History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Axial Ages, the secular, and religion beyond religion

August 28th, 2011 · No Comments


The term ‘secular’ has lost its original, better meaning. It is now considered that modern secularism is somehow against religion. But this can’t be correct: secularization began with the Protestant Reformation, whose effect was to create a post-theocracy. The actual content of religion, and its practice in institutions of civil society, remain thriving forms of the ‘secular’. The attempt by narrow groups, such as the new atheists, to coopt the entire meaning of secularism is destructive and will ironically reproduce the effects of theocratic domination. In any case, the diversity of secular culture is a healthy aspect of the post-theocracy we call modernity.

Unfortunately, we cannot control what the outcome will be here. Critics of religion have forgotten the context of the arising of Xtianity in the Roman Empire, where general populations went to the Roman games to see death spectacles. The rescue operation of Christianity was therefore something we should consider carefully in discussions of secularization. The decadence of human culture in an era so close to ours show be a warning to those who consider Christianity a total waste, or an evil. Even for a non-Christian, or atheist, that is a total misunderstanding. How did Xtianity manage to accomplish what it did?
Those who regret Xtianity should ask themselves if they would be content to have had the Roman games continue into modern times. Or, if not, how they would consider possible the transformation of ancient populations without that religious rewiring. Civilization in the Occident almost had to shut down and go into mothballs for a millennium plus.
That should lead us to consider that a religious foundation, with or without a religious form, lies behind the rise of the modern. That is not an argument for or against secularization, and/or religion.
Another issue is the clear trend in world history for religions to recycle during the passage to ‘new epochs’, the Axial Age, and modernity being examples. This suggests that a new perspective on religion will emerge, with or without an explicit religion. The attempt to substitute scientism for that will backfire, and at the same time so will the attempts to hold fast to traditions. So we are left with the question, what is the essence of religion, and how can it exist, without religion, in secular culture?
The degeneration of Occidental populations in the Roman era should be a warning that the issue is larger than what the narrow fanatics of the Nietzschean new atheist think.
Here the legacy of buddhism can be of great help: it is as secular in essence, as you can get, and can assist secularists (taken as a representative of a long historical tradition going back many millennia) in maintaining a broad perspective.

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