Originally posted by apocalypticon
I understand that you are speaking of the idea of the religious impulse in general; but I know that studies have been done which demonstrate that many
sects within Christianity which began as fringe elements, either because of their doctrine or their self-perception in relation to society, tend to
modify their beliefs, over time, with the more radical elements of their original message toning down the further in time they get from the founding
generation. Thus, sects or off-shoots, become more mainstream denominations, as they seek to accomodate to society.
Yes, that's true. But what we need to do is to look at things over a much longer time-frame.
To repeat what I said above, the purpose of religion is to establish and maintain relationships among individuals, society, and nature. It does this
through poetic and mythic imagery, ritual, and mental disciplines, as well as moral teachings. This is a constant, but what kinds of relationships
are appropriate have varied over the millennia of human existence on this planet.
We can broadly identify two prior paradigms of human society, each with its own characteristic type of religious thought, practice, and structure; and
a third towards which we are now moving. The transition from one paradigm to another occasions an overwhelming religious revolution, such as the one
we are now undergoing. Within the period in which each paradigm was dominant, lesser evolutions occurred that invited new religions to emerge, all
within the general type appropriate to the paradigm but nonetheless exhibiting differences in doctrine, practice, and structure.
The first paradigm I call the "Precivilized Paradigm." Humans lived under it from the evolution of our first ancestors until the dawn of civilized
life, a period between a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand years long. The second paradigm I call the "Classical Civilized Paradigm."
Humans lived under it from the beginning of civilization until about the 15th century C.E. We are now in transition toward a third paradigm, which we
have not yet achieved, but the changes are already sufficient that we really are not living under the Classical Paradigm any more.
All of the so-called "great" religions in the world today emerged under the second paradigm of human existence, and are of the same broad type.
While the differences among, say, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism may seem great, they are insignificant compared to the difference between
any of these and the prevailing religions of pre-civilized times, or what religion will become over the next century or so.
In precivilized times, humans lived in small family-related bands and practiced a foraging/hunting economy. They had no formal government, no
organized religion, no currency; within the band, distribution of wealth was accomplished by sharing more than trade, and all capital property
(hunting and foraging grounds, fishing streams, flint quarries, etc.) were communally owned. Man was in a subordinate position to nature, with
strongly-recognized kinship to the animals. Religious practices reinforced all these relationships.
Under the classical paradigm at its purest, humans lived in city-states or imperial dominions or kingdoms, and practiced an agricultural economy.
Formal government (usually monarchical but sometimes republican), organized religion strongly interwoven with the state, distribution of wealth
accomplished primarily by trade, and private ownership of capital property (especially by a hereditary landed warrior elite) characterized its social
structure. Man was in a dominant position over nature, and his kinship with the animals was de-emphasized or even denied. Religious practices
reinforced all these relationships.
With the scientific and industrial revolutions, we have moved out of the Classical Paradigm. Many things about it have been abandoned. The primary
generator of wealth is now industrial production, not agriculture. The class of slaves or serfs that resided at the economic bottom of classical
civilization throughout its entire history has been abolished, replaced by an industrial lower class of marginal hired workers. The typical
government type today is republican rather than monarchical. (Even dictatorships use republican window-dressing to establish their legitimacy,
whereas in the old days they would have tried to establish the dictator's hereditary claim to the throne.) In religion, too, many things have
changed. The subordinate position of women that was part of all classical religious mores is questioned everywhere and abandoned many places.
Traditional sexual morality is also being undermined in other respects. And the relationship between man and nature has required a complete overhaul,
to recognize our proper role as caretaker of nature rather than its tyrant.