XXV. The Opposition to New Religions

Perhaps because those in authority as well as the public at large in western Christendom have so often narrowly defined religion according to the familiar model of the received tradition of orthodox Christianity, new religions have, over the long course of history, been subject to often fierce opposition. Of course, the case goes back beyond the establishment of Christianity itself. In the Roman world, the early Christians were themselves subject to accusations that are still familiar—Christians were alleged to break up families; were accused of mercenary motives; were said to engage in sexual orgies; and were declared to be trying to infiltrate social elites in pursuit of sinister political purposes. The exclusivistic character of Christianity attracted such allegations, but that same trait, together with its proselytizing zeal, made Christianity itself an unparalleled agency of religious intolerance, which persisted, in some countries and in greater or lesser measure, down to modern times. Thus the Quakers experienced savage persecution at the hands of the authorities in seventeenth-century England, when many of them were imprisoned solely because of their avowal of their religious beliefs. Methodists, as a new religion in eighteenth-century England, were mobbed and beaten and some of their chapels were pulled down, sometimes with the connivance or even at the instigation of local magistrates. In the late nineteenth-century, the Salvation Army was the subject of riots in which some of their members were killed in England, whilst in Switzerland they were publicly accused of deception and financial exploitation, and the Mormons, sometimes imprisoned when seeking to recruit new members in Scandinavia, suffered similar accusations. History makes evident the record of opposition to new forms of religious and spiritual expression even in the more democratic and supposedly more tolerant countries of the western world. Against that historical record, the recent resolutions of international agencies requiring states to exercise and encourage religious toleration stand in sharp contrast.

XXVI. The Types of New Religions