In the famous realist novel A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe blends the factual with the imaginary, describing the social context just before the great plague struck London in 1665. Among the reactions described, two straddle the line between religion and conspiracy.
John the Baptist's call—"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near"—succeeded in bringing Jews "from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan" to the desert where the prophet preached, to confess their sins and be baptised. Two thousand years later, the exhortation to "repent" is buried under a mountain of pejorative associations.
An administrative decision by a Catholic university in the United States is a good illustration of a major reason why Christian churches, with some exceptions, are rapidly losing their relevance in society.
“Imagine there’s no heaven ...” sang John Lennon. “… and no religion too.” The implication is that the world would be a better place without religion. Wrong. Christianity has changed the world in dramatic and positive ways.
In 2013, famous atheist author Richard Dawkins was voted the world's leading thinker in a global poll of 10,000 people in 100 countries. Not a single thinker from the fields of religion or ethics made the list. It's worth saying again: "Think forward!"
It was the first time most Christians had heard of the Gnostics— communities of Christians who lived between the 2nd and 4th centuries and whose scriptures and spiritual beliefs bore little resemblance to what is now considered traditional Christianity.
It is said that the intelligent and cynical Talleyrand, a French diplomat and Catholic priest who was later secularised, said to Napoleon when asked to devise a political message: "Sir, give me the idea and I'll find the arguments myself..." If such an intellectual attitude is cynical and unscrupulous in politics, let's imagine the consequences in the religious sphere.
"Intelligent, scientifically trained people no longer believe (or can no longer believe) in God."
In A History of Young People in the West, Giovanni Levi and Jean-Claude Schmitt posit that, in the West, adolescence is first and foremost a social-cultural construction, and therefore a cultural product. They considered it at most subsidiarily as a stage in the physiological process of growing up.
Thousands of street names changed because they referred to Christian saints, Catholic priests forced to marry, Jesus Christ described as a revolutionary—these are some of the stupefying details of the French Revolution.
The idea that religion is harmful to the process of human development has no scientific support, but religious conviction has been associated with a number of tragic experiences within families.
In the early decades of the 18th century, America was in the throes of an identity crisis. The new American lifestyle had earned New England the nickname of “the new English Sodom.”
“The newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles. Meetings are held in a tumble-down shack on Azusa Street...and the devotees of the weird doctrine... work themselves into a state of mad excitement...They claim to have the ‘gift of tongues’ and to be able to understand the babel”.
“Jerusalem crucified the Lord, Rome beheaded and crucified his chief apostles and plunged the whole Roman church into a baptism of blood. Rome became, for good and for evil, the Jerusalem of Christendom, and the Vatican hill the Golgotha of the West. The cross was substituted for the sword as the symbol of conquest and power” .
The troubled centuries that followed the Great Schism of 1054 and the corresponding climate inside the Christian church gradually gave way to profound shifts in the thinking and spirituality of Europeans.