In the first volume of the magazine Strannik in 1901 appeared an extensive article by B. Titlinov devoted to the decline of religion and morality, a phenomenon we observe today – the beginning of the 21st century of the third millennium.
In the subsequent historical course, before us appears the chosen people of God – Israel. Although he was not destined to play a significant historical role, although he was one of the smallest peoples in Asia, but in religious terms, he had such an influence on all later centuries that the history of his religious life could not be silent. Despite Israel’s highly developed religious consciousness, the fluctuation of its religious sentiment cannot be ignored. Indeed, there was no room for skepticism or disbelief in the people of Israel; but his whole life is a story of turning away from Jehovah and returning to Him. And these retreats and returns testify to the decline, or rise, of religious inclinations. It is remarkable that what was observed in the later stages of human life can be seen in this case. The successes of external material life, external prosperity coincide with religious decline. Suffice it to recall the period of the judges. External enemies are defeated, peace comes to the country. Jehovah is forgotten and incense is burned before pagan deities. When troubles from the neighboring nations came and Israel groaned under the yoke of slavery, the priests again gathered at the altar, again Israel flocked to the sanctuary to pray for help and deliverance. A particularly strong rise in religious life took place after the Babylonian captivity. Foreign domination and the destruction of Jerusalem seemed to shatter all the national expectations of the Jewish people, and in this predicament, religion was the only consolation. On the banks of the mighty Euphrates, far from home, the full force of religious feeling awoke in the Jews. The people lived with him in the subsequent period of their existence.
The first crisis in the religious life of historical humanity, which deserves serious attention, dates back to the last centuries of the pre-Christian era. This is an age that is unparalleled in later centuries. Even when there were periods of declining religion and a weakening of religious sentiment, the anti-religious movement never deeply affected the masses themselves, but rather attracted, for the most part, the upper classes. We should not consider this phenomenon as sudden, unrelated to the previous course of development. On the contrary, it has been prepared for centuries, and in recent times before Christmas, religious skepticism has manifested itself with particular force. Its origin can be traced to Greece, five centuries before our era, and only by tracing it to this source is it possible to understand the state of the world in the period under consideration. Greece, as is well known, is the birthplace of philosophy and science. Here, first after India, philosophical thought awoke. To Greece the world owes the grandiose creations of reason, the most beautiful works of art, but to it, too, unfortunately, owes the eternal disease of mankind, the disease of its spiritual organism – religious skepticism. “Once the spirit has reached itself, when the power of thought is already freed from authority and ever-reliable support, and by way of free conviction, to bring the mind to the ideal, the good, and the divine, as one fully approved by of reason. Then the seeking thought must be aroused against all prejudices, and usually opinions must be accepted only by faith, until everyone with his own mind generates and brings to himself the consciousness of universal truth ”(Carrier, Art in connection with the general development of culture, vol. .II, pp. 167-168). This is the task set by Greek philosophy – to build on the principles of reason a complete worldview, free from any influence of authority. By setting a goal in this way, she naturally came into conflict with religious beliefs. As diverse as the philosophical schools of Greece were, they all had one thing in common – the destructive influence on religion. The free development of thought required, above all, freedom in the religious sphere. Then the man was filled with faith in himself. He drove his adolescence, proud of his own strength, free himself from the shackles of authority. He hoped, indeed, to find his support in reason itself, he hoped to reach the truth completely. How great was Elina’s arrogant pride is clear from the fact that Greece deified man. Amazed by his beauty, first physical, then spiritual, she worshiped this beauty, and from that time man became the true deity of Greece. However, such self-deification could not be called religion. It satisfied the aesthetic rather than the religious needs of the human spirit. A kind of spontaneous indifference was the main characteristic of Greek life at that time. The Greek, as if he did not need a deity, was completely immersed in the world of poetry and beauty. In the beginning, we still see a desire to maintain a crumbling religion, and one of the victims of that desire was Socrates, but only a century later, this same Athenian people apparently completely lost their religious sense.
When Dimitar Poliorket settled in the temple of Athena Paladas, his people sang a hymn to one true deity with the words:
“O son of the supreme god, son of Poseidon
Are the other gods without ears?
Or they are too far,
Do they exist at all, but in the end
They don’t care about us…
Here we see your face…
So we pray to you! ”
In these words there is not just indifference, but ridicule of religion, a mockery of careless frivolity, testifying to the complete decline of religious attraction among the people who composed such hymns. From Greece, the wave of disbelief spread to other countries, drawing more and more circles into society. Philosophy, completing its destructive work in the homeland, acquired more and more proselytes outside it. Rome, the lord of the world at that time, is known to have been completely under the spiritual influence of conquered Greece. Two philosophical schools in Greece attracted the most followers from Roman society, and both, although diverging in their basic principles, worked together to destroy the religious foundations of life. These two schools were the Epicurean and the Stoic.
Epicureanism is a system of an absolutely materialistic nature. For the philosophers of this trend, the world was a collection of atoms, infinitesimal indivisible particles, the various combinations of which explain all the phenomena of life. Man revolved entirely in this cycle of matter; both his body and his soul are no more and no less aggregates of material particles, whose ultimate destiny was the destruction, the decomposition of their constituent elements. The ultimate goal in this life was the enjoyment, the harmonious enjoyment of the world, to which the Epicurean assigned all his happiness. It is understandable in what relation to religion such a doctrine stood. There is no place for the deity in this world, since the latter is reduced to a simple conglomeration of matter. “Everything is a lie that the gods usually tell us,” Epicurus wrote in one of his letters, “and there is nothing just in the punishments that are supposed to be sent to the wicked, nor in the rewards provided for the good.” The students were faithful to their teacher. The derisive and contemptuous attitude towards religious beliefs was forever a hallmark of the Epicureans. Lucretius mocks the belief in variety. Heaven is powerless before fate and the laws of nature. There is no deity, no afterlife, no fear of punishment. Nature is the only deity worthy of worship, and only its sacred harmony is worthy of worship, because nature is the source of all life, it creates and develops everything according to its own laws. This deity of Epicurean philosophy needed no sacrifices, no worship, no prayers. Tears would be in vain here – the universe is eternally silent and no, because atoms are indifferent to human suffering. By the way, this circumstance did not bother the followers of Epicurus in the least. It seemed to them that they did not need a living deity, because the very need for a religious feeling had almost died out in their souls. On the contrary, even the very thought of a being above nature and beyond seemed unpleasant and disgusting to them, because it disturbed the clear and bright state of their spirit, disturbed his happy peace.
Stoic philosophy found its widest distribution in the ancient world on the border between the Old and New Testaments. But her influence is no less anti-religious than that of Epicurus. And if the latter was materialism in its purest form, then the former embodied the pantheistic worldview. There the world is seen as a collection of atoms, here descended from the deity, evolving from him according to certain laws, as from the grain grows a plant. There the deity was banished from the world, and his place was taken by the universe; here it merged with the universe, and, therefore, in the end, a lifeless, dead nature remained again. In this way, two different teachings merged into their final conclusions, and if the Epicureans suppressed any religious inclinations, their doctrine had the same effect on the Stoics.