple religion of the Gospel, the true theism, and what can be called naturaldivine law” (SC, Bk IV, Ch. 8) In addition, he describes the “religion ofman” as Christianity.

    However, it is different than the Christianity of todayin that it is focused on the Gospels and “through this holy, sublime, truereligion, men, in being the children of the same God, all acknowledge oneanother as brothers, and the society that united them is not dissolved even indeath” (SC, Bk IV, Ch. 8). Rousseau finds fault in this type of religion. TrueChristianity of this sort would require every citizen to be an equally goodChristian for peace and harmony to be maintained. In addition, Rousseau arguesthat it would be unlikely for every man to be concerned only with heavenlythings.

    He anticipated that “a single ambitious man, a single hypocrite, aCataline, for example, or a Cromwell, he would quite undoubtedly gain an upperhand on his pious compatriots” (SC, Bk IV. Ch. 8). Rousseau defines the secondtype of religion as the “religion of the citizen. ” He states, The other,inscribed in a single country, gives it its gods, its own titulary patrons.

    Ithas its dogmas, its rites its exterior cult prescribed by its laws. Outside thenation that practices it, everything is infidel, alien and barbarous to it. Itextends the duties and rights of man only as far as its alters(SC, Bk IV, Ch 8). Rousseau believes this type of religion is good because it unites “the divinecult” with love of the laws. On the other hand, this type of religion has thepotential to make men superstitious and intolerant. When the boundary betweenChurch and state is clouded, men may begin to “believe they are performing abold 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 “morebizarre. ” He calls this “religion of the priest” and states “in givingmen two sets of legislation, two leaders, and two homelands, it subjects them tocontradictory duties and prevents them from being simultaneously devout men andcitizens. ” An example of this type of religion is Roman Catholicism. RomanCatholics 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 theleader of the state. Also, they are commanded subject to the rule of the Vaticanas well as the rule of their homeland.

    For Rousseau, “religion of thepriest” is “so bad that it is a waste of time to amuse oneself by provingit. Whatever breaks up social unity is worthless. All institutions that placeman in contradiction to himself are of no value” (SC, Bk IV, Ch 8). BecauseRousseau finds serious faults with the first three types, he calls for people toadhere to a fourth kind of religion. He defines this as “civil religion.

    ” Heasserts that it is the Sovereign’s duty to require a “purely civilprofession of faith” and to establish the dogmas of a civil religion. Rousseauelaborates on this by stating, The dogmas of the civil religion ought to besimple, few in number, precisely worded, without explanations or commentaries. The existence of a powerful, intelligent, beneficent divinity that foresees andprovides; the life to come; the happiness of the just; the punishment of thewicked; the sanctity of the social contract and of the laws. These are thepositive dogmas.

    As for the negative dogmas, I am limiting them to just one,namely intolerance (SC, Bk IV, Ch 8). Furthermore, the Sovereign can banish anyman who does not believe these tenets. However, one is not banished for beingimpious, but rather, for being unsociable. Keeping this in mind, one can addressthe reasons why Rousseau feels a civil religion is necessary. For Rousseau, thistype of religion motivates people in two distinct ways.

    First of all, for peoplein emerging societies, it creates fear and awe of a power larger than the state(Dent, 1988). Rousseau characterizes people in these new societies as incapableof understanding the real purpose and principles of law (SC, Bk II, Ch 6). Inturn, he fears that the ignorance of the masses will interfere with theirobedience of civil law. Recognizing the dilemmas associated with instituting asystem of laws in a new society, Rousseau places most of the burden on theLegislator (Trachtenberg, 1993). It becomes the Legislator’s duty to guide thepeople towards the common good.

    However, pointing the people in the direction ofthe common good will not just come as a result of the the Legislator’s highintellect nor his sound reasoning ability. Instead, the Legislator will have toappeal to a higher force, that the people are more comfortable with and trustingof (Rosenblatt, 1997). Rousseau states, “Since, therefore, the legislator isincapable of using either force or reasoning, he must of necessity have recourseto an authority of a different order, which can compel without violence andpersuade without convincing” (SC, Bk II, Ch 7). In this passage Rousseau isreferring in to the use of religion as an instrument of politics.

    Religionbecomes a means of motivating people to subject themselves willingly to the law(Trachtenberg, 1993). It appeals to the man’s primitive instinct of survival. Motivation arises out of the fear and awe people have of divine power over them(Trachtenberg, 1993). They not only see the potential of civil sanctions, butthey also the fear heavenly retribution.

    Likewise, they see compliance with thelaw as a means of receiving the favor and blessing of God (Dent, 1988). According to one author, “religion remedies the effect of the cognitivedeficit the Legislator encounters with a new people” (Trachtenberg, 1993). However, the function of civil religion evolves simultaneously with thedevelopment of society. As a society changes and becomes more aware of thedirection of the common good, the purpose of civil religion shifts. Once thelaws have been implemented, citizens begin to learn through experience that itis to their advantage to live under the law (Trachtenberg, 1993). They no longerneed to be manipulated into obedience.

    This is not to say that civil religionloses its value and falls by the way side. Instead, it becomes a different kindof motivator. It is not used as a mechanism to impose obedience of the law, butrather, a means to maintain obedience to the law (Dent, 1988). Rousseau writes,For it is of great importance to the state that each citizen have a religionthat causes him to love his duties.

    But the dogmas of that religion are of nointerest either to the state or its members, except to the extent that thesedogmas relate to morality and to the duties which the one who professes them isbound to fulfill toward others (SC, Bk IV, Ch 8). This passage describes whatRousseau envisions society to be like. He suggests that civil religion willcreate an invariable bond between people and the law (Lemos, 1977). According toRousseau, the law, by its very nature has force, however when linked to religionthis force is increased (Trachtenberg, 1993).

    It is evident that one will haveduties in society regardless of the presence of religion (Dent, 1988). Simplyput, they are a requirements of civil association. However, it is not requiredthat citizens love these duties. This is where civil religion fits in. It is ameans of creating the love people have for their duties and moralresponsibilities. This love of the law is unlike that created by the “religionof the citizen” (Dent, 1988).

    While both provide a strong link between theindividual and the law, a civil religion does not turn the state into the objectof adoration. Nor does a civil religion emphasize intolerance. In fact itemphasizes just the opposite point of view. Rousseau states, “tolerance shouldbe shown to all those that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas containnothing contrary to the duties of a citizen” (SC, Bk IV, Ch 8) In turn, theSovereign is not concerned with whether or not the dogmas of the civil religionare right or wrong but instead with the moral, social, and politicalconsequences it brings forth (Trachtenberg, 1993). Clearly, one can see thatRousseau takes seriously the function of religion in society. He outlines fourvery different types of religions in his texts but calls for adherence to onlyone, civil religion.

    He sees this type of religion as a serving a motivatingfunction. For people in emerging societies who are unable to understand thepurpose of law, civil religion motivates them to obey out of fear. For those indeveloped societies, the motivation to obey the laws comes from a love anddevotion to the law.

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