Having hoped his Supreme Being would instigate a new national cult controlled by human reason, the unfortunate Robespierre inexplicably found himself ensnared in the workings of totally irrational forces. These forces revealed that human beings are, in one form or another, not only inevitably religious, but also generally prone to shedding the blood of the individual to assure the well-being of the whole.

Against such forces neither Robespierre nor anyone else could do anything. The irony of fate had determined that the crude and primitive rite of human sacrifice surreptitiously creep back into French daily life with the government’s blessing. The refined, stylized, and mystical bloodless sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the now-forbidden Christian Eucharist, even though offered daily for 13 centuries in France’s thousands of churches, had now been spectacularly replaced by a more direct and less stylized sacrifice.

The guillotine’s red-splattered wood and steel supplanted the immaculate white linen of the Christian altar; the stench of the place of sacrifice, the sweetness of the smoking censer. The paltry, totally irrational Christian offering to God of small tokens of bread and wine, which “fanatics” of the Crucified actually claimed became his flesh and blood and the immortal food of human souls, had finally been eclipsed.

The new order, on the other hand, offered tangible proof of the progress being made by the Enlightenment, thanks to a more philosophically enlightened daily rite wherein even the mechanism for sacrifice had been devised to achieve human equality.

William Bush, To Quell the Terror: The True Story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne (1999)

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