Religious Fanaticism through the Ages
Modern Islam and From Sun God to Christianity
Finding a Good Religion
Today it appears that Islam is full of blood thirsty madmen. Whereas this is not strictly true, there have been quite a few acts of terror of late conducted by Muslims throughout the Western World.
The fact that the Belgium people couldn't have fireworks to celebrate New years Eve 2015 says something.
The face that Paris, France has attacked twice in recent times by religious nut-jobs also says something.
The city of Cologne, Germany during the 2015 New Years Eve celebrations had five hundred incidents of assault caused by roving gangs of Muslims.
Why these attacks when, of all the countries of Europe, it is the Germans that have acted the most friendly toward the new lot of Muslims coming in?
There are now plans to kick Muslims that have misbehaved out of Germany and also those intent on misbehaving in the future..
It is true that people who have little turn to religion and among those who do fanaticism can grow. Could this also happen with Christianity?
Is Christianity such a peaceful religion? If we say yes to this then we should ask the question of whether it has always been peaceful.
There seems to be nothing in the New Testament to indicate that Jesus was all for war. Yet the Crusades were conducted in the name of Jesus. Then you have the torture and murder of heretics and witches during the Middle Ages and beyond to consider.
Christianity started off as the underdog religion. The early Christians were easily bullied. Then, when Christians started getting some power, it was the Christians who began to do some of the bullying.
What makes for a good religion? If you are a ruler it is a religion that will give you maximum power over your subjects. Looking further afield, it would be great if it could give you some permanent connection with worthy allies.
What makes for a religious fanatic? Someone who goes way beyond common sense in support of their faith. This may be a case of it being okay in their minds if nowhere else to sacrifice their lives and that of their families for their beliefs.
The notion of live and let live when it comes to those of another faith might not be seen by them as an option.
When the Roman Empire found itself to be in trouble from outsiders wanting to horn in, the occasional bout of famine such as when there's grain shortages in Egypt, and the lack of general discipline in the armies, religion was looked a possible method of uniting the people in ways they had never been united before.
In truth the empire had grown too large for its own good and even splitting in two at one stage did not solve this basic problem.
Also not every emperor was a skilled diplomat and warrior. And those who came to rule various parts of the empire did not always do so in the best interests of the empire.
No. Christianity was not first up at bat in an effort to unit the people. A sun god faith (Sol Invictus) was endorsed by the emperor Aurelian and became the patron of the soldiers. Whether he had any connection with previous sun gods remains debatable.
Emperors portrayed Sol Invictus on their official coinage. It was Constantine who made Sunday the day of rest. The worship of Sol Invictus, however, would not turn out to be the glue necessary to bind the empire.
Making Christianity the official religion of the empire was Constantine's idea. He was hardly the ideal man for the job. Beforehand he had murdered his wife and child. He did, however, notice possibilities in this relatively new way of seeing the world that others apparently did not.
There is a crude drawing that can still be found in Rome. It shows a donkey being crucified. It dates back to the early days of Christianity. The rough and unknown artist was making a political point. Obviously he was not a Christian nor had any intention of becoming one. He did, however, have a sense of humor any Christian of the period would no doubt not appreciate.
The non-Christians of the Roman empire had a tendency to blame Christians in their midst for disasters, natural and otherwise. These were the major times of persecution. Later Christians would come to seek out and persecute non-Christians in the same way.
Christians were community minded and charitable. They cared for the poor. In a short time they had infiltrated many towns and cities of the empire. Even the occasional wave of persecution could not get rid of them.
Constantine scored a great victory and claimed that it had been the Christ who had guided him and his men.
Once bishops came out of hiding and were given grand places in which to live it became obvious that there was more than one belief in Jesus and not all beliefs were compatible.
There was even the possibility that the spread of Christianity throughout the empire might even result in splits that Constantine wanted to avoid. Was making Christianity the official religion then a terrible mistake?
Constantine called for a council of bishops and other important members of the Christian community in order to sort the problems out. Was Jesus a god? If so this created the difficulty of there being two gods instead of one. Some bishops were happy enough with this proposition whereas others considered such a notion to be blasphemy.
It was eventually decided by Constantine that Jesus was only to be considered a god in that he was of the Father. In other words he was part of god sent to earth to be crucified for the sins of humanity. Those who did not agree with this view were banished to the furthest reaches of the empire. Those who continued preaching non-conformist beliefs were executed.
The next big issue to arise was the development of a holy book that the religious powers that be in Rome could agree on served their needs. The Old Testament was definitely in. There was plenty of proof that Jesus was faithful to it.
As for the construction of the New Testament, there were a lot of writings available. Choices would be made. They would be based on the needs of the emerging Roman Catholic Church. Items would be added and bits taken out of necessary documents. Gospels would be left out completely. Back then there was no real difference between religion and politics.
One of the dangers to the emerging Catholic Church were those who would raise up the profile of Mary, Jesus' birth mother. It had to be emphasized that Mary was only a vehicle for Jesus to be born from. In other words, she was a very human woman and not a goddess in her own right.
Even so, during the Middle Ages cults were formed where Mary was given greater prominence than the Catholic Church would allow.
There was one where the women were referred to as Marthas, no doubt after Martha of Bethany, another important female biblical figure. They took care of the spiritual life of their community while their men took care of the secular life. Naturally they were considered to be heretics and efforts were made to stamp them out.
The Roman Empire could not be saved by Christianity but the religion Constantine had such high hopes for would go on. People would use it to reorganize Western Europe. It would, in fact, be a unifying force for other empires. Thanks in part to Christianity, Latin, the language of the Romans would continue to have great importance in the world even when it became effectively a dead language.
The old gods of the people competed with Christianty
Christianity and the New Order in Europe
The collapse of the Roman Empire left a power vacuum in Europe that extended across the English Channel to Britain. The barbarian invaders that came in wave after wave were, for the most part, not Christian.
They had their own gods and their own ideas on leadership. One thing that was slowly emerging, however, from the chaos of these invasions was the need the people had for some kind of unison that was more universal than tribal. But how could this unison possibly be arrived at?
Christianity was still spreading. With it came ideas on how to read, write and farm. The pope was now firmly the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
It became important to be a Christian ruler or at least to tolerate Christianity in order to form important alliances. Christian power brokers came to marry only those who had abandoned the older faiths. Those who refused to become Christian became more and more isolated and thus more in danger of being conquered.
There was Christianity in England left over from the days of the Roman Empire. There was also other beliefs centering on nature and in particular the seasons. Efforts were made in England and elsewhere to marry the seasons to Christianity in order to make the faith more palatable to new believers.
Christ came to be officially born at a time annually when, in Europe, there was bitter cold and hope for the return of warmer days was needed. Easter was the perfect time for the crucifixion because it coincided with the notion of rebirth. Jesus dies but rises from the dead. The earth was dead and now it sprouts green and so is once more alive.
In the Easter rabbit and the Easter egg (both pagan) there is the promise that life will continue. Going into modern times, young women (maidens) still dance around the May pole (a pagan phallic symbol) in May.
As the Church came more and more to stamp down on paganism ways, various methods of keeping pagan beliefs alive were sought. One method was to hide paganism inside Christianity. Symbols on Medieval Churches and Cathedrals are not all, strictly speaking, Christian.
Also the biblical plays at Christian festivals could have hidden within them pagan ideas the locals would understand but perhaps not those in charge of Christian spiritual life.
For those who in their hearts were still pagan it was a case of making use of what the enemy religion had to offer. What's more, these plays were in the language of the people whereas mass in church and cathedral, up until the black plague hit hard, was in Latin. If you did not understand Latin then the words might have some mystical appeal but that was about it.
The reason why some places of worship had to resort to mass in the language of the people during and after plague was the lack of priests capable of speaking in Latin. Of course this problem would eventually be remedied but not before the thirst for having the words in a language most commoners could understand had taken hold.
The Christian rulers and the pope, head of the Catholic Church, did not always get along. From the early Middle Ages until the early 19th Century there was the Holy Roman Empire. It may be said that it began with Pope Leo III crowning the Frankish ruler Charlemagne emperor in 800 A.D. This loosely constructed and loosely continuing conglomeration of central European powers gave the papacy at times some teeth.
It should be noted here that Charlemagne was all for bigger and better libraries. Other Christian rulers were not so keen on this idea.
What Christianity gave rulers, besides powerful connections, were new ways to control the people. A surf might have a hard life in this world but there was the promise, through faith, of a better existence in the next.
The poor were more likely to get into heaven than the rich. The rich could give themselves a better chance of getting into heaven by either helping the poor or giving generously to the Church. Children who died while extremely young (and this happened a lot) were given a free pass through the pearly gates. A knight's oath might give him second thoughts about going against the lord he serves.
Disease could be explained through lack of faith. If you don't have enough faith you get sick. If enough people don't have enough of the right faith then there is plague. It is then no wonder that many of the more magnificent churches and cathedrals were built during the centuries where the coming of or return of plague was a constant possibility. Medical knowledge was lacking and there were people of faith who wanted it that way.
King versus Church
A Ruler rebels against the Church
In building up the Catholic Church various European rulers created for themselves a dilemma.
There was a time when the king was appointed to rule by the gods. Then there was a time when the king was appointed to rule via the main power brokers of the land who were acting on the instruction of the gods.
Finally the king came to power via, not only his main power brokers acting in the name of God, but also a high ranking representative of the Catholic Church. Ruler became an inherited position but, in the ceremony of becoming ruler, the elements already mentioned were there.
The Barons and even higher ranking lords were supposedly representing the secular part of the kingdom and the archbishop the spiritual part. Of course it was never quite that simple.
There had to be land set aside for churches, monasteries and cathedrals. And land was something you could touch. It was definitely secular. Growing food and raising sheep and/or cattle was also considered a secular activity but one in which monks indulged in.
When a Crusade was called for it had both secular and spiritual leanings. Men had to be armed and also provisioned in other ways in order to go fight in the holy land. And then there were the travel expenses.
Many a knight went broke just getting there. Some Crusades were not held in the holy land at all but in parts of Europe against heretics. Even so, Crusades were costly and in a secular sense they rarely paid off. They were more often than not financial burdens.
There was trouble with King Henry II when Thomas Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. The king wanted greater control over the clergy and for the clergy to have weaker connections with Rome. Thomas Becket defended what he believed were the full rights of the Church. The result was the assassination of Becket and his eventual sainthood.
Apparently Becket had worn a hair shirt in penance no doubt for his earlier life before taking holy orders. Biting insects tend to gather in these hair shirts making for a less than comfortable existence. In Becket, because of earlier friendship, the king thought he'd have a steadfast ally. He was not to know that Becket would take his role as Archbishop so seriously.
Richard I took the throne of England in 1189. He was known as Richard the Lion heart and was very much to warrior monarch. He was one of the main Christian leaders in the Third Crusade. His battles again Saladin, the leader of the Muslims are legendary. The result was a three year truce giving Christian pilgrims and merchants access to Jerusalem.
The cost of the Third Crusade to the people of Richard's kingdom was great. After Richard's death Prince John became king. By then the kingdom was poverty stricken not only because of Richard's crusading but also other wars. Then there was the ransom for Richard that had been paid.
King John decided to tax the Catholic clergy. If barons had to pay tax to the king why should bishops be exempt? After all the Church was responsible to some extent for the impoverishment of the kingdom. This did not go down too well with the acting pope of the day.
King John was excommunicated. This was the worst punishment that could be offered to a monarch by Church authority. It meant that he could not depend on any help from any Christian or expect any Christian to serve him. It also meant any other monarch could attack King John's kingdom with the blessing of the Church.
Legend has it that King John, in order to lift this excommunication, went on his knees in the snow to appease the pope. Naturally part of the deal was that Church property and Church activity in King John's kingdom would be tax free. This round definitely went to the Church.
Legends of the evil of Prince and then King John may have as much to do with his monetary attack upon the Church as anything else. Was John a better king than Richard? Probably not. Were they just as bad as one another? There is that possibility. Of course John features large as a poor excuse for a prince let alone a king in the legend of Robin Hood.
King John came to sign the Magna Carta, a document that would limit the power of the king forever. No longer were kings of England to be above the law. They were now within the law. This of course brought up the question of just how divine was a monarch that was not above the law? In future centuries this would be tested.
Protests against the Church created Protestantism
New Splits in the Church
There have always been those who have challenged the direction of the Roman Catholic Church. Some were hunted down and eliminated. Others, such as the Cistercians and the Franciscans, were absorbed into the body of the Church to make it stronger.
The whipping priests who felt that self punishment could win God's good grace and bring an end to such things as plague were originally accepted by Church authority and then later rejected by the Church.
People tended to look to Jesus and his original disciples for inspiration. What seemed to be known was that they, for the most part, were poor and sought riches in Heaven and not on Earth. Various monkish orders took up this challenge of living a simple life but, over time, tended to grow wealthy and thus less like the original disciples of Jesus.
The order of monkish knights, the Knights Templar (the poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the temple of Solomon) were meant to be poor warriors giving their all to secure the holy land for Western Christianity. This was not a mean task and one they were destined to ultimately fail in.
Eventually their numbers and wealth put them at odds with King Philip the fair of France. Through a weak pope he had the order accused of heresy in 1307 and the leaders excommunicated. Also the leaders caught in France were tried for non-existent crimes against the Church and against humanity in general and burned at the stake.
The coming of the new, improved printing press to Europe with its movable type meant that books with some depth could now be printed. It became possible for more and more people, outside holy orders and the homes of the wealthy, to have access to the Bible.
One problem with the Bible was that it was in Latin. This was the language of the Church and not the people in general. It was possible to print in common languages such as Italian, French, German and English. why then shouldn't the Bible be printed in these languages for easier reading by the people in general?
The Church had monopolized the word of God for centuries by keeping it in Latin. It wasn't about to give this up without a fight.
Anyone printing, distributing or even in possession of a Bible not in Latin could be tortured then executed as a heretic. This kind of Church bullying, however, could not last forever. What's more, scholars who could read Latin were questioning the Church's interpretation of the Bible.
Was there a passage somewhere in the book of books stating there should be a pope, a father, governing over all of the faithful? Where was there mention that a pope could issue indulgences, forgiveness for sin, for monetary reward?
How did anything as secular as coins figure into the forgiveness of transgressions against God or humanity? Didn't Jesus die on the cross so that the sins of the faithful could be washed away in his blood? What then was the need for indulgences except to make the pope more wealthy?
Martin Luther was an Augustinian friar who found that the church he was involved in no longer served the people. The Church as he saw it was greedy and the pope, Leo X, corrupt. Among other things this pope was said to have been a pedephile.
It was fortunate for Luther that the money grubbing of the pope had put the pope at odds with the then present day Holy Roman Emperor.
Martin Luther had set out to reform the Church, Instead it split. A strong Protestant movement that would divide Europe and then much of the rest of the world had begin. The Lutheran Church, founded on Luther's teachings, is still with us today.
In England King Henry VIII required a divorce. The pope would not issue him with one. He then broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and formed a Church of his own. Thus he could issue himself with a divorce. The pope excommunicated Henry but this had little direct impact.
The Catholic Church in England had grown rich. It was now stripped of its wealth to make way for a new Christian order. Ships were built in defense against the Catholics across the channel as well as the Catholics in the north. Not all of this renewed ship building was successful. One ship sunk on its maiden voyage.
People who refused to belong to the new Church were persecuted. There may have been Catholic bullies abroad but there were Protestant bullies working for Henry at home.
When Henry VIII passed away England went back to being Catholic for a while. There was then the mistreatment of Protestants.
By the time Elizabeth the First took the throne, England was in as mess in terms of both finance and religion. She firmly re-established the Church of England. This meant, among other things, treating Catholic priests as spies for the pope. Anyone found hiding such spies could be brought up on charges of treason.
Strangely enough it wasn't the custom in England to burn those accused of witchcraft. They were generally hung instead. Heretics, however, were burnt.
A person who made too much of a fuss about being a Protestant was considered a heretic by Catholics in power. When Protestants came to power those who made too much of a fuss about being Catholic were considered to be heretics.
Meanwhile, in Elizabeth's reign, Anabaptists were considered heretics and, when caught, burnt. Apparently there was a form of Protestantism neither accepted by the Catholics or the Church of England.
The French Huguenots, another Protestant order, were given safe haven in England. There was a community of these refugees from Catholic violence living in London.
Poverty in England led to piracy. The Spanish heading back from the New World with gold were considered fair game. This led to the attack of the Spanish armada.
Ship building as well as ship design had improved since the days of Henry VIII. England could now claim to be a naval power. This was brought home through the defeat of the Spanish fleet.
Numerous attempts were made on the life of Elizabeth the First but none of them were successful. When she died James the 6th of Scotland also became James the First of England. The kingdom, however, remained strongly Protestant.
Catholic fanatics tried blowing up Parliament, king and all, but without success.
The gunpowder plot was discovered well in advance and those involved rounded up. Torture was used not only as a deterrent to others but also to uncover more people who were against King James. Today Guy Fawkes night, concerning the gun powder plot, is still celebrated as the spectacular failure it was.
Parliament as a way for the ruler to discuss important issues with representatives of the people had been developing for quite some time when Charles I took the English throne. The magna carta had also been around for quite some time, theoretically limiting the power of the king.
Was the king truly within the law rather than above it? Charles believed that he was above the law and so tested those waters. Civil war broke out. There was the king's men, the Cavaliers and their followers, against the Round Heads of the parliament and their followers.
At first the Round Heads, under Cromwell, merely wished to remind the king of his duties under the law. In the end the king was beheaded. This proved for all time that in England the ruler was not above the law. Divinity and the right to rule only went so far.
The issue of no taxation without representation was part and parcel of this English civil war. This view, however, would come to be reflected later in the uprising of the British colonies in America.
The USA would be founded on the belief that everyone should have a say in how and by whom they are governed.
So who's side was God on anyway during and would God always defend the right? These particular questions people had been asking for centuries. And they would go on asking during the American Civil War (1861-1865), the First World War (1914-1918) and well into modern times.
English poetry of the First World War showed a certain disillusionment for prevailing social order and social groupings based on heritage and education. Luck, whatever that was, seemed to be the answer for why some soldiers survived going over the top to face machine guns and others did not. Siegfried Sassoon's poem The General says it all:
‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
The general feeling both airmen and soldiers had at the time can also be summed up in a popular song of the time that later made it into the musical film 'Oh! What a Lovely War' (1969):
The Bells of Hell
The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-lingFor you but not for me:For me the angels sing-a-ling-a-ling,They've got the goods for me.Oh! Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?Oh! Grave, thy victory?The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-lingFor you but not for me.
There was also poetry written during the First World War that showed a certain change in people's attitudes toward the Christian God. How could he allow such devastation to happen? The answer was humans having free will but this no longer seemed to be enough.
It was because of the First World War that some monarchies came to an end. Others continued but with increasingly limited rule. Less and less was the divine with the secular monarch. So where was the divine? Americans as well as many British and Australians would argue it was now with the people.
Christianity and its problems with science
A Problem with Science
Early medieval knowledge about the stars and the heavens in general was based on ancient Greek and Roman ideas, It was also based strongly on what was acceptable to the Church.
Man was at the center of all life therefore everything revolved around Man. Since Man is stationed on the Earth it can then be granted that the sun and the stars revolve around the Earth. It would come down to being God's will that this be so.
To have the Earth circle the sun would reduce Man's importance when it comes to creation. The fact that this happens to be true would have to be fought for.
One big discovery made by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was that the moon wasn't as perfect as the medieval mind would demand a heavenly body to be. It had indentations we now know to be craters. What's more, it's face changed from night to night as if it were in motion.
Many centuries later in 1969, thanks to many further advances in science, an American would come to land on the moon. Even before this event a lot of myths would be dispelled concerning the nature of the moon.
Galileo could be locked up and his precious notes destroyed or placed in the black library in the Vatican but science and people of a scientific mind would continue to challenge the Church's perceptions of reality. Anyone with a working telescope was a menace.
The Vatican eventually got a telescope of its own. Those in charge of this undertaking probably thought this was the best way of tackling science and scientific discoveries.
When books had to be hand written it was easy for the Vatican to keep tabs on what was available and what they thought should be banned. It became much more difficult when books could easily be printed. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, it is virtually impossible to stop the ebb and flow of a book once it is in the electronic ether.
In medieval times someone who has written a book considered by members of the Vatican to be heretical could well find themselves up on charges of heresy. The result? Torture and a terrible death. Galileo was lucky to escape such a fate and only get house arrest.
The Vatican may have been the supreme authority on what should and should not be banned but various Christian provinces also had their own ideas. Some were tougher than the Vatican while others, such as parts of southern Spain, were more lax.
There was the belief among some Christians that the only book that should be available to anyone was the Bible. It had all the answers for a good life.
Today, in some parts of the world, there are those who would argue that all you need is the Koran. What's more, such fanatics happily destroy whatever other books are around. Now that is fanaticism on roller skates! In recent years in Africa valuable documents written centuries ago have been thus destroyed.
In the late 20th Century writer Salman Rushdie, who wrote the Satanic Verses, was condemned to death because some prominent Muslim didn't like what he wrote. To my knowledge this death sentence has yet to be carried out.
Medical knowledge progressed slowly. What knowledge there was the Church wanted to keep to themselves. Healing when it worked was like magic and the Church wanted to appear to have such magic. At the same time the Church wanted to be faithful to the Bible and its teachings as interpreted by the pope and the cardinals.
Was it okay to examine the human cadaver? Yes. So long as you didn't cut into the body. Jews, since they weren't Christians, were allowed to do so with their own dead. Thus Jewish medicine in Europe during the middle ages was generally of a higher standard.
There is some evidence from his drawings that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) had opened up dead bodies to examine the nature and position of the internal organs. If caught doing do he would have been in real trouble with Catholic authority.
Not all home remedies were rubbish. Cataloging what worked and what was a mere placebo was not to be attempted until well into the 17th Century. By then the Church had lost some of its grip on medicine. Human corpses by then could be cut into and examined. New discoveries on how the human body functions could be made.
In the latter half of the middle ages there were attempts made to curb the use of horrific weaponry. Morning stars, great spiked balls on chains, were banned at some tournaments as being too deadly. They could not be banned on the battlefield. Later on neither could the cannon or the primitive firearm.
During medieval times strange cures came from Egypt. Included was mummy, the ground up bones, flesh and linen of the ancient dead. When water was added it became a tonic with obviously dubious merit. It was also rubbed into wounds to help with the healing. As late as the 19th Century mummy was used in the making of paintings. As far as I am aware the Church failed to raise objections to its use. If it did it was being used anyway.
The notion that wilderness areas are repugnant and had to either be tamed or avoided was part of medieval thought. Da Vinci questioned this view in his famous painting the Mona Lisa. Even so it persisted well into British, American and Australian history.
Check out the film How the West was Won for a good representation of a preacher with such a warped point of view that he sees the forest as a menace that requires subduing with ax and shovel. Land had to be cleared and the buffalo destroyed. In some 19th Century American eyes the tragedy of the buffalo was actually seen as a triumph. It forced many native Americans to adopt ways that were foreign to them.
Lack of regard for nature and the land also created the dust bowl incident in the 20th Century admirably captured in Ken Burns' Dust Bowl mini-series documentary.
Today wilderness areas are celebrated and enjoyed.They are holiday spots. In the USA there's Yellowstone National Park. In Australia there's the Blue Mountains. Advancing populations, however, still threaten such places. Advancing populations are the fault of both science and religion. Scientists, however, are more willing to take responsibility for this.
Modern Times - both good and bad
The flourishing of natural science, thanks to the availability of books, created problems for some Christians. Could the exploration of natural science make life difficult for some Christians?
Is the theory of evolution really against Christianity? Some Christians would say no. Others see it as a threat to be countered by Creationism - fake science.
Jesus was the most divine of men and he healed the sick. It was therefore the province of holy men to heal the sick. Some nuns, under the guidance of holy men, could also do so but it had to be strictly under such guidance.
A woman who heals might well be a witch. A woman who tries to heal and fails might well be a witch. It was best for them if women simply stayed out of it altogether.
By the late 19th Century the status of women had changed. Now they could study medicine at colleges and universities. Now they could get degrees to practice the healing arts.
By the 19th Century the belief in witchcraft was dying. There were still religious notions as old as, if not older than, Christianity around but they were more and more considered to be harmless. Nature worship was seen as foolish rather than the work of the devil.
There was more tolerance toward Jews in England and other parts of Europe as well as in America. This tolerance did not extend to Russia nor did it last. There was a flare-up of intolerance in the 1930s. There was the holocaust.
By the end of the 20th Century much of the rivalry and hatred between the many forms of Catholicism and the many forms of Protestantism had come to a close.
Growing up in 1960s Australia, I was aware of a general live and let live policy between the various religions. When you went to school, play or work no one was interested in your religious beliefs. It was a case of whether you were a good person or not.
It took the Catholics and the Protestants of Ireland some time to come to a workable truce both in the north and in the south but it did happen.
In 1960s America Malcolm X rejected Christianity for Islam. His reason? He was a black man who felt that Christianity was the religion of the ones who had once made his people into slaves.
There was already Islam in the USA. Even so, it grew but not to where it was any real threat to Christianity.
The equal rights movement was more of a threat to elements of society that were against positive change. It was led for the most part by Christians who believed that all people are created equal.
This equal rights movement was countered by the Ku Klux Klan who definitely believed that not all people could possibly be created equal. It should be noted that the KKK to this day regard themselves as being a Protestant Christian movement.
In present day Australia there are some Muslims that have gone against the long established live and let live policy that has been around since at least the 1960s. Maybe some of them had come from war torn lands and still don't understand that peaceful co-existence with other people is in fact possible. Perhaps they have been influenced by the radical ravings of militant Muslims on the internet.
Muslim youth bullying girls as young as eleven for wearing bikinis on an Australian beach in an Australian summer resulted in the now infamous Cronulla riot.
Why should there be a strict dress code on Australian beaches dictated to by Islam? I still feel outraged by the very idea as do many Australians.
The now infamous attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in France by Muslim extremists not only puts Islam in a bad light but the Catholic Church as well.
Apparently the present day pope thinks the attack on Charlie Hebdo was understandable and therefore okay. It was in one of his speeches. Those of us who believe in liberty and the pen disagree.
There was the recent attack on the Lindt cafe at Martin Place, Sydney by a lone Muslim nut job. He had been in trouble with the police before this so he no doubt should have been in lock-up rather than roaming the streets.
Agnostics and Atheists have always been with us. Of late, however, they've gotten more and more of a voice in books, on radio and on television. Some are leading British scholars who find the very idea of there being a God repugnant.
Is religion of some sort required for a moral code? Certainly there are many Christians who feel that this is the case. There are Agnostics and Atheists who would disagree.
The long established belief in 'be fruitful and multiply' which is part of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is killing our planet. Or, to put it into scientific terms, making the planet a lot less habitable for humans and other animals.
This 'be fruitful and multiply' was fine when it was possible for humanity or a particular religion to be wiped out by one devastating plague or war. Nowadays there are too many humans on our planet and numbers are growing. It is highly unlikely that humanity will be wiped out by plague or war unless we are talking about atomic war. Meanwhile there is the very real threat of lack of fresh drinking water and starvation.
Some people are optimistic that numbers of humans throughout the world will stabilize soon. I wish to share in their optimism.
It may come a time when the major religions agree there is a problem with numbers and act accordingly. Agnostics and Atheists may lead the way.
For three hundred years, according to The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer, the black death and other diseases kept the numbers down in Britain and parts of Europe proper. The black plague may have done the same thing only earlier in parts of China and India. Unfortunately there apparently was no learning from the experience and when the population could expand it did.
There is the possibility that a new plague will come along and reduce numbers giving both surviving humanity and the planet a breather. How we treat this breather will mean whether humanity will carry on or not. Naturally one can hope for a better, more human solution to population problems other than plague.
Meanwhile life does go on and, through solar power and other means, humans can have less of a footprint on the environment and make life better for themselves.
It is just a matter of governments and manufacturers making available to the general public the new technologies that are being developed. The various religions can also ask themselves how they might help in this process.
The insanity and fanaticism that was a part of Christianity now seems to be a part of Islam as revealed through ISIS. Hopefully ISIS will soon be broken up and there will be more peace in our world.
Muslims are not all bad...
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