And sham wisdom:
that is what it calls the would-be wit of the servile and old and weary,
and especially the whole wicked, nit-witted, witless foolishness of the
priests. The sham-wise, however – all the priests, the world-weary, and
all those whose souls are womanish and servile – oh what wicked tricks
has their wickedness always played on selfishness! And what was
considered virtue and called virtue was playing wicked tricks on
selfishness! And “selfless” – that is how all these world weary cowards
and cross-marked spiders wanted themselves, for good reasons.
But for all these
the day is now at hand, the change, the sword of judgment, the great
noon: much shall be revealed there.
proclaims the ego wholesome and holy, and selfishness blessed, verily,
he will also tell what he knows, foretelling: “Verily, it is at hand, it
is near, the great noon!”
have just heard the prophecies of Muhammad, John the Revelator, and
Zarathustra. Now hearken unto the oracle, the Apocalypse, of Price! Allow
me this frivolous and futile attempt at futurology, then glance at your
own crystal ball, and we shall compare visions.
As I have studied
religion, and specifically the anthropology, the sociology, and the
history of religions, I have developed a sense of trends, of
historical-cultural evolution. And I believe that the direction of world
evolution is towards radical religious pluralism, then on to secularism in
which religion will either wither away entirely or will become
marginalized to the point of social irrelevance. First let me set forth
the signs of the end.
speaks of the coming of the Great Noon, when all things will be laid bare.
In a related passage, the Madman passage in The Gay Science, he unleashes
a similar revelation, the apocalypse of the Death of God. The two are one,
for it is only when the shroud of divine cobwebs is thrust aside that the
beacon light can be seen.
We are heading for the
Great Noon, a cultural culmination of sorts, an elucidation, a universal
clarification. Myth will not become fact, don't get me wrong. There will
never be a final revelation of the Truth. We will never "know even as we
are known." We will never see "face to face." But at least the Dark Age of
spiritual slavery will have ended. There will be no Utopia, though we
should continue to pursue one.
It is not that religion's
passing will free mankind of such a bane that a Golden Age will ensue. No,
I think that religion makes so little difference in people's behavior now
that they will have found other reasons to behave well or badly, and
things will be just as confused as they are now. Most of today's
confusion, after all, hardly stems from religion. Look at Washington!
The Great Noon has not
come and will not come in its flood-tide fullness probably for some
centuries. But the Great Dawn has begun. And that was centuries ago. We
call it the Enlightenment. It was time when the autonomy of reason was
proclaimed. When all authorities were overthrown and humanity first felt
itself to have reached maturity. Kant sounded the clarion call: "Dare to
And from that time
forward autonomous science, philosophy, and historical criticism have
marched forward to a new age, to the Great Noon. The Enlightenment ushered
in that period, that condition, that state of consciousness which we call
As science advanced
resistlessly, winning campaign after campaign, the bankrupt forces of
magic, superstition, supernaturalism, dogma, and ecclesiastical authority
all received their fatal blow. Their days are numbered, and the apparent
strength they now seem to have in a time of resurgent credulity is only
the futile panic of the dragon who has lost the war in heaven and, being
cast down to earth, rages mightily, for he knows that his time is short!
The advance of reason,
research, scientific method, and the resultant technology have dealt
supernatural, mythic religion a blow from which it can never recover. It
is all too obvious that Gods do not pull switches to start rainstorms and
earthquakes. Providence and miracle are the last refuges of wishful
thinking. All over the world, wherever technology has gone, it has eroded
traditional religious faith, brought a scientific way of thinking, even if
it is not shared by all the individuals in the society or to the same
extent by all.
That is why resurgent
Islamic fundamentalism is on the war-path, because their own societies are
slipping away from them, and they hope in one last desperate gambit to
force the lid back on Pandora's Box. All such "revitalization movements"
are doomed to failure. It is too late in the first minute they organize
Pluralism is another
aspect of modernity, facilitated by immigration and communication. In
traditional societies religious belief was the atmosphere everyone
breathed. It was the ideological rationale for all the manners, mores,
laws, and customs of the society. It was impossible to doubt. It seemed
But that changes forever
once you find yourself away from the old cognitive neighborhood. As soon
as you realize plenty of other people hold different beliefs with the same
self-evident certainty that you take for granted, and with as little
justification, everything has changed forever. You can never again take it
for granted that the old ways are right.
And the better you get to
know other individuals who believe in other things, the more your belief
in anything is going to be relativized. You can't come to know someone who
earnestly lives another faith and smugly condemn him to hell. Stereotypes
can't survive that. You may start by making exceptions for individuals you
know, but eventually you're going to have to put two and two together. You
eventually will conclude that all beliefs are true in some vague
metaphorical sense, but little else. You will agree that common moral
values are all that matter.
You can throw up walls of
defense against this conclusion by fortifying a fortress mentality,
refusing to think about the troublesome truth. Or you can segregate
yourself from the larger society, having as little to do with it as
possible and spending as much time among fellow believers as
possible--going to church three times a week, having no close friends who
are non-believers, etc. But few are going to be able to make a go of
either strategy after a while. It becomes clearer and clearer that we can
understand the working of the world without the hypothesis of religion.
You don't need God to explain anything anymore. It is in fact difficult to
figure out what difference it could be making in the scheme of things if
there is a God!
fundamentalism is a last gasp, the mealy-mouthed mewlings of liberal
religion are death rattles, too. The whole enterprise of liberal religion
is to humanize religion, to temper it with modern psychology, to use it
for political engagement, to make it less subject to fanaticism and less
arbitrary in its behavior. Liberal theology rationalizes, naturalizes,
ethicizes. In short it evacuates itself of everything distinctively
religious! It, too, is moribund. Everyone knows the staid liberal churches
are dying a terrible lingering death. They question their identity, their
reason for being, all the while parroting kindergarten platitudes about
their "mission." But sociological surveys indicate that all white
denominational churches are in big trouble in the next generation.
Even the fundamentalist
Mega-churches have apparently renounced any distinctly religious content
in favor of financial advice, family values, etc.
So modern technology
makes supernaturalism increasingly and inevitably incredible. The drawing
together of the global village is bringing about a radically pluralistic
world culture (sadly, to a great degree, American pop culture). And in
such a world, traditional creeds no longer function as charters for
unanimous cultural universes of meanings. For us to live together in these
plural societies we have to sacrifice religion to privatization. That is,
we have to find a non-religious common ground to provide a charter for
life together. It can't be based on religion since we don't agree on that.
So it becomes based on common moral values, like Falwell's Moral Majority,
itself a religiously pluralistic alliance of different religions! Or it is
based on a Social Compact, a lowest common denominator of staying out of
each other's faces.
In such a world, one's
religion must be reduced to a private preference, a hobby, a closet belief
like the belief in astrology which has no real effect on any other area of
life. One's religious allegiance, such as it is, must shrink to something
like an ethnic heritage. But even this is not stable, because what happens
to ethnic identities in a plural society? There are militant enclaves of
various ethnic groups, but these exist solely to stem the inevitable tide
of mixture and assimilation. Again, a defensive last gasp.
and interreligious marriage, is rapidly breaking down the barriers between
different ethnic and different religious identities. Once a Christian
marries a Jew, it is simply not an option for either to think that the
other is damned, a member of a false religion. Such a belief would
function as a barrier to love. And then of course there is the big
question: what do we raise the children? They get raised as syncretists,
correctly perceiving that each religion is merely a different set of
ethnic trappings. Or they get raised as secularists, with no religion. Or
they get raised as Unitarians, again with no religion. Don't you see what
must happen sooner or later?
Finally one's religious
allegiance will shrink to something like a sports team loyalty, or having
a favorite rock group. It will be like the household gods ancient people
used to line up on the mantel.
In fact, we are already
seeing the birth of non-sacred religions, religions that do not
necessarily think of themselves as religions, such as the Elvis cult. A
recent book analyzing the Elvists shrewdly recognizes that what is
emerging in such cases is a religion that ignores the old distinction
between the sacred and the secular. Alongside this, I would add that such
pop culture religions ignore Kierkegaard's distinction between the ethical
and the esthetic. There is no ultimate moral seruiousness to the thing. It
is a matter of firing the imagination, tickling the fancy. Morality may be
as important as ever but need have nothing to do with religion.
And don't think I'm
sneering at this. I myself am no Elvis cultist, but I have to admit John
Lennon had me pegged: in the final analysis, the Beatles mean more to me
than Jesus. So does Batman.
Where will religion and
religious symbols end up? This is the future of religion! A set of fashion
accessories, mouse pads, ear rings, mood CDs, decor accents. Angel
calendars. Angel movies with John Travolta. It is interesting that the
Hercules cartoon opens with gospel singers belting out a chorus about the
"gospel truth" of the Son of God, Hercules. Eventually Jesus will be
reduced to a Disney character on McDonalds glasses. He is already being
edged out of Christmas by Ebenezer Scrooge.
Religion will be dead, or
as good as dead. And then what will meet the needs of the human spirit?
In my opinion, worship is
a set of special effects for inducing certain emotional and esthetic
states. And the same states have long been induced in other ways, other
esthetic means, like visual arts, music, poetry, drama. Care of the soul
is already a matter of psychotherapy. Society already offers cultural
rites of passage, though in our culture they have become attenuated. But
graduations, sweet 16 parties, weddings and funerals are all still quite
vital, with or without religious mythology.
We will still read and
mark holy scripture, which is and never has been other than great myth,
saga, epic, and poetry. The canon of scripture will be one with the canon
of the great books of civilization. The imagination must be nourished, but
one scarcely needs religion to do this.
So by losing religion we
will not be losing much. Those of us who have lost it already can attest
to that. And in that Great Noon we will have much to gain. We will gain
sober realism, an ability to deem life much more precious for renouncing
the illusion that we have an endless supply of it.
We will gain the glorious
liberty of those who know they are not the sons or daughters of god, but
only homo sapiens, both beast and godling.
We will have the
satisfaction of making our own decisions, no longer living for the goals
and by the rules set by another.
We will not think glory
lies in slavishly emulating ancient others of our kind, but in finding our
We will admit the
terrible truth of our own greatness and dare to bear the burden of it.
We will cower no longer,
fearing we haven't the right to poach on God's prerogatives, since they
are the prerogatives of our race--to clone ourselves, to reach out toward
other planets, to extend life, to control the evolution of the race.
Dare to know! Dare to be
Because verily it is near
to you: it is in your mouth and in your heart!
The Great Noon is at
July 12, 1997
Copyright©2009 by Robert
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