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Rousseau on Civil Religion

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:29 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 53.2 
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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 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 internal cult of the supreme God and to the

eternal duties of morality--is the pure and simple

religion of the Gospel, the true theism, and what can

be called natural divine law” (SC, Bk IV, Ch. 8).   In

addition, he describes the “religion of man” as

Christianity. However, it is different than the

Christianity of today in that it is focused on the

Gospels and “through this holy, sublime, true

religion, men, in being the children of the same God,

all acknowledge one another as brothers, and the

society that united them is not dissolved even in

death” (SC, Bk IV, Ch. 8). Rousseau finds fault in

this type of religion. True Christianity of this sort

would require every citizen to be an equally good

Christian for peace and harmony to be maintained. In

addition, Rousseau argues that it would be...


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