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Booknotes: Amazon review of Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution

August 29th, 2011 · No Comments

I just wrote an initial take on Bellah’s new book Religion in Human Evolution. I promised to return to the review (if Amazon posts it) for upgrades over time. But I wanted to make an initial appraisal given the clear suspicion Bellah is being ‘bashful’ about Darwinism. I cannot figure out his views of Darwinism, which puts the whole book on hold, up in the air. A fascinating book in any case.

4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution and the Axial Age enigma, August 29, 2011
By John C. Landon “nemonemini” (New York City) – See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER) Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Hardcover)
This is a massive book I am still studying, one filled with some novel perspectives, among them that rarity: scholarly acknowledgment of the existence of the Axial Age. There is so much that is of fascinating interest that one could/should resolve to spend a good period of time going over the rich details. But there is an instant problem here. For better or for worse, if you mention ‘evolution’ and the ‘Axial Age’ in one breath, it is easy to close in for the ‘kill’ if author’s motives are murky and/or he is too ‘scare d cat’ to challenge Darwin. So for that reason, suspicions aroused, I can easily begin a preliminary review of the overall aspect of the book, a review to be revised and extended perhaps.
The book deserves commendation for even mentioning this data on the Axial Age. And it is good to raise the issue, but fatal also. As most scholarly propagandists probably realize, to even mention the subject means the jig is up, make as many mistakes as you wish, but the data will come to demand a real analysis, one that will endanger current paradigms. So in that sense I praise this fine book for its lesser audacity: the jig is up, and it is only a matter of time before the question of the Axial Age and its revolutionary implications become clear.
I could be wrong. Karen Armstrong almost succeeded in completely asphiaxiating this topic, and as a result the jig wasn’t up.
It is almost taboo to even refer to this phenomenon. But unfortunately, as with Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation, one is reminded of the classic barb: ‘we have not come to praise Caesar, but to bury him’. The scholarly community, if it can’t suppress this data, will absorb it into something that will confuse it completely, as with Karen Armstrong’s book, a tour de force that summoned up the ‘Axial Age’ and left the subject beyond recognition.

Bellah’s book seems like a more sophisticated version of this tactic. Is this fair?
The first question must be, has Bellah perused John Landon’s book World History And the Eonic Effect: Civilization, Darwinism, and Theories of Evolution Fourth Edition and resolved to produce his own take and/or save the world from that underground text, and without any reference to it (and such reference being the end of one’s public reputation)? It is hard to believe the author is not aware of, and wary of, that book with its comprehensive view of the Axial Age. Which book demands a larger pattern of ‘axial ages’, a new view of historical evolution, evolution in history, and thence of the descent of man, and, yes, the ‘evolution’ of religion, which is not Darwinian. The Axial Age shows us precisely the kind of ‘macrovevolutionary’ process at work in both the evolution of religion and of civilization. You cannot compromise with Darwinism once you grasp what is happening with the Axial Age.
And this makes us ask, what is Bellah’s take on Darwinism? Examine this book and you will have a hard time knowing where Bellah stands on the question of Darwin’s theory: plus and minus are most cleverly braided together in one unified sophistry of scholarly legerdemain, far more polished than Karen Armstrong’s idiotic venture here.
I can see Bellah’s problem: evolutionary psychology is a hopeless mess on religion, but to say so is risky, and indirect methods are required. I can’t really determine his stance (there is even a reference to natural selection, which is fogged out), and that is unfortunate, because the suggestion is still left that in the final analysis the Axial Age is just a smorgasbord of cuteness, not the real insight into global teleological macroevolution that the data demands.

That’s thrown out as a caution as I continue to study the book, which is well worth reading, and which has many interesting takes. Unlike too many books on the Axial period, this one gives a real discussion of the Greek Axial, not shunting it to one side in a kind of ‘generalized age of revelation’ treatment of religion.
The real Axial Age is an elusive totalizing process that rises beyond religion to the whole question of civilization, and from there to the question of evolution as such. The data must force us to suspect that Darwinism is totally off the mark, and that real ‘evolution’ shows this kind of discontinuous near planetary top-down process that operates metagenetically. That is the kind of heresy that drives people to cover up what the Axial Age is showing us.

In the nonce, as I study this book further, it must be seen as a remarkable innovation (beyond that of WHEE already cited) attempting to do justice the original insights of Karl Jaspers (who did not however seem to understand his own book on the Axial period). No doubt the impudence of Bellah in writing a book on the Axial period will cause the book to be ignored. We will see. In the worst case it will join the underground of post-Jasperian historiographies.
Let me say that harsh judgments here can be unfair. Grasping the Axial Age is NOT easy, and requires a new mode of thought. Bellah goes part way here, what more can we expect?
Much more to be said here: we can continue the discussion over time.

John Landon
World History and The Eonic Effect
Civilization, Darwinism, and Theories of Evolution.

Tags: Booknotes · The Axial Age

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