The Decline of Religion 01: Papal Political Power

Throughout history, religion has been intertwined with politics and law. In particular, Christianity has ruled much of the Western world through the Pope and the institutions of the Church. From excommunication of rulers to enforcement of religious laws such as the prohibition of abortion and same sex marriage, the Church played a key part in the development of the Western world for more than a millennium up until the industrial revolution and continues to feature heavily in subjects of law and politics.

Historically atheism has been considered a manifestation of the devil and as such was punishable by death. This was more than enough incentive for people to studiously observe all the proper Christian customs and ensure they were in the Church’s ‘good books’. This meant that (particularly through medieval times) Christianity flourished, culminating in the Crusades – people giving their life in defence of their religious beliefs. The Pope had incredible amounts of political power and could essentially play chess with Christian countries as he saw fit, whether this was a good or a bad thing is another discussion entirely.

By the 19th century, the wealth and living standards of Western countries like the UK rapidly increased. Prior to the industrial revolution came developments in medical treatments, advanced machinery and the Scientific Revolution. All of which challenged religious thinking and contested what had been previously supported by the Pope. This was exacerbated by the Church’s reaction – a strict denial and repression of Science. These combinations meant that the Pope’s power had significantly waned by the beginning of the 1900s. Then came the World Wars.

After WW2 the political liberalisation of Europe saw a rise in more left-wing beliefs and with it came challenges to the religious laws of the past. Women were given a vote, abortions and same-sex marriages were legalised (in some places) and heresy was no longer punishable by death.

All of this brings us to today, where the eldest generations in society are the last remnants of a time when tolerance and freedom of expression were not fully developed and this leant itself in the UK to a Christian society. Young people now are exposed to many more opposing beliefs and it is no longer necessary to be overtly Christian in order to avoid persecution. As these more youthful, liberal generations grow older it is likely that the political power of the Church over the UKs legal institutions will continue to diminish and with it, the number of observers of Christianity will surely follow.

Thanks for reading this part one of The Decline of Religion. Please note this post does not constitute a fully formed argument it is merely one strand of a larger discussion, stay up to date with cbeconomics over the next few weeks in order to understand the full reasoning!

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