A Look at the Lifestyle and Beliefs of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived a nomadic lifestyle, which caused him to change religions multiple times in his lifetime; his religious views were based off of secularism, Roman Catholic, Protestantism, the counter-enlightenment and natural religion. Jean-Jacques Rousseau published multiple books on religion, such as Civil Religion and Faith of a Savoy and Priest in which he shared his views on the ethics of Christianity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau later on rejected the idea of Christianity with Natural Religion.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was strongly affected by his childhood. He was born on June 28, 1712 in Geneva, nine days later he had lost his mother. Jean-Jacques Rousseau losing his mother young could have caused attachment issues and his paranoia later on in life. He was known to be a self-educated man and passionate about his studies. That never had a formal education, his mother left behind many books for Rousseau to read. He strongly believed in his beliefs and theories. His father was considered to be unstable and ended up being exiled and put to death when Rousseau was 11. At the age of 15 he ended up running away from Geneva to Savoy.

Rousseau lived a nomadic lifestyle and went through many jobs in his lifetime from being a tutor, a companion to secretary, music copyist, and to collaborating with Voltaire on the Encylopedie. He was considered to have written about variety of topics, from education, to politics, ancient worlds, philosophy, music, and religion.

For a brief of time, Rousseau had decided to embark on becoming a Priest. He went through with the training, but found the seminars to be dull and had no interest to actually become a priest. While he was there he ended up changing his mind and decided to pursue a career is musician instead. In which he decided to go to Paris to purse a career in music and meet with other fellow intellectuals of France during this time.

His birthplaces of Geneva left a strong impression on him. It was shown that he was proud of his political identity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau would often publish his work with ‘citizen of Geneva’ as his signature mark. The people of Geneva were asked to accept the confession of faith and at the same time swore loyalty to the city. “Cleary, religion in Geneva concerned more than an individual’s salvation; it had a strong public and civil component.” This could have affect on why he didn’t want the state and religion to be together later on his writings. Calvinism was viewed as being moralistic, which could be where Rousseau views of morals came from.

Those in his life were influential on religion Jean-Jacques Rousseau followed. For instance, in Savoy, Rousseau met Baronne De Warens, who provided him with refuge in her home. She was divorced two years prior to meeting Rousseau, but the Catholic Church did not recognize her divorce. After leaving her husband, she went to Savoy, where she had thrown herself at the feet of King Victor and claimed herself a ‘refugee from Protestantism.’ In Savoy, she was a Catholic Missionary, who helped to convert from Protestant to Catholic, including Rousseau. After Rousseau converted Catholicism, he also formed deist views in which he rejected religion by favoring “natural religion.” “That while our creator made everything good, all that had been forged by man was corrupted and depraved.” She had also helped with furthering his education, which transformed him into a philosopher. He became her lover and pupil.

According to Leo Damrosch, in the Restless Genius, he discusses that Rousseau found the Catholic to be more ‘charming and ‘encouraging.’ He went to ‘god’ to forgive those who had harmed him of ‘sins.’ In his writings, he described three types of religions; these include religion of the man, religion of the citizen, and religion of the priest. Jean-Jacques Rousseau questioned the equality of man. Jean-Jacques Rousseau rejected what he himself described as the ‘perfect’ religion or Christianity of Gospels. That religion is moral practical expediency. Rousseau viewed that Christianity had ruined the politics in the West. That religion is informal centered on morality and the worship of God.

In 1745, he lived with Therese Levasseur until his death, which he would eventually marry. In comparison to Madame De Warens, she was viewed as a less educated and fair less attractive. He could never tolerate a family of his own, 5 of his children were sent to orphanage. This ironic with his writings, in Emile, in which he discusses the importance of the child being raised by the parents but he also gave his away. This could have been from his childhood, never having a proper mother figure, due to the fact he lost his mother at such a young age.

Revolutionary Leaders during the French Revolution, such as Robespierre and the Jacobins, hailed Jean-Jacques Rousseau as Prophet. They would read The Social Contract on the corner of the streets for passer byers to hear. This was meant to spark inspiration in the revolution. Cobban claimed that Rousseau’s name was strongly linked with the French Revolution. Rousseau work was found to be more popular after his death and linked to other revolutionary event, especially his work on The Social Contract.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau views on Catholicism changed after a staying at a hostel, where a young man attempted to make moves toward him while he was staying at a Catholic Hostel. After this experience, Rousseau had distaste for Catholicism. His distaste for ritual seemed to be linked with his dislike of dogmas. On the other hand, a religion of a citizen is “Civil Religion.” This would consist of a religion of a single country, a nation. These religions would be hierarchical, formal dogma. Then there is a third religion, this is independent of the sate, and it’s international and has its own agenda. Rousseau views Catholic as an example of this religion.

During his travels, Rousseau would also continue to follow his general studies, in which he promptly took the ethical approach, morals, and political connection to religion. Rather than study the rituals of Jesus himself, he would focus in the moral lessons behind the bible studies and the ethics. In his writings, he often referenced to Pagans, Adam and Eve, Ancient Rome and Greece. “At first men had no kings save the gods, and no government save theocracy.” There has not been a society that has not been found without religion behind it. “The Faith in one’s natural goodness is a constant encouragement to evade moral responsibility.” He found a special importance when it came to morals and linking it with his studies. He noticed through religion that people followed a certain moral codes.

Arthur Melzer claimed that the counter-enlightenment started with Rousseau. Rousseau did not reject the idea of enlightenment but he transformed it into the counter-enlightenment. In his writings, he argues that religion is ‘something politically and morally necessary.’ In the late 1740s, Jean-Jacques Rousseau became friends with Diderot in Paris in which he helped with writing the Encylopédie. “Even though it is evident from reading the Holy Scripture that the first man, having received enlightenment and percepts directly from god, was not himself in that state… paradox.” Although Rousseau and Voltaire were viewed two of the most famous French Philosophers, they in fact hated each other. “It is not surprised that Rousseau and Voltaire ultimately quarreled; the marvel is that they did not quarrel sooner.” In 1756, letters were exchanged between Voltaire and Rousseau, indicating their relations were already tense.

From a letter that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had sent to his friend it showed that he was very guarded on his religious beliefs. Rousseau was considered a moralist, he shared strong morals, and this was evident in his writings. In which he focused on the moral aspects of religion. In his writing, The First and Second Discourse, Rousseau stated, “Did I idle? Would God they really were! Morals would be healthier and society more peaceful.” In this piece, he emphasis the importance of morals as if they held more importance over God.

In a Calvinism sermon on Catholicism in Geneva, Rousseau had stated “Slaves of the Court of Rome, slaves of throng monks, ignorant, idle, debauched, and greedy, who would only to suck us dry.” In Geneva, Rousseau believed that people were naturally sinners, born into a corrupt world, incapable of doing well. Jean-Jacques Rousseau return to Geneva had a strong impact on him. He had taken to reading the bible had found a profound interest of ‘profound message of god.’ He had picked up reading on the Christian God. This was after he returned from Savoy in 1754. During this time he converted back to Calvinism.

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Speech on Defense of Geneva Pastors made him a hero to the Geneva Pastors. Although he formed a somewhat idealized concept of his home city while he was gone. Rousseau was so moved by spirit of the Republican City that he decided to embrace the Protestant faith again. “If Genevanes needed an example to follow, they could turn to Sparta, whose citizens were forever assembling for one public festival or another.” Rousseau idealized the Spartans, he often reflect upon them in his readings, especially in the Social Contract, which he talks majority about the Spartans connecting them to 18th Century France.

Leo Damrosch claimed that Jean-Jacques Rousseau held strongly to his belief in god and the soul. In Paris, Jean-Jacques Rousseau befriended Diderot and became a part of group of intellectuals of 18th Centaury France. Rousseau shared enlightenment views while apart of this group. Rousseau did not break from Enlightenment, until after his spilt with Diderot, which had an affect on Voltaire; who’s known as the father of the ‘enlightenment.’ It was in the 1740s, he took part in the Encylopedie with Diderot, which was known as the centerpiece of the enlightenment. For the Encylopedie he wrote hundreds of articles on music. Diderot had been arrested for the questioning the idea of a providential god. The conflict between Diderot and Rousseau, according to Crocker, “the most notorious and significant quarrel of the centaury.” Following this quarrel and disagreement, Rousseau changed his views on the Enlightenment and decided for life in the rural life. Rousseau fell out with Diderot and Voltaire, because he was an advocate for stricter morals and he was siding with the radicals.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau entered a discourse for The Academy of Dijon in 1750. The question was “Has The Restoration of The Arts and Sciences had a Purifying Effect Upon Morals?” This ended up winning the prize for that year. In this discourse, he argued that arts and science corrupted human morality. Also he dismissed natural law. Natural law was the virtue of human nature and universally cognizable through human reason, which can be analyzed both socially and through personal humans. What is the origin of inequality among men; and it is unauthorized by natural law? Religious people wanted others to believe that god took people out of the state of nature; they are unequal because they want to be. In the Discourse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau discusses the difference natural law and moral law. God created Natural Law and Nature set upon man to survive. Religion helps by bringing morals to the state, by removing this; they could risk the chance of disobedience in the state. Theory of Religion ‘inclined to think of religion as a whole.’ After he returned to Geneva in 1754, his main focus was on politics rather than religion.

In response to ‘Letter on Providence,’ Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that god was not responsible for evil and human suffering. Jean-Jacques Rousseau writes promptly on the human suffering, how it was created by society. In The Social Contract, “political war was also theological; the province of the gods, there were no wars of religion.”

The idea that church should be under state was popular among philosophers, including Mathiez and Montesquieu. Also, they agreed that some form of religion was needed to maintain both public form and morals. Opposed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, views in The Social Contract, in which he discusses secularism. He states the church and the state might not work in collusion. In order for the church and state to function properly, they need to be separated; this would strengthen them both individually. Jean-Jacques Rousseau blames Christianity for the destroying the unity of the state and the soul of it. The problem is that religion competes with the state, those separations of power. Jean-Jacques Rousseau believes in common interest, that society should share a similar interest, in order for it function properly. If the people don’t know whom to follow, they wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement over a common interest. He believes that religion is bad for that state. That Christian Soldiers make bad soldiers.

Every established authority condemned the Civil Religion in Geneva after the publication. “Would God say they were, then society would be more peaceful, and moral less corrupt.” In the historical argument, Jean-Jacques Rousseau explains how government had never existed without religion or religion without government. There has not been a state founded without the basis of religion. On the contrary, he states, “Christian law is fundamentally more harmful than useful to the strong constitution of a state.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau contradicts himself by saying that government did not exist without religion but that Christian laws are fundamentally harmful. Rousseau is not hostile towards religion, but in other words has serious complaints.

In his writings, the Ancient Worlds inspired Jean-Jacques Rousseau on state religion and city-state. In Civil Religion, pagan religion was civil religion ‘needs and passions.’ He questioned the old gods, by asking if different gods could perhaps be the same god. “As if Moloch, Saturn and Chronos could be the same god!” Also, he discussed how one state or person doesn’t follow the same god. Rousseau claimed that during the pagan times, that people struggled with finding a distinction between gods and government. In The Social Contract, there is mention of a universal religion, “the humane and social religion which every man living in society is obliged to admit.”

In the Civil Religion, Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentions the connection of religion and government. It was never made clear if man should follow their masters or the priest. In the Church of Rome, they’re given ‘two legislators, two sovereigns, almost two fatherlands.’ It became upon the people to decide whom they should follow either the church or the state. In attempts to figure this out themselves, some monarchies have laid claim over their churches. For instance, “Among us, the Kings of England have made themselves heads of the Church, and the Czars have done the same.” This does not always work out as expected. Due to the fact that the king has no true power over the church, in fact its found to be the reverse. The clergyman had attempted to gain power over the princes.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau held negative views towards Christianity. For instance in question of the equality of man, he stated that Christians are bounded by servitude and independence, ‘true Christians are made to be slaves.’ Rousseau stated that natural religion, which contains substance of Christianity, is the only religion suited to mankind. That Catholics have no true religion. In Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau chooses to follow a benign god instead of the scriptures. “Christianity has softened men and made them, for the most part, more merciful, humane, and obedient.” Although he believed that religion and faith was the fundamental basis in people’s lives and those who claimed to not have a faith were in liars and fool.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau claimed that Christianity softened man. “The gods are needed to legitimize and enforce devotion to the particular political community by combatting both individualistic self-love and cosmopolitan love of humanity.” In the pagan world, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserts, there were no wars of religion. While on the other hand, Christianity tends to put friends and fellow citizens at war. In Civil Religion, Jean-Jacques described Christian Religion as “if anything, the results and no the origin of violence.” Profession of Faith of a Savoy and Priest was considered to be one of the least controversial of his major text both past and present.

Rousseau’s opinions got him into trouble quite a few times, his disbelief in basic elements Christianity such as the doctrine of the original sin got Emile burned. His writing as a great Christian Writer had been damaged after he published Emile in 1762. Moultou had warned Rousseau on how The Social Contract and Emile would have an affect on Genevans who strongly defended their religion country. Moultou was a pastor from Geneva that Rousseau met when he returned to Geneva in 1754; he resigned from ministry to defend Emile in 1762. On May 12, 1763, Rousseau renounced his citizenship in Geneva.

In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacque Rousseau stated Christian are bounded by servitude and independence, ‘true Christians are made to be slaves.’ In November 1765, Jean-Jacques Rousseau appeared publicly in France after negative reactions to his books, but was not arrested by the police. Often during hard times, Rousseau would shut out reality, a coping mechanism he developed from his childhood.

In 1760s and forward, Rousseau had suffered with chronic malady. Those suffering both mentally and physically, at one point he even contemplated suicide. Rousseau went to Yverdon, after he was forced to flee France. There he was kicked out by the Bernese, for the next years he moved around looking for safety. In 1766, Rousseau got help David Herme, he able to settle down in Derbyshire, England. In 1767, Rousseau returned to France under the protection of Prince de Conti. Eventually settling back down in Paris in 1770. There he published The Confessions in 1770, which he was working on for 4 years and begun Reveries of Solitary Walker in 1776 but when unfinished upon his death. In these books he took time to reflect back on his life and the choices that he had made.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau eventually died in 1778 due to apoplectic stroke.

Through Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s studies and travels, he was able to explore the ethics behind religion and the morals. Also Jean-Jacques Rousseau religious views change with his political views, ethics and location during his lifetime. The primary forms of Christianity he followed were Calvinism and Catholic. Although through his writings, he often debunked the traditional religion. It could be shown that he changed religions as term of survival. The beginning years of his life he moved around quite a bit since he didn’t have a proper home.

Later on he moved around based on how his books were perceived and accepted. In these different city-states, there were different forms of religions to follow; he adjusted based on the city-state. This could be also why he had distaste for the religion and the state together. Jean-Jacques Rousseau practice of religion was viewed as unorthodox, eccentric during the time. This would be quite fit with his personality due to the fact he was a peculiar man during the time. Rousseau views on Religion changed to Natural Religion, which he believed to be the ideal form of religion. He believed that the State and Religion should be separated, because of the power conflict that emerges between to two.

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