Religion the opiate of the people

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Before I get into my subject I would like to make it clear I’m talking about state organised religion not peoples personal faith. Although I no longer have one I wouldn’t want to belittle anyone else’s. Before anyone asks why I have focused mainly on Christianity it’s because along with the pagan religions of the past it’s the one I know most about. I imagine other religions have done what I accuse Christianity of. One of my Christian friends who read the article for me, before I posted pointed out the Jesus did the same; accusing the Pharisees of misusing their religion. So hopefully none of my Christian friends and family will be upset with me.

The idea of a state religion is an old one, many religions have been tied up with a state. If we look at the Romans, the work of the republic was not just a secular one. The rulings and workings of the senate were not just temporal they where divine.

When the Roman republic became an empire, it didn’t take long for them to start declaring themselves living gods. Several hundred years later when the leading men were fighting for control of the empire one enterprising man aligns himself with the growing sect, the Christians. He ends up as Emperor Constantine and Christianity becomes the official state religion.

Jump forward again to the middle ages and the state has a firm grip on the church, bibles can only be in Latin which means the illiterate populous are at the mercy of the priests to tell them the truth. While their lives are squalid living off turnips, their lords living well and eating meat mainly thanks to the labour of the peasants.

‘Fear not say the priests, because after a short hard life on earth god will give you an everlasting reward, if you serve his appointed leaders on earth.’ To which the peasant reply;

‘That sounds like a good deal. I’ll get back to grovelling in squalor hoping my life isn’t going to be too long.’

Rulers of the time where totally sold on the divine right of kings as god’s appointed rulers. To disagree with them was not just treason but sacrilege. Elizabeth I, worried for ages about executing Mary Queen of Scots, an appointed ruler and after the deed was done claimed it was a mistake and she never wanted her to die.

Even when people rebelled against monarchs it was often to remove their corrupting advisers rather than the king himself. Which was why executing Charles I was such a revolutionary event.

Nowadays religion has not such a hold over the populous in the west. Christianity has gone back to being a personal thing.

Why I am writing this drivel? Apart from the fact I find it very interesting I’ve been thinking of increasing the role of the gods in my books. In the first one there is a pantheon in the background. In the second I’m thinking of bringing them much more to fore. I’m planning on having some of the characters invoking the support of the gods to justify their action. Although until I write of course I have no idea if it will work.

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8 thoughts on “Religion the opiate of the people

  1. Christianity isn’t such a personal thing in many ways. Look to how many laws Christians want to pass because of their religious beliefs. And… “America is a Christian nation.” “War on Christmas.” “Prayer (Christian) in school.” “Marriage is between and man and a woman.” If these were personal beliefs, fine, but when they seek to enforce their religious beliefs on others- absolutely not fine

    Given a chance, Christians would make their religion the state one.

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  2. This was an interesting read and set me thinking from more than one perspective (albeit from The UK). Being at one a life-adherent of Left-Wing politics, a convert to Roman Catholicism, and having an interest in history.
    Taking the latter first, in particular in European history. There has frequently been a tussle for control by the state of the religious apparatus, and vice-versa, to add to the confusing mix there comes along from time-to-time a ‘from the bottom up movement’. These in turn will either become players, pawns or currency in the political games. Princes and (slightly) lesser nobility within The Holy Roman Empire seemed quite often willing to convert one way or the other as it suited. Thus the promotion of a religion (sect or school of thought) in this application of power is one weapon in the armoury of statecraft.
    Hopping to the first- But with comparison to the first I am bemused by the way Belief in Financial Systems and the ‘Well-known facts’ of economics are taken as Articles of Faith, in much the same way as religious ones of yore. Seeming that Humanity does need its Faith in the intangible.
    In post-WWII/Cold War (WWIII?) eras when political systems have been seen to be wanting by many populations, there has been a return to religions; because this is in a spirit of rebellion of dissatisfaction there has been a tendency to move to the harsher, unkind, in fact violent versions. These are usually quite in opposite of the original message and have their own political undertone, so once again the political facet is always there.
    In conclusion I am still trying to figure out how Popes of previous eras managed to square the persecution of Jews for crucifying Christ with the accounts in the New Testament. In basic modern terms, this was Jesus ‘mission’. It was going to happen (duh!). And the original Christians were from the Jews (duh again!) Some how could the entire race be guilty???. Now that’s one example where the authorities either get in wrong or are using any old excuse to turn attention from them, or make capital out of it. (Of course in these enlightened times, that could never happen…..HA!).
    Hope this longer-than-intended reply is of some use.
    All the best.
    Roger

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    1. Thanks for taking the time and I hope you forgive me equally rambling reply. I had never thought of economics taking over religion but I like the idea. As to the church vs the state you may find the saga of Henry II and Thomas Becettet very interesting once you get past the folklore. The church definitely won in that case. As for popes I wouldn’t claim to be an expert but I think a lot of them where more politician than church man and attacking the Jews would have been politically expedient.

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      1. Yes Henry II vs Beckett is an interesting struggle between two very talented and headstrong men. The 11th- (at least) 15th Century set tos between the Holy Roman Emperors and the incumbent popes make interesting reading. And then there are the high-jinks of the 15th/16th centuries when Spain and France get in on the act.
        There were more than few political popes as well as ones who fancied themselves as generals again 15th/16th century.
        The situation of the Jews in Europe from about 1000 onwards was difficult to say the least. Since making money out of money was a ‘Christian sin’ it was often only profession open to Jews, and when some became very good at it, well it was time for an edict or a put-up charge so the state, or the power brokers could grab jewish money ‘legally’ and in the ‘Godly’ way. (Or write off their debts!!)…..
        Sour note warning…
        This is why western cultures are so adept at making up ‘good’ reasons for anti-semitism …lots of practice!

        Liked by 1 person

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