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Chapter 24. Secularization

Steve Bruce

Subject Religion

Key-Topics secularism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631232162.2006.00026.x


The peoples of pre-industrial Europe were deeply religious. The extent to which they were orthodox Christians varied, but most understood the world through basically Christian lenses. Most knew the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary and could make the sign of the cross. They knew the Ten Commandments, the four cardinal virtues, the seven deadly sins, and the seven works of mercy. They paid tithes, brought babies for baptism, and married in church. They believed sufficiently in hell and in the status of Holy Writ for swearing oaths on the Bible to be a means of control. They avoided blaspheming. They paid large sums for priests to say Mass on their behalf. Most knew that they had to make reparation to God for their sins, in this life or in the next. When the clergy complained of irreligion, they were complaining not that people were secular but that they were persisting in pre-Christian superstitions and were using the Church's rituals in a magical manner (see Bruce 2002 , pp. 45–59). As societies became industrialized, their people became divided into those who were well-informed true believers and those who fell away. The once pervasive religious world view gave way to an increasingly secular public culture. By the middle of the nineteenth century religion had become so separated from everyday life that its supporters could be counted. Whether we count membership, church attendance, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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