Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion, since he sees it functioning, and seemingly indispensable, in every land and age. To the unhappy, the suffering, the bereaved, the old, it has brought supernatural comforts valued by millions of souls as more precious than any natural aid. It has helped parents and teachers to discipline the young. It has conferred meaning and dignity upon the lowliest existence, and through its sacraments has made for stability by transforming human covenants into solemn relationships with God. It has kept the poor (said Napoleon) from murdering the rich. For since the natural inequality of men dooms many of us to poverty or defeat, some supernatural hope may be the sole alternative to despair. Destroy that hope, and class war is intensified. Heaven and utopia are buckets in a well: when one goes down the other goes up; when religion declines Communism grows . . .
[A] natural ethic is too weak to withstand the savagery that lurks under civilization and emerges in our dreams, crimes, and wars. Joseph de Maistre answered: “I do not know what the heart of the rascal may be; I know what is in the heart of an honest man; it is horrible.” There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.
–Will and Ariel Durant,
The Lessons of History