chapter  16
26 Pages

Religion and the churches

Throughout Europe it was accepted without question by almost everyone that some form of religious faith was the essential foundation of all organized society. Without the belief which religion alone could give in a future world in which virtue was rewarded and vice punished there would be no self-imposed restraint on man's passions and desires: the only effective barrier against a tidal wave of crime and disorder would have been removed. Without the acceptance of gross social inequalities, fostered by the belief that they were an integral part of the divine plan for humanity and thus to be patiently endured, society would lose all form and structure and collapse into anarchy. In many parts of Western Europe, however, above all in Britain and France, established churches and the systems of belief for which they stood were being subjected to a process of intellectual erosion. The liberalizing currents in eighteenth-century religious life aided the growth of religious toleration.