ROUSSEAU ON CIVIL RELIGION

 

[Rousseau closes his Social Contract with a chapter on "civil religion." Roman Catholic Christianity he regarded as very noxious to the state; even the Chris≠tianity that he discovered in the Gospels, which he pro≠fesses to admire, did not, he believed, help to make good citizens, but rather the contrary.]

 

Christianity is a purely spiritual religion, occupied solely with heavenly things; the country of a Christian is not of this world. He does his duty, it is true, but he does it with a profound indifference as to the good or ill success of his efforts. Provided he has nothing to reproach himself with, it matters little to him whether things go well or ill here below. If the state is flourishing, he scarcely dares enjoy the public felicity; he fears to become proud of the glory of his country. If the state degenerates, he blesses the hand of God which lies heavy upon his people. . . .

 

Should the depository of this [political] power abuse it, he regards this abuse as the rod with which God punishes his children. People would have scruples about driving out the usurper; it would be necessary to disturb the public repose, to use violence, to shed blood; all this accords ill with the gentleness of the Christian, and, after all, what mat≠ters it whether one is a slave or free in this vale of misery? The essential thing is to go to paradise, and resignation is but one more means to accomplish it.

 

Should some foreign war supervene, the citizens march to combat without difficulty. None among them think of flying; they do their duty, but without passion for victory; they know better how to die than to win. Whether they are victors or vanquished, what matters it? Does not Providence know better than they what they need? . . .

 

But I am in error in speaking of a Christian republic; each of these words excludes the other. Christianity preaches only servitude and dependence. Its spirit is too favorable to tyranny not to be taken advantage of by it. Christians are made to be slaves: they know it and do not care; this short life has too little value in their eyes. . . .

 

There is, however, a profession of faith purely civil, of which it is the sovereign's [i.e. the people's] duty to decide upon the articles, not precisely as dogmas of religion, but as sentiments of sociality without which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful subject. Without being able to oblige any one to believe them, the sovereign can banish from the state whoever does not believe them ; the sovereign should banish him, not as impious, but as unsocial, as incapable of loving law and justice sincerely, and of sacrificing at need his life to his duty. If any one, having publicly acknowledged these dogmas, conducts himself as if he did not acknowledge them, he should be punished with death ; he has committed the greatest of crimes, - he has lied before the law.

 

The dogmas of civil religion should be simple, few in number, announced with precision, without explanation or commentary. The existence of a powerful, intelligent, benevo≠lent, prescient, and provident Divinity, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, the sacredness of the social contract and the law, - these are the positive dogmas.

 

As to the negative dogmas, I limit them to oneóno intoler≠ance; it enters into the religions which we have excluded. Those who make a distinction between civil intolerance and theological intolerance deceive themselves, to my mind. These two intolerances are inseparable. It is impossible to live in peace with people whom one believes to be damned; to love them is to hate God, who punishes them; they must be redeemed or else tortured. Wherever theological intol≠erance is admitted, it must have some civil effects; and as soon as it has them the sovereign is no more a sovereign, even in temporal matters. From that time priests are the true masters; kings are but their officers.