Robespierre’s Shadow

Featured image: Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne, July 1794

After beheading their king, the French Convention set its sights on God.  Churches were stripped of their golden monstrances and silver chalices; statues and stained glass windows were shattered; hymnals and devotional books were consigned to the pyres.  Crosses were knocked down in graveyards and their gates decorated with “Death is an Eternal Sleep.”  Monasteries and nunneries were pressed into public service as hospitals or jails.  Notre Dame du Paris and other great cathedrals were declared “Temples of Reason.” Anacharsis Cloots, who had earlier declared himself “the personal enemy of Jesus Christ” proclaimed on November 10, 1793’s “Festival of Reason” that the Republic would contain but “one God only, Le Peuple.

Alas, the reign of Reason was cut short — along with its leaders — when Maximillian Robespierre decided that their strident atheism endangered the social order.  On March 24, 1794 Cloots and other leaders of the Cult of Reason went to the guillotine.  A few weeks later Robespierre gave the French Convention the Decree of the Supreme Being:

1. The French people recognise the existence of the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.

2. They recognise that the worship worthy of the Supreme Being is the practice of the duties of man.

3. They place in the first rank of these duties [the obligation] to detest bad faith and tyranny, to punish tyrants and traitors, to rescue the unfortunate, to respect the weak, to defend the oppressed, [and] to do to others all the good that one can and not to be unjust toward anyone.

4. Festivals shall be established to remind man of the thought of the Divinity and of the dignity of his being.

Though Robespierre persecuted constitutional monarchists without mercy, he grudgingly granted God a throne and a place where he could reign in the Image of Man. His Supreme Being was a great architect and grand geometer who had benevolently turned control over to his beloved humanity so that they might spread the gospel of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality throughout the world.  Robespierre hoped these concessions would placate the angry peasants and cement his hold on power.  But his Deity proved disinterested in his offerings:  six weeks after announcing the Decree of the Supreme Being Robespierre ascended the scaffold.

While he is best remembered today for the Reign of Terror, Robespierre’s influence as a theologian has been greatly underestimated.  Today most mainline Christian denominations abide by many of his tenets.  Christ is treated as a great man and world teacher whose wise advice can help people live better and more moral lives.  Biblical texts are weighed and measured in the light of current politics and morés: when the word of God conflicts with the opinions of the Priests of Science, most modern Christians will choose Reason over Faith.  The Virgin Birth and Resurrection are saluted as myths which point to deeper truths, not historical events.

Many will tell you this is a good thing.  Since the Industrial Revolution Western civilization has genuflected before the altar of Progress.  Superstition gets witches burned and albino children chopped up for magic spells.  We no longer need unfortunate astrology to explain disease or demons to understand human behavior.  Our smartphones give us access to a thousand Alexandrian Libraries’ worth of information: we can find with a few keystrokes the weight of electrons and the breadth of the universe.   Once the heavens and earth proclaim the glory of God: today they serve as tools by which we may better understand the inexorable workings of natural law.

The greatest (and to date only) mystic Materialism ever produced is an awkward Providence recluse named Howard Philips Lovecraft.  Scientists today speak of  quantum foam out of which universes spring unbidden.  Lovecraft saw the blind idiot god Azathoth bubbling and blaspheming at the center of all infinity.  We dream of technology that conquers the stars.  Lovecraft saw a world that would either go mad or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.  His readers shiver in terror because they realize they too are hairless apes trapped in a vast indifferent universe that will one day devour everything they love.

Jean Calvin still gets all kinds of hate for his thoughts on Predestination. But Materialism is equally rigid in its determinism. B.F. Skinner makes us rats and pigeons with a better CPU; Freud reduces us to an id-driven ego ruled by subconscious urges; Marcuse transforms us into a libido frustrated by oppressors. Manipulating crowds was once an art.  Thanks to statistical analysis and experimental psychology it is now a science. Predestination leaves us sinners in the hands of an angry God. Under Materialism we are cogs in a machine built by blind chance and driven by an indifferent wind.

We have imagined that world with nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.  And yet the world stubbornly refuses to live as one; greed and hunger persist; we need no hell below us because hell keeps pushing itself in our faces.  And while plutocrats and their courtiers imagine a world without countries, the people are demanding stronger borders.  We have designed better computers, reinvented catalog shopping and discovered new ways to share our lives with strangers.  We have not made ourselves, or our world, happier.  And across the West plummeting birth rates show that many of us have stopped making ourselves at all.

Alas, alas, what misery to be wise
When wisdom profits nothing! This old lore
I had forgotten; else I were not here.

                                                   Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

Nature abhors a vacuum.  You can take away the Divine but people will still seek outlets for their religious impulse.  Marxism was the first great Secular Religion.  It provided purpose, explanation and community for Jews newly emancipated from the ghetto and G-d.  It stirred the souls of Christian laborers who held the same grievances against the clergy and the wealthy as their French comrades before them.  And in time Marxism had its great victory.  No Napoleon came to rescue the Russians and restore their Church.

Old-style Marxism has become decidedly unfashionable since the Soviet Union’s collapse.  (It was already facing an uphill battle stirring up a largely prosperous and content American proletariat).  Cultural Marxism, a synthesis of Marxist and Freudian ideas, has been more successful.  Cultural Marxism envisions a world without borders and without heroes (see Karl Popper’s Open Society and its Enemies and yes, George Soros did indeed name his Open Society Institute after Popper’s book).  It also envisions a world without gods.

In Revolutionary France those priests who would not sign the Constitution civile du clergé (Civil Constitution of the Clergy) recognizing the French government’s authority over the Church were declared “counter-revolutionaries.”  On September 16, 1793 nearly 200 clergy were slaughtered in the “September Massacre.”  On November 16, 1793 in Nantes some 460 priests were drowned in the Loire in “Revolutionary Baptisms” and another 300 shot.   The Soviet Union’s treatment of the faithful lives on in infamy: the plight of Christians in China and North Korea has received less attention. 

That effluvient which rose in Paris and overwhelmed Moscow would see the last oppressor strangled with the guts of the last believer.  It has lapped for decades across America, feeding off Washington’s corruption like it fed off the corruption at Versailles and St. Petersburg.  It has soiled our schools and our churches.  It has desecrated our monuments and defiled the memory of our ancestors.  It would see us punished for sins we never committed while it mocks the very idea of sin.

Our people and our country have been poisoned.  Our only hope lies in the Grail.

On July 17, 1794 in the northern French town of Compiègne sixteen Carmelite nuns sang Veni Creator Spiritus at the foot of the guillotine.  Ten days later the Reign of Terror ended with Robespierre’s execution.  Our enemies hate everything holy, but they also fear it.  They shrink from the shadow of the Cross, and so we will stand behind that Cross.  We will answer nihilism and hedonism with faith and discipline.  We will give hope where they can only offer despair.  New Albion’s opponents have tarred us as fascists and White Supremacists.  We are something they fear far more, and something they should fear far more.  We are Christians.

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