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No Second Axial Age

January 31st, 2006 · 1 Comment

I got an email from someone who had read an amazon review of mine on Armstrong’s Battle For God. I had forgotten that I had reviewed it, but went to look, see below.
Armstrong’s idea of a second Axial Age doesn’t quite add up, as I have commented before on this blog, search ‘Axial Age’ in the search box.

Different perspectives lead to different sets of facts, and this account of fundamentalism couldn’t have been written by a secularist. Of value then to a secularist student of the puzzle of resurgent religion at a time when the forces of modernity are under assault by postmodern initiatives–or fantasies. Armstrong’s history makes good reading then as an exercise to reroute perception, at least momentarily, toward the complexities of modern religious culture filtered out of standard historiography. A useful history for that reason and yet the author’s attitude is ambiguous and seems quite sly in its unstated ‘egging on’ the whole phenomenon.
At a time when the author is promoting the idea of a second ‘Axial Age’ we are left to wonder. The point is relevant to the frequent out of focus references to this idea of Karl Jaspers, here at the beginning of the text. It is worth considering what Jaspers said, and then looking at the phenomenon of the Axial period to ask what the phenomenon was, and what it means. To say that the Axial period is associated with the emergence of some idea of transcendence in relation to religion is misleading and finally false. The Axial Age produced two religions, one theistic, and one atheistic, a great deal of philosophy, Chinese, Indian, and Greek, the first stage of the scientific revolution, and the Ionian Enlightenment, along with the world’s first democracy. It is thus incorrect to say the phenomenon has an intrinsic relation to religion at all. Therefore the suggestion that fundamentalism might somehow be evidence of a postmodern second Axial Age is far off the mark. In general the resurgence of fundamentalism shows that the only real candidate for a ‘second Axial Age’ is the rise of modernity itself, one that is being countered by retrograde social forces, a point that should be obvious from the facts of the case, albeit obvious to a secularist. This consideration shows a wrong analysis of Armstrong’s own data. We can see the problem in here statements about logos and mythos, which are mostly sophistical, if not malarky. Collating logos and mythos in conjunction is a recipe only for dismantling clear thinking and indulging in religious propaganda (mythos). In general the wrong idea of the Axial period is vitiating all Armstrong’s histories, time to focus on the original usage of Jaspers, which unfortunately is itself flawed, but which is at least the source of the idea. Cf. also the reviewer’s material.

Tags: History · World History and The Eonic Effect

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