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The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant: Summation 7
VII. Religion and History
The Durants were first and foremost philosophy students, thus making them the bards of the enemies of religion, champions of the earthly question over the otherworldly command. They were atheists, who only proved themselves capable of framing an argument against God as an argument against Christianity. Dick may not have been an atheist. However, his concept of God is that which the Durants profess as the only argument necessary to undermine religion, clearly showing not only their own ignorance of the subject on a cross-cultural level, but also demonstrating that Christianity holds within it the seeds of its own destruction.
“Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.”
During the course of a discussion on the merits of religion and faith as a tool for social good, based on an eternal fear, the authors suddenly become as if children toddling through the incomprehensible graveyard of their own misconceptions. The idea that divinity must be and always is “good” is a uniquely Christian perception not shared by any other religion I have studied. So, not only have the authors abandoned the consideration of most religion, they can only discuss the Christian religion in light of the secular, ethical system it so often gave way to through the seduction of prosperity. They seem to know only one definition of good, the promise of mortal, material, social comfort without a perception that divinity has its own purpose and that the extra-human is not exclusively devoted to humanity. This lucid chapter is the most disappointing in the slim book, in that the otherwise wise authors come off like apes on an island that cannot only not imagine a higher life form, but try to prove their lack of comprehension that the proof that there is no higher life form is that it is not forever showering them with bananas and nuts and making sure that Will respects Ariel enough not to backhand her over who gets the last banana.
The analysis of agriculture stirring the deep need for faith in sacrifice is well-shaped as is the view of the absurdity of hell as an obvious human construct grafted onto the divine from below made of many planes from many alien mythologies, combining the Sumerian underworld, the Hades of the Greeks and the Hel of the Norse, pointing out that the deeply compassionate “Christian moral sense” implicit in the faith “could no longer stomach the vengeful God of traditional theology,” that had created billions of souls knowing full well that they would all suffer an eternity of damnation for the crime of being created before their creator offered them a chance at redemption.
In a way, this very traditional liberal Western objection to theology is the sulking of the child who discovers that its parent has purposes other than serving, in essence, atheism and secular humanism being reflections of a deep rejection of reality.
Dick certainly imbibed their conclusion that “the death of God as an external deity,” was a human condition and sought God within himself and also externally to the world, something his imagination could accommodate and theirs could not. On this count he certainly outgrew his teachers.
The one brilliant piece of elucidation in this chapter is the authors’ conclusion that the failure of religion to sustain a devote majority in the Industrial Age guarantees a police state, which has come to pass. For the priest of “The Goddess of Reason” is the law officer—the goddamned cop.
By way of their own redemption, having waded in waters too deep for their comprehension, the authors do offer this parting thought for which there is no argument from this corner, “There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.”
This voice might add that hence, whatever replaces religion [the state, ideology, notions of social justice, drug use and even atheism] must, inevitably wrap itself in the vestments of religious faith.
Having squared Dick’s perspective with that of the man one must regard as his history teacher and his assisting wife on the question of religion, I’ll will call the comparative investigation closed at this point.
Logos is to be continued in 2021, life permitting.
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