Religion as a Means to Bring People Together
Throughout the book, we see various religions, working for the good and bad of several empires and peoples. While often serving as a means of unification or an arm of government, it also has a tendency to marginalize other people groups living within a region. When state mandated, religion can cause social and political unrest from the hierarchy of certain religious positions such as bishops. Religion can often cause divisions even within itself, resulting in all the more fragmentation.
In chapter five, when discussing Jews, we see a great deal of tolerance from the Romans. This tolerance however did not prevent inevitable tensions between the two people groups. Orthodox Jews considered the Hellenization of their people a religious insult, which lead to rioting. The Jews believed that their synagogues should be the heart of the city, as well as civic life. The Jews eventually rebelled in 66 CE, which caused the Romans to wage war on them to suppress their divisiveness. Furthermore, Christianity,
which emerged from Judaism, was regarded as a dangerous superstition amongst the Romans. Emperor Nero even tried to blame the great fire in Rome in 64 CE on Christians. Many rumors and concerns were spread about Christianity. It caused unrest because it was generally practiced in secret and was popular among the lower classes, which looked like a recipe for rebellion to official Rome. They believed that Christians were cannibals that had a hatred for people, and they resented them for leaving the
religions of their families. However, it eventually becomes a part of Rome as we see under the reign of Diocletian.
Chapter six discusses in part Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. Christians had mistakenly assumed their acceptance into the Roman Empire after a time of peace and they began to be more public. Diocletian favored tradition, attempting to restore Rome to an older state religion. He was not tolerant of other religions because, like many rulers, he feared they threatened the unity of his people. So, in order to standardize faith, he issued decrees in 303 CE against Christians specifically and
eventually attacked a church and burned its books. This persecution spread from Christian officials all the way to general believers. Few Christians were actually executed, but the social damage was extensive. This time in history is a perfect example of state mandated religion causing division and unrest by persecuting and marginalizing other religions and people groups.
Chapter seven describes how the Carolingians used Christianity to overthrow the Merovingians. Since medieval belief was that kings were given their rule by God, kingship was the superior to mayoralty. The Carolingians, by becoming Christians and overthrowing the royal line, achieved divine approval and authority. They saw the benefits of Christianity and converting Europe. They promoted missionary work and saw Christianity as a way to assert royal power. They supported the papacy, the papacy
supported them, and they used it to overthrow the Merovingians and replace the royal line with their own.
The first crusade as mentioned in chapter eight was a military campaign planned by Pope Gregory VII to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslims. Crusades became a means that a pope could call on to demonstrate Christian leadership in Europe. At the Council of Clermont in 1095, Pope Urban II gave a speech that used strong language and caused the gathering of churchmen and nobles to hate the enemy and created a drive in them to free the lands they believed they were desecrating. He called on them to
envision it as a march under the sign of the cross and offered them forgiveness of their sins. The message spread and their numbers grew, as did their reasons for marching. The crusaders eventually tore through the land and slaughtered Muslims inside of Jerusalem. They then pillaged the land, believing that they had done a good thing. There are few better examples of social and political discord between races and religions the crusades.
Religion is often viewed as a means to bring people together. It promotes unity and a common goal, as well as moral upstanding in many cases. But it is important to look back on the kinds of unrest and marginalization it can cause. Religion and tradition has caused innumerable deaths due to various conflicts, persecutions, jihads, and other holy wars. Religion, when mandated, becomes dangerous and volatile. It is a breeding ground for disputes and has the power to bring down empires.