The Cult of the Supreme Being

During the initial stages of the French Revolution there was growing support for the separation of church and state. Many of the contributing members of society from all social strata (the Third Estate), ranging from peasants at the lower end to merchants at the top, began to reject the Catholic Church because it was perceived as a tool of repression and subjugation. Several of the revolution’s leaders initially tried to completely distance French society from any degree of religious inclination. These “radical” thinkers of the age garnered a large amount of support for a new doctrine called the Cult of Reason, which incorporated atheistic views centered on the guiding concept of reason to help guide society’s operation.

Although the Cult of Reason gained an initial foothold in French society, one of the very outspoken and influential leaders of the Committee of Public Safety, Maximilian Robespierre, did not agree with the godless aspect of this new ideological framework. He instead developed his own religious system called The Cult of the Supreme Being. This construct differed from the latter in that it contained elements of religion, deism in particular, and argued that civic virtue and respect for fellow man would aptly serve the all-powerful “creator.” In the document, The Cult of the Supreme Being, Robespierre wrote, “The Author of Nature has bound all mortals by a boundless chain of love and happiness. Perish the tyrants who have dared to break it!” This quote demonstrates how Robespierre believed that humanity was designed to exist in a state of harmony and equilibrium, but certain evil individuals (tyrants) have polluted the system’s design by oppressing fellow men. Robespierre believed that it is the duty of all Frenchman to worship the Supreme Being by taking revolutionary actions to dethrone the tyrants, thus restoring the natural and intended state of nature that the Godhead had intended. He was able to justify revolutionary actions through this paradigm.


What do you believe are the pros and cons of a religious society?