System, Cycle, Return: The Axial Age
Bellah has a new book out on the Axial Age, with Hans Jonas. I will read asap, but I can tell that they have blundered again (but I can’t analyze the multiple author contributions), and it is sad they would include a symposium of scholars, but not have a section on WHEE.
People who think they are smart suddenly get very stupid on certain subjects, among them evolution, and then the Axial Age. Academic scholars suffer from a strange mindset, and are incapable of thought in certain areas.
On the Axial Age, confusion is forgivable, but, at the same time, still another bad book on the Axial Age determined to make the phenomenon go away and/or be compatible with Darwinism, is unfortunate.
The question of the Axial Age is not that hard, but academics are incapable of grasping the issue. If it took forty years for two academics, Nagel and Fodor, to challenge Darwinism, we can get a sense of how narrow the academic mindset is, on certain subjects.
That’s a harsh judgment. Not one I make lightly. But the facts show that the inertia here has let the ID movement, and these people don’t promote creationism, steal a march on the far more organized and funded academic groups (or science/academic). The record speaks for itself.
The issue of the Axial Age requires seeing it in a larger context. And looking at the revealing evidence of a broader system at work: it requires the idea of relative transformation to see why the standard interpretation is floundering in confusion. The life of a plant, and its height, say a tree, is an ‘absolute’ history, while the evidence of tree rings might show differences on a yearly basis. They are evidence of relative transformations, hot or cold years, rainfall, etc…
The Axial Age is taken as unique event in world history, and the claims made on that basis end up confused. The reason is that the Axial Age is a relative stage in a larger stream. To see how this will fool you, consider Zarathustra: after all they hype about the sages and prophets of the Axial period, many are outside of the period. Everyone is confused here. But the answer is very simple: Sages and prophets can occur at any time (and did) but in the Axial Age the tempo of such temporarily increases: the phenomenon is a relative effect. There are many clues like this that can unlock the Axial Age riddle. But the absolute horror of these scholars at the idea of spiritual history, or an age of revelation, and the rest of it, including counterevidence of Darwinism as teleology, causes them to try and enforce a narrow reductionist viewpoint.
One of the key figures behind the Axial Age is outside of it. But that simply changes the interpretation. The figures of Moses and Abraham require a similar analysis (but they may not have existed, and the dates of Zarathustra are, in any case, vexed.
It is very arrogant and closed to solicite multiple contributors but refuse a book as original and acute as WHEE. That shows fear on the part of Bellah, et al, and a determination to control opinion as academic popery. Sad, and it won’t work.
WHEE has a lot of ways to derive the interpretation given. Those who dismiss its argument suffer overconfidence and end up with really mediocre work like that of Bellah.