THE OFFICIAL RELIGION, 360 - 600
Throughout the Second Empire, the Official Religion ("Liclebba"), whose history during the First Empire we followed earlier in this history, remained the state religion of Atlantis and its Empire. It was expected and assumed that everyone involved in governing the Empire, down to quite a low level, as well as all professional people would observe the precepts and festivals of this religion. However, such observance needed to be in form only, and the predominant ethos of the upper and governing classes, as well as the artistic elite, at least until after 500, was a liberal agnosticism or scepticism about all matters to do with religion.
The earliest religious writer to express this view openly was Thestel around 370 - 400. He was a follower of Ciblaphu, who, around 300, had claimed that only one God lay behind the multitude of mythical deities worshipped by the traditional Religion. Thestel preached a doctrinal mix of monotheism and agnosticism; this was similar to the opinions of philosophers of this period and earlier, and of many of the ruling classes, but Thestel was the first writer from a proper religious background to say openly that although we should assume there is a God, it cannot be proved and must remain a matter of faith. At the same time, he cast doubt on the very existence of the traditional multitude of Atlantean gods, who he claimed were mere projections of human invention or emotions. This led the way for philosophers, and the upper ruling classes to hold increasingly agnostic views. Traditional gods were soon doubted, and a monotheistic belief became the norm. Philosophers, in particular, questioned how the gods could influence the emotions of human beings – how could they get inside their heads?!
Thestel’s views were strongly criticised by the Church establishment, and the standard doctrine of the church remained that the traditional gods did exist – but so did a shadowy, all-powerful God, of whom all the lesser gods were a sort of projection. The time was past, however, when the Church could wield any effective censorship, and Atlaniphon I soon made it very plain that while he was Emperor (and in fact the same held for the decades to follow), people were to be allowed to think and say what they wanted about anything they wanted (within reason!)
As we have seen, philosophers throughout the Second Empire thought in great depth about metaphysical matters - the meaning of life, the existence of God, life after death - thereby usurping much of Religion's former territory. The Official Religion had no answer to all this, and Religion's counter-attacks, when they occurred in the 500s, came from a number of new faiths and beliefs which grew to fill the spiritual vacuum left by the Official Religion's decline. There were two of these - we have already seen how they were founded centuries earlier, but only now in the 500s did they truly "take off."
RIVALS TO THE OFFICIAL RELIGION
Firstly, Populism. This came originally from Marossan, but spread in the Atlantean Empire only after about 540. It was strongly practical, encouraging its adherents to carry out good works for those less well-off in society. In the sixth century it developed the idea of mass, emotional prayer and worship meetings, often at certain spiritually important, open-air sites. (This notion was a feature of the early Official Religion and of Naturism as well). The faith attracted the poorer and lower class members of society in particular, and after the 550s many radical politicians were attracted to Populism. It soon became an important part of the revolutionary political programme which grew up in Atlantis and other western Provinces, and was a feature of the early years of the Republic after 591. At the same time, other radical republicans became completely irreligious, indeed atheistical, and the history of the Republic can be seen in one way as the rivalry between these two antithetical views.
The other, ultimately even more important rival to the Official Religion was "State Theism"("Saindeyu daonatta"). "Theism" as such was propagated by Lir-Botai, a Yalland writer of around 220 to 250. Details of this religion have been given above in the Interlude on religion during the First Empire. The basic points of it are that there is one God; humans should rely on faith rather than reason, and commune directly with God; man is basically evil, but can open himself to God's goodness through his faith and prayer; there is life after death; and the complex religious beliefs of the Official Religion, as well as the organisation of its Church, were all mistaken and unnecessary. He also laid much more stress on the importance of abiding by a moral code, and said that each person’s life would be judged after death, and he or she would be rewarded or punished as appropriate. Lir-Botai wrote all this down, as well as his opinions on morals, social life, ethics, etc. and encouraged everyone to read it. At the same time, there was considerable similarity and continuity between the two religions. Both recognised the importance of holy, outdoor sites, of regular religious festivals (weekly services for State Theism), and after Phostin’s reforms (see below) of an extensive priesthood and elaborate rituals.
We must also make mention of the religion of Manralia, which began to attract adherents in the Empire after about 600. This ancient religion, which was part and parcel of the old state of Manralia, was more as much a philosophy as a religion, in some ways. It was wholly idealistic, and considered the material world as merely the emanation of an underlying spiritual one. There are, however, layers of the spiritual, from human beings, up through their minds and consciousness, to an almost unknowable Spirit which underlies everything. This was viewed by some as God, and others as the Absolute, but in any case, it was did not resemble a beneficent or personal God, but was largely neutral or indifferent to the fates of human beings. Manralian history sees a long split between a purely philosophical and abstract cult, and a more popular religion, with images and the worship of personifications of the Great Spirit.
Conquest of Manralia by Helvrieh and then Atlantis did not harm this religion, which was tenaciously held onto by the Manralians as part of their ancient customs. It also survived the persecutions of the Republicans after 590, and of the Third Empire, because these were largely aimed at the intellectual and urban centres north of the Helvengio. The religion had some influence on the old Helvran faith, which was much darker than that of its related Juralic religions – but it was wiped out anyway after the Atlantean victory of 370. It also influenced the beliefs of the Yallands and Southern Peoples, as well as the growth of Naturism, all of which tended to a pantheism, which was very different to the Atlantean Official Religion, and indeed differed from true Manralianism as well. The latter percolated north of the Helvengio during the dark times after 600, and seemed an appropriate belief to some Atlanteans in those pessimistic times.
STATE THEISM AND ITS TRIUMPH, 600 - 650
The basic beliefs of State Theism were considerably modified by Phostin around 580-600, and it was this later form of the religion which became very popular in the south-east of the Empire. As a result of Ruthopheax's conversion to it, it later became the official, indeed only religion of the Empire, and was imposed on everyone during the Third Empire.
Phostin's role was to politicise the religion and make it acceptable to the State. Unlike Lir-Botai, Phostin emphasised the role of a priesthood to guide the populace, and conduct religious services which could be linked to State functions, just as the Official Religion had been. This aspect was seized upon by Ruthopheax, who used the priesthood, and other local officials to keep an eye on his subjects, especially those living in the large towns. Moreover Lir-Botai's insistence that man was basically evil, meant that he must be forced to become good by an authoritarian government and priesthood.
Phostin also stressed the importance of natural feelings and faith, which could best be experienced in the countryside, close to God's creation and Nature. Of course, the country-living Squires who ruled the Third Empire after 650 could be seen as being the ideal exemplars of the faith from this point of view. At the same time the religion's promise of a close personal relationship between men and God, and of life after death was immensely comforting and welcome to the lower classes, for whom the formality and rationality of the old Official Religion was distant and impersonal.
Finally Phostin preached the importance of conservatism in all areas of life. He believed, as would Ruthopheax, in the role of the Emperor, in the fixed ranks of society, and in the need to prevent all scientific or technological innovations.
Thus State Theism was imposed on the whole Empire after 650, and became an integral part of the authoritarian, rurally-based government of the Squires under Ruthopheax I and his successors until 750. All other religions were suppressed, as was any expression of agnosticism or scepticism about religion. Just as the fifth and most of the sixth centuries were, as regards religious belief, essentially sceptical and secular, with an interest in philosophy and free-thinking, the seventh century became a time of religious faith and submission to authority.
To read the next part of this history, click on Atlantean religion- 750 - 828