Thursday, March 1, 2007

In the year 3000...

If I stepped into a freezer and some thoughtful soul thawed me out a thousand years from now, what would I see?

Would Christianity, most of whose thousands of sects revolve around the anticipated return of the Messiah, have quietly faded away? Or would I be smack dab in the middle of his millennial rule?

What about Judaism, which also anticipates a Messiah?Would it have shed this doctrine, which does not seem as central to Jewish worship as it is in Christianity, anyway? Or would I find the Jewish Messiah in charge?

Or would the Seventh Imam greet my blinking, incredulous eyes?

Would I be in a horrible world where all religion had faded away but nothing as effective for guiding the ethics of mankind had been developed in its place, leaving an extreme social Darwinism as the rule of life?

Or would this religion-free world actually be a paradise, with some irresistable ethical innovation having been invented to guide human conduct for loving thy neighbor, etc.?

Of all the features of mankind, religion is the most durable. In England, one still finds Druids and wannabee Druids, circling Stonehenge. In Greece, resurgent worshippers of the Olympic pantheon are demanding religious use of the Parthenon. In Iran, one still finds believers in Zoroastrianism, the religion practiced by the Persians of 600 B.C.

Around the world, numbering in the dozens or the millions, one finds devotees to some concept, some man or woman living or dead, or some book. The Yazudi eat no lettuce. The Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions. The Mormons drink no tea. The Jainists fear to tread on sidewalks or kill a germ. Some Christians play with poisonous snakes. Jihadi terrorists who condemn Westerners for moral laxity and resent having any women around who aren't burquaed head to tie, blow themselves up to go to a heaven where they consort with nubile and apparently unburquaed young women for all eternity.

How bizzare, how bizzare.

Someone once said that only religion is capable of motivating good people to do bad things. That's a little simplistic. Who defines what is good or bad, anyway, and by what authority? If I stab an enemy soldier to death in some trench somewhere, is it a good or bad thing and am I therefore bad? You need context. Religion need not be the motivating factor in that scenario.


chipazoid said...

You know, I think humans will always find something to divide themselves in order to feel more superior than everyone else. Hell, I'm guilty of it too.

Lance said...

According to the South Park episode "Go God Go", by the year 2526, there will be only warring atheists left, who have conflicting ideas of what is logical. One faction of atheists will worship Richard Dawkins (HILARIOUS episode, by the way).

I wonder, though, had a God decreed that adultery was permissible, would it really be more widespread? Would humans cease to get jealous when they saw their partner cheating on them if they had never read the Ten Commandments, say? Had many religions not forbade stealing, would people not feel a sense of injustice when their possessions are taken from them? I think 'good' people do what they do primarily out of their own 'goodness', and not out of threat of punishment or anything else. If they once did need religion to force them in some direction, these people probably no longer need this today. Religion may prevent SOME people from committing crimes by making them fearful of punishment or whatever...but it also seems to draw many more toward crime who otherwise might not be. So it could be hard to conclude that there is any reason religion provides a hopeful path to peace.

Although the perennial question you mention of what is good is a very...umm...good one :)

I'm not so sure that religion has really been effective for guiding the ethics of mankind. It is my contention that countries whose systems of law are less connected to religion generally actually have fewer problems controlling human social behaviour than countries in which religion is more influential. Somalia, Iran, Brazil, Iraq, Saudi Arabia all have significantly higher crime rates in most categories than the "secularised West". The more noticeable correlation seems to be wealth. Even so, rich countries like the US have a much higher crime rate than comparably rich but less devout European and Asian countries. Obviously the evidence is not conclusive, however.

Also, I don't know that we need an irresistable ethical innovation to achieve some semblance of peace. I think that wealth, the police and the modern democratic constitution of many developed countries and enshrined opposition to violence somewhat achieve this. Perhaps they achieve internal stability at the cost of external instability. Yet, looking at the 'positive' developments - the rule of law, human rights, improved gender and racial equality under law, freedom of speech and vote, peaceful protest, improved science and welfare. These were all decidedly non-religious processes. Without submitting to what I personally feel is an intellectually cowardly gag-order to not criticise religion, the evolving consensus of what is fair and just has not had any obvious connection to religion. I'm sure that you're aware of these things, but for those that aren't - religion conclusively failed to prevent genocide, discrimination against women, the abuse of children, homosexuals, unbelievers, animals, inter-religious warfare such as the Crusades, the burning of witches etc. I'm not suggesting at all that crime will disappear if religion did, though - that would be a fairy tale. But things like wealth, human rights and secular humanism might provide a start.

As to the durability of religion, I can only agree that this is historically true. But extrapolating current trends, it may not hold for the distant future. Things happen really slowly. Still, we'd seem insanely irreligious to 20th Century Westerners.

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