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 citizens and the administration of government. People felt very distant from their rulers and this feeling was reflected in their religion. The great gods of the day were unconcerned with human welfare. They were in control of the forces of nature and were the source of authority for the rulers. Both inspired fear and veneration in the populace and the people created lesser gods as guardian intercessors to assuage the insecurity of their world. Although the Sumerians developed systems of writing and mathematics, the use of these arts was restricted to an elite upper class while the majority of the people were enslaved by ignorance and fear. This structure of subservience to a higher power was established in their religion and played out in their government.
The government of ancient Egypt was similarly autocratic. The pharaohs were both god and king and the religion taught the people to trust that their king would rule according to maat with concern for the welfare of the common man. In return for the building and maintenance of great temples the gods preserved the absolute power of the pharaoh and ensured the duration of the state. These temples, the Great Pyramids, and the Sphinx as well were created and built by the will...
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