November 15, 2011


With due respect, this note misses the point. Religion is, and always shall be, fundamental to the human mystery. Those who deny it, in my experience, do so with what is unmistakably religious fervor. By doing so they close the circle and confirm the fact in their denial of it.

By archeological evidence, our species first spent their time figuring out the tools needed to survive the harsh reality of a high-maintenance body in a creature fit only to live on the margins. Immediately after doing that, humanity spent almost all the rest of its history (depending on where you start counting, at least 35,000 years) trying to figure out what being human actually meant. This was, in other words, considered the most important thing humans could do once they'd worked out how not to starve or get eaten.

In this our species has succeeded about seven times*, creating the enduring and fantastically sophisticated constructs now known as religions. One of these, Zoroastrianism, has survived for a significant percentage of the history of civilization, and all but one have functioned without interruption for more than two thousand years. Two *thousand* years. Compared to these achievements, which are it must be remembered the distillation of the human experience across a span of time almost literally incomprehensible to a modern mind, the few centuries of secular humanism and the industrial revolution are but a blip on the radar screen, the half-second tick on a timeline that literally fades out into the dawn of history.

Make no mistake, these secular achievements are considerable. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say we are living in the best times ever experienced in human history. But these achievements have come at a staggering cost, one which was levied precisely and exclusively by humans who chose to turn their backs on the religions of their fathers. Atheists and humanists who revile the slaughters perpetrated by the great belief systems they repudiate must do so by completely ignoring the mounds of corpses created by their own. Corpses, it must be pointed out, who's numbers dwarf the count of the living AND the dead of those earlier times, and who's stink was smelled by people still alive today. It is to their discredit they are able to do it so very easily.

Worse still, it is obvious to just about everyone how fragile our modern world really is, and nobody's sure how long, or even if, it will endure. The secular structures those without faith take such pride in can only function, can only EXIST, in the tropical rainforests of prosperity we quite suddenly find ourselves living in today. When genuine chaos, the kind that sees barbarians prizing the bronze off the roof of the Senate, threatens, they will fail, and in their failing will see the extinction of those who hold them.

Systems of belief, religions, endure because THEY WORK. They preserve, in mighty detail, how to survive and prosper in the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable. When these systems were being worked out, the result of failure was not a smelly tent in a gigantic city, it was oblivion. They struggle today precisely because they were created when prosperity was an ephemeral wisp, something the king enjoyed on the mountaintop until death claimed him and chaos ran riot again. They are only slowly, and very suspiciously, coming around to the idea that the world we live in today, a world literally without precedence in its wealth and, most importantly, endurance, might actually represent how things will be for a long time to come.

But, when an institution's memory spans millennia, such prosperity is still suspiciously swift, violent, and terrifyingly ephemeral. Those who leave the fold in their rush to embrace it have completely and repeatedly failed to bring about the Utopia their secular leaders promised, with results that lead to torture, starvation, and death in all too chilling a frequency. Religions have, will, and should bide their time and preserve their traditions, which have withstood a test of time far beyond anything recently faced.

*Anyone else wonder if religion started as a joke, then someone took it way too seriously?*

The observation is as droll as it is puerile, and compares favorably with graffiti decorating the various ruins of the last great civilization which decided to turn away from the faith of their fathers and turn living men into gods. The experience, and fate, of the Principate, more commonly known as the (pre-Christian) Roman Empire, is instructive.

* In rough order of origin: Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Islam.

Posted by scott at November 15, 2011 12:42 PM

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