Religion and the Development of the Western World

1065 Words Apr 25th, 2001 5 Pages
Religion and the Development of the Western World

The accomplishments and success of civilizations are closely linked to their religious outlook and the role of religion in their governments and society. Throughout history rulers have used the influence of religions to control their populations and provide the justification for their power. A society with a greater degree of separation between religion and government promotes a superior level of liberty and creativity amongst its people. By the time of the decline of the Roman Empire in the west, however, the world had come full circle to a return to theocratic dictatorship. In the ancient civilization of the Sumerians religion was an important part of both the lives of the
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By the time of the republic it had developed into an honorific system of ancestor worship that focused on family and the importance of that unit as a model for the republic. The Roman religion came to mirror that of the Greeks, as did so much of their society. Their government maintained a control over religion throughout, however, using laws to promote the worship of some and condemn the worship of other gods. Indeed, after the crises of the late republic one of Augustus ' actions was to promote a return to the traditional family and religious values by building temples and supporting religious schools. He outlawed new, foreign religions and after his death he was worshiped as a god. This was the beginning of the turn back towards religious autocracy. The emperors became quasi-religious figures in life and were objects of popular cult worship after their deaths. This is a rejection of the Hellenic ideal of the greatness of the common man. It promotes the will of a single idealized super elite to the detriment of the populace. By the decline of the western empire the emperors ruled by decree, sending their infallible word down from on high to the masses. The free debate of ideas was dead. This became the religious model propagated in the Byzantine Empire. There all semblance of separation between the state and religion was eliminated. The emperor made his decrees on matters of politics and law as well as matters of faith and theology. Christianity was