Religion: The Chariot to Heaven

When civilizations are flourishing, historians have noted, religion is generally at a low ebb; when civilizations disintegrate, religion thrives. Does this mean that religion is a fatal parasite on civilization? Yes, suggested 18th Century Historian Edward Gibbon.* No, says Historian Arnold J. Toynbee: on the contrary, civilizations are merely steppingstones in the progress of religion.

Toynbee's arresting thesis, first stated in a lecture delivered at Oxford in 1940, has now been distributed in pamphlet form† by the Religious Book Club.

Historian Gibbon, says Toynbee, was not the only eminent scholar to view Christianity as a menace to civilization. Anthropologist Sir James Frazer (The...

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