Whether one be
servile before gods and gods' kicks or before men and stupid men's opinions -
whatever is servile it spits upon, this blessed selfishness... And sham
wisdom: that is what it calls the would-be wit of the servile and old and
weary, and especially the whole wicked, nitwitted, witless foolishness of the
priests.... But for all these the day is now at hand, the change, the sword of
judgment, the great noon:
how much shall be revealed there! And whoever 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!"
Thus spoke Zarathustra.
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.
Zarathustra 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
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 know!" And from that time
forward autonomous science, philosophy, and historical criticism have marched
forward to a new age, toward the Great Noon. The Enlightenment ushered in that
period, that condition, that state of consciousness which we call Modernity. As
science advanced resistlessly, winning campaign after campaign, the bankrupt
forces of magic, superstition, supernaturalism, dogma, and ecclesiastical
authority all received their fatal blow. 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. 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 were a
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! (Revelation 12:12) 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 themselves!
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 manner, mores, laws, and customs of
the society. It was impossible to doubt one's religion. It would have seemed
insane to do so. 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. Kant and
Lessing saw that long ago. It was the piety of the Enlightenment, and now
society is beginning to catch up with them.
You can throw up
walls of defense against this conclusion by building 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.
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.
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. (Want proof? Even Jerry like Falwell's Moral Majority was 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.
interfaith 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?
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 seriousness 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.
religion and religious symbols end up? The future of religion is consumer
capitalism. A set of New Age 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, by 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 own way. 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, for instead we know 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
the Superman! Because verily it is near to you: it is in your mouth and in your
heart! The Great Noon is at hand!
Robert M. Price
Sect of Zarathustra
is a Humanist group meeting in Bloomfield,
NJ. Our regular activities include:
Discussion group on issues of philosophy and religion, first and third Fridays
of each month at the Prices' home, 30 Stockton Street,
Bloomfield NJ 07003. 8:30 pm till whenever.
The Skeptic Tank:
Discussion group on issues of philosophy and religion, second and fourth Friday
evenings at the Montclair Public Library Auditorium. 8 - 10 pm.
Lecture by Dr. Price followed by discussion and refreshments. Every Sunday, 11
am. at the Prices' home.
Free class, critical study of the Bible. Second and fourth Mondays, 7:30 pm at
Borders Books & Music, Wayne Towne Centre, Wayne NJ. 785-0037