(This is the first of a three-part article on the tragic effects of indifference toward religion)
Several years ago I stumbled upon a Catholic classic, Essay on Indifference in Matters of Religion (1817) by the French priest and philosopher Hugues-Felicite Robert de Lammenais (1782-1854). There was a giddy gasp of serendipity when I first discovered in my advanced years a book I can hardly believe I never heard of, written well more than a hundred years before I was born; a book that has surely turned out to be one of the ten most amazing books I have read; a book that lays out a road map for pinpointing precise reasons why religion through all the ages of mankind has gone through alternating periods of rise and decline; a book that explains very well why, for recent centuries, religion has gone into decline and may continue its downward spiral for centuries to come … if there are indeed centuries left to come.
Lamennais was widely hailed as one of the most brilliant and controversial commentators on religion and politics in the Europe of his day. The views expressed in his Essay on Indifference are too vast and complex to do them justice here, so I will limit my comments to only three areas of his thought: the importance of religion (1) to the individual, (2) to God, and (3) to society.