Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Sense of Homecoming

Last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report was, as some of my readers grasped, more than an attempt to imagine the far future without reference to the contemporary folk mythologies of progress and apocalypse—though it was also that, of course. In particular, I hoped to evoke from my readers a specific response or, rather, two precisely opposite responses: the two sides of a fault line along which the tectonic pressures of the collective imagination are pressing toward crisis.

The results were as good as I could have hoped. Some of those who read last week’s account of a future without limitless progress, to be sure, found the prospect unbearably dismal. The most vocal spokesperson for that point of view was, unexpectedly enough, SF writer David Brin, who contributed a fine thumping tirade—helpfully posted to his own blog as well as this one—full of the sort of “if you disagree with me, you’re just being negative” rhetoric most often used these days to market Ponzi schemes and perpetual-motion devices. Still, he also took the time to characterize the narrative as an infuriatingly gloomy “paean to despair.” Though nobody else seems to have felt quite the same need to bluster about it, a number of other readers expressed similar reactions.

What makes this fascinating to me is that a rather larger number of my readers had the opposite reaction. A vision of a future in which civilizations, species and worlds follow life cycles like those of all other natural things didn’t leave them furious or depressed. Their comments instead featured such words as  “comforted,” “delighted,” and “awed.” It’s easy, and also common, to mischaracterize such feelings as simple schadenfreude at the failure of humanity’s overinflated ambitions, but there’s something rather more significant going on here. Not one of the readers who made these comments made gloating remarks about the fate of humanity or the Earth. Rather, what comforted, delighted, and awed them was the imagery of Nature’s enduring order and continuity that I wove throughout the narrative, and brought to the tightest focus I could manage in the last two paragraphs.

This division is one I’ve been observing for quite some time now. It so happens that my unpaid day job as the head of a contemporary Druid order brings me into contact with a tolerably large number of people who fall more generally on the latter side of the division I’ve just traced: whose sense of wonder and instinct for reverence are far more readily roused by the order of Nature, and their own necessary participation in that order, than it is by the overturning of natural order that plays so crucial a role in the theist and civil religions of mainstream Western culture. It so happens, for that matter, that I find myself consistently on that side of the division I’ve just traced. Reflecting on my own sense of alienation from the conventional religiosity of our time, and on what I’ve learned from the many other people who experience a similar alienation for similar reasons, I’ve come to believe that what’s going on is the emergence, for the first time in more than two thousand years, of a genuinely new religious sensibility in the western world.

A religious sensibility isn’t a religion. It’s the substructure of perceptions, emotions and intuitions on which religions are built, and to which religions owe both the deep similarities that link them to other faiths of the same general age and historical origin, and the equally deep divides that separate them from faiths of different ages and origins. Between the tendency of modern religions to insist loudly on  their uniqueness, on the one hand, and the opposed tendency of modern irreligion to run all religions together into a formless blur, on the other, the concept of distinct religious sensibilities is a difficult one for many people nowadays to grasp; the best way to make sense of it is to glance back over the emergence of the religious sensibility that currently dominates the western world.

If you had the chance to survey the religious landscape of the western half of Eurasia and North Africa two or three millennia ago, unless you happened to be looking in some very obscure corners, you would find very few similarities to the religious institutions, practices, and ideas of today. People didn’t belong to congregations that met regularly inside buildings to pray together; questions concerning life after death weren’t a big deal for most people, and nobody wasted time waiting for the end of the world; sacred scriptures in the modern sense were distinctly rare, next to nobody claimed that a god had created the universe, and even the most devout believers in one deity freely conceded that other deities existed and deserved the reverence of their own worshippers.

The core religious institution of that era was the temple, a house for the deity rather than a meeting place for worshippers—rituals in the old temple cults took place out in front in the open air, not inside—and the core ceremony was sacrifice, in which worshippers invited the presence of a deity for a feast and quite literally “killed the fatted calf” to supply the main course for divine and human participants alike. (Food storage technology being what it was at that time, that was the way you provided meat for any honored guest.) The status of priests varied from one part of the western world to another, but in most places they were elected or hereditary officials set apart from the laity only in the most pro forma sense, and you didn’t have to be a priest to perform a sacrifice.

Behind all the richness and diversity of the religious life of the time was a distinctive sensibility, one that saw the cosmos as a community to which gods and men both belonged. The modern notion of equality had no more place in their cosmos than it did in any other ancient community, but the sharp differences in rights and responsibilities didn’t prevent every member of the community from having a share in its collective life and benefits. That sensibility once had the force of revelation; the Jews, for example, were late adopters of the temple cult, and the awe and wonder palpable in Solomon’s prayer at the consecration of the temple of Jerusalem (II Chronicles 6) conveys something of the power of a religious vision in which gods could “in very deed dwell with men on the earth.” It was by way of that emotional power that the sensibility of the temple cults superseded a still older sensibility whose traces can just be made out in the oldest strata of Western religious traditions.

Still, by 600 BCE or so, the initial power of that vision had long since settled into a comfortable routine of thought and practice, and by 600 BCE or so, in turn, the first stirrings of a new and very different religious sensibility were starting to appear.  Orphism in the Greek-speaking communities of the Mediterranean basin and the earliest forms of Buddhism in India rejected the celebration of life’s good things in the community of gods and men, and offered in its place a radically different vision—a vision of salvation from the natural world and the human condition itself, available to an elite few willing to embrace a life of radical austerity and spiritual practice. 

Then and long thereafter, this was a fringe phenomenon that appealed only to a tiny minority of intellectuals.  Most people either believed and practiced as their great-grandparents had, or settled into fashionably up-to-date materialist philosophies that discarded belief in gods without stirring the smallest fraction of a cubit from the religious sensibility that underlay the traditional faiths. Still, the new sensibility spread into popular culture as the years passed.

You can track its spread by the way that robust traditional celebrations of human sexuality gave way to shamefaced discomfort with the facts of reproduction. Many Greek religious processions, for example, carried large wooden penises as emblems of the gods’ gifts of fertility and delight; by the time Greek philosophy was a going concern, intellectuals were muttering excuses about symbols of the abstract progenitive power of the divine principles to justify to themselves a tradition with which they were obviously uncomfortable.  Attitudes toward sexuality of the sort that we now call “Victorian” found an increasingly public voice as the new sensibility spread, though here again most people simply rolled their eyes and did what they and their great-great-grandparents had always done.

The great breakthrough of the new religious sensibility took place over the half-millennium after 200 CE, as three great religious movements—Christianity, Islam, and Mahayana Buddhism—democratized the older vision of salvation for an elite, by proclaiming faith in a uniquely holy person and his doctrine as a valid substitute for the lifelong austerities and spiritual disciplines of the older tradition. The shift was never total; ordinary members of all three movements were expected to take up certain practices and austerities, of the sort that could be pursued alongside an ordinary lifestyle, and all three also evolved roles for those who aspired to the total immersion of the older tradition (monks and nuns in Christianity and Buddhism, Sufis in Islam). By that time the new sensibility had become sufficiently widespread that throwing open the doors of salvation to all and sundry got an enthusiastic response.

It’s indicative of how deeply the new sensibility had percolated through the society of the age that by the time Christianity began its final rise to power in the Roman world, its Pagan rivals were as deeply committed to the idea of salvation from the human condition as their Christian rivals. The writings of late Pagan intellectuals such as Iamblichus and the Emperor Julian show as much discomfort with sexuality and physical embodiment as those of their Christian contemporaries; what differentiated the two was simply that the Pagan writers defended the older, elitist conception of salvation for those who earned it by austerity and spiritual practice, against the new vision of salvation by faith, and made common cause with what was left of the old temple cults because those had long been a focus of Christian animosity. Their rearguard action failed, though its literary remains became a lasting resource for those who never did fit in with the new sensibility—or, more to the point, with the specific institutional forms that the new sensibility took in its cultural and historical contexts.

A religious sensibility, after all, is not a monolithic thing, and its expressions are even less so.  In Europe and the European diaspora, the division between more elitist and more democratic visions of salvation became an enduring fault line, to be joined by the divide between centralized and collective concepts of spiritual authority, on the one hand, and between more this-worldly and more otherworldly concepts of salvation on the other.  Fault lines of comparable importance, though radically different nature, ran through the older religious sensibility as well, and can be traced in the very different religious sensibilities of regions outside western Eurasia and the Mediterranean basin.

For that matter, older religious sensibilities and their institutional forms can quite often find a way to survive in the interstices of the new; consider the way that Shinto, a temple-centered polytheism of the classic kind, has been able to hold its own for more than fifteen centuries in Japan side by side with Mahayana Buddhism. The repeated revivals of Pagan worship in the western world from the late Middle Ages to the present suggests that the same thing could as well have happened in Europe and the European diaspora, if violent intolerance along religious lines had been less of an issue there. The point that needs making here is that the dominance of a religious sensibility is never total; even when a great majority of people take the presuppositions of a given sensibility for granted as unchallengeable truths, there are always those who don’t fit in, whose personal sense of the sacred pulls them in directions outside the accepted religious sensibility of their age: some toward sensibilities that have been dominant in the past, others toward sensibilities that may potentially play the same role in the future.

It’s important, it seems to me, not to impose the traditional folk mythology of progress onto these shifts from one religious sensibility to another.  Of course it’s been a rhetorical strategy common to many modern religions to do exactly this, and to portray the replacement of the old temple cults by the new religions of salvation as a great leap forward in human progress. Still, that strategy runs serious risks. There’s always the danger that some more recently minted theist religion will play the same card, and argue that just as Paganism was replaced by Christianity, say, Christianity ought to be replaced by the latest, hottest, newest revelation, whatever that happens to be. There’s also the considerably greater danger that atheists will make exactly the same argument. This latter has been a valuable weapon in the atheist arsenal for centuries now, and it gets much of its power by drawing on the same arguments monotheist religions used against their polytheist predecessors. As an edged joke common in Neopagan circles these days puts it, when you’ve already disbelieved in all the other gods, what’s one more?

Still, the contemporary quarrels between atheists and theists, like the equally fierce quarrels between the different theist religions of salvation, take place within a shared sensibility. It’s indicative, for example, that theists and atheists agree on the vast importance of what individuals believe about basic religious questions such as the existence of God; it’s just that to the theists, having the right beliefs brings salvation from eternal hellfire, while to the atheists, having the right beliefs brings salvation from the ignorant and superstitious past that fills the place of eternal damnation in their mythos. That obsession with individual belief is one of the distinctive features of the current western religious sensibility; in the heyday of the old temple cults, while acts of impiety toward sacred objects or ceremonies would earn a messy death in short order, nobody cared about what opinions individuals might have about details of religious doctrine, and thinkers could redefine the gods any way they wished so long as they continued to show proper respect for holy things and holy seasons.

The hostilities between Christianity and contemporary atheism, like those between Christianity and Islam, are thus expressions of something like sibling rivalry. Salvation from the natural world and the human condition remains the core premise (and thus also the most important promise) of all these faiths, whether that salvation takes the supernatural form of resurrection followed by eternal life in heaven, on the one hand, or the allegedly more natural form of limitless progress, the conquest of poverty, illness, and death, and the great leap outwards to an endless future among the stars. It’s precisely the absence of those common assumptions, in turn, that makes communication so difficult across the boundary between one religious sensibility and another. The gap in understanding that reduced an intelligent man like David Brin to spluttering fury at the suggestion that salvation might not be waiting for humanity out there among the stars is exactly parallel to the one that drove normally tolerant Roman thinkers to denounce the early Christians as “enemies of the human race.”

Still, the fact remains that to a growing number of people nowadays, promises of salvation from the natural world and the human condition—whether that salvation takes the more traditional form of eternal life in a supernatural realm or a more contemporary form decked out with spaceships and jetpacks—fail to evoke the emotional responses they get from participants in the older religious sensibility. It’s not merely that these promises no longer ring true, though in many cases that’s also an issue; it’s that they no longer have any appeal. What stirs awe and wonder in these people, rather, is a sense of belonging and of participation in the great cycles of Nature, an awareness of oneness with life that does not shrink in terror from life’s natural completion in death.  What inspires them is not the hope of a final separation from the realities of nature, life, history and time, but a conscious and delighted participation in these realities—not the promise of salvation, but the reality of homecoming.

The emergence of this new religious sensibility has been, as such things always are, a gradual process. Historian of religions Catherine Albanese in her useful 1990 study Nature Religion in America has traced it back in American religious life to colonial times, and its roots in older European cultures go back considerably further still. That said, it seems to me that the last few decades have seen the new religious sensibility approach something like a critical mass.  It’s become much more common than it once was for me to encounter other people who, as I do, find more cause for reverence in the curve of a grass blade in the wind or the dance of energies through an ecosystem than in the dubious claims of past miracles offered by theist religions or the equally dubious promises of future miracles made so freely by the civil religion of progress.

If I’m right, and the new religious sensibility I’ve outlined in this essay will play a significant role in the religious imagination of the western world in the decades, centuries, and millennia to come, a case could be made that its emergence is timely. More than any other single factor, the civil religion of progress helped to drive the weird astigmatism of the collective imagination that makes blind faith in vaporware seem like a reasonable response to the converging crises of our age, and convinces so many people that the only possible thing to do in a blind alley is to keep stomping on the accelerator in the vain hope that the brick wall in front of them must surely give way. 

More generally, as ecologist Lynn White pointed out many years ago in a famous essay, the origins of our environmental crisis are deeply entangled with the religious sensibility of salvation and the beliefs and institutional forms that emerged from that sensibility. Understanding that entanglement, and how a different religious sensibility might help to unravel it, can offer some useful insights into how we got into our current mess and how we might get out of it; we’ll discuss that next week.

223 comments:

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Glenn said...

Your final paragraphs may just be whistling in the wind, or wishful thinking. But it's a hopeful thought if true. (No, I'm not trying to insult you by using the word hope.)

Glenn

Marrowstone Island

Quin said...

Linking Atheism and Christianity as siblings with the same sensibility? I can't see this pill going down smoothly... I look forward to watching the mayhem as it ensues. ;-)

I just wanted to mention, for the sake of readers who may not be aware, that holy processions of giant penises are still very much a going concern in Shinto.

Ray Wharton said...

An opportune title for a recent experience I had. A friend showed me a movie on food scarcity that came out last year 'A Place at the Table', the movie was on its own merits a mid grade piece of propaganda on how the federal food policies ought be to fix an unacceptable predicament, but it also featured interviews with people from Collbran the tiny cow town I grew up in. Seeing how much my home town has changed since I went off to College 7 years ago is chilling. It was never a rich place, but it was far better off when I was growing up. The world that people becoming adults today walk into is so changed from my experience in '06, and with it the abandonment of the traditional narratives grows more common. Not all go in directions I can make much heads or tails of; similarly I have done little to maintain any contact many people I once knew in Collbran.

Tales of the long stories and the long cycles are favorites of mine, and my roommates. Aspects of them are seen as dreary or cynical by some of my progress leaning friends. But its a different World-feeling than that, there is sorrow, but mixed with awe in a outlandish and beautiful way. I wonder about those who go through more hardship in their developing years than I did, all the various ways the young will express their religiosity, how it will fortify them in some faculties, but erode at the foundations of others. I hope the grasp of screens on the youth weakens a quickly as possible relative to the decline of other social systems, and I hope that weakening grasp does not release anything too unfortunate.

The 4 year old in our household sang a song about her tower of blocks that would "bring rain to the compost" and it started to rain. I think I am going to try to start another 14 yard pile of compost in light of the movie on food scarcity, when in doubt, make better soil. Here in Colorado there is never a lack of need for good soil, if someone will do it for free. Best to make it before the daily dump trucks of wood chips stop driving by en-route to the landfill. Too bad Collbran's climate won't even support the gardening that is possible in Fort Collins climate.

I am looking forward to the Equinox ritual on the 22nd, it will be my first Equinox celebration with a group of friends. If anyones going to be near Fort Collins drop me a line, the more are there the more is there to learn. [my name with no spaces]@gmail.com.

. josé . said...

Wonderful. The Archdruid Report comes full circle to become, in excellent form, an archdruid's report.

I'm in the process of re-reading The Blood of the Earth, and I'm amazed at how natural the memes feel this time around, and how comfortably they fit into the new paradigm. The first time I read it - like my first encounter with Druidry - felt like a revelation, a series of discoveries. In a sense, that period felt like a homecoming. This second time, the reading is going much faster. There's no surprise here, just a reinforcement of what has already been learned.

This blog is different, because every week there's a new topic, another step in this Brownian tour you're leading. Nonetheless, ait feels more comfortable by the week.

Avery said...

Eco-theology is a popular subject in religion departments these days, and I had my fun contributing to Lynn White's thesis. But you must be aware that tomes upon tomes of wholly ecological and sustainability-focused philosophies in ancient China were unable to prevent mass deforestation. Is it a choice of theology that's to blame, or simply a lack of understanding about how to put good, sustainable principles into practice?

Eco-theology is a good start, but we can only achieve it by understanding the full, sacred meaning of "sustainability". Being sustainable doesn't mean making up new, recyclable gadgets. It means carrying on things that came from before, and getting a real sense that you are doing so -- something you have emphasized on this blog during other cycles, and which I would emphasize here as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, I'm not suggesting that it's going to be quick, or easy -- I'll clarify in next week's post.

Quin, one of the things I appreciate about Shinto is that it's retained so many of the habits of the old temple practices of Greece and Rome -- there's very little that goes on in a contemporary Shinto matsuri or jinja that anybody in the classical world wouldn't have recognized and appreciated at a glance. I wonder how many people in Japan have noticed that the Greek warriors in the first book of the Iliad perform misogi shuho to purify themselves of tsumi brought on by Agamemnon's actions...

Jose, glad to hear it. I plan on talking at some length about the new religious sensibility I've described, and about some of my own experiences in relation to it, before we go on to other things.

Avery, and yet suitable theology and philosophy did keep ancient Japan from deforesting itself,and did a certain amount of effective restorative work in Greece in the wake of the Mycenean environmental collapse. Which is to say, yes, it's a complex question, and will get (or at least that's my intention) a suitably nuanced answer.

Lure Junkie said...

As an avid long-time reader of this blog – JMG makes so much sense of so much nonsense – I’m prompted to comment in this case because there is an inherent paradox in JMG’s position which I’d very much like him to deal with. Firstly, JMG’s logic tools, social and physical context as well as his historical analysis are in fact fruits of a shared Greco/Judeo-Christian heritage. What I mean is that he is advocating a pygmy belief system whilst perched on the shoulders of giants (analogy not insult!). Paganism as a religious and cultural system could not have produced a JMG making the arguments he does! Additionally, the test of any belief system is what it is like to live in a society where that belief system is practically (as opposed to theoretically) implemented. As a South African I am frequently exposed to societies where animism and polytheism form the foundational belief system of millions and from my limited experience these sections of society have some very grievous social downsides which stem from these same belief systems. A druid from 600BCE might at some point have been found cutting someone’s throat and placing him or her (reverently) in a bog. The difference between that druid and this one illustrates the point.

Jo said...

Dear John Michael Greer, I can't tell you how much I have appreciated your last two posts. For the past two decades I have been discarding layer after layer of my first two decades of religious upbringing. And in the end all that is left is that sense of joy in the curve of a blade of grass, and for the first time, that is enough. I have stopped feeling that I need to manufacture any other kind of meaning beyond that. I will continue to be as kind as I can, enjoy grass blades and other good things, and do what I can to oppose what is not good. But mostly, enjoy the grass. Thankyou!

Patrick McEvoy said...

JMG, you have managed to put into words and illuminate what I now understand to be the deep subconscious current that has, with growing strength in recent years, pushed me to align my life more closely with the cycles and flows of nature. When you mentioned a sense of homecoming and reverence for the flow of energies through an ecosystem I was blown away. It is very much this that I feel when contemplating nature and it has led me to study in the hopes of making a career as an ecologist. When I evaluate my actions and the direction of my life, it provides the overriding context.

The idea that a similar current is flowing through the minds of many others these days is utterly fascinating as well.

Each week you pretty much nail it, but this one...

Unknown said...

This week I came across a rather shrill example of progress apologetics: Is technological progress a thing of the past? by an economist, Joel Mokyr.

The content is blatant disregard of the law of diminishing returns, mixed with wishful economist thinking ("demand can create anything") and a healthy dose of "this time it'll be different".

This paragraph is pure gold:

History is always a bad guide to the future and economic historians should avoid making predictions. All the same, the historical records provide some insights into what makes societies technologically creative. Such insights, in turn can be used at the basis for looking ahead to assess how likely such a decline is to take place.

The answer is short and simple: we ain’t seen nothin’ yet, the best is still to come.


Gist: history is useless unless it tells us what we want to hear.

It reminded me of something I believe you pointed out several times on this blog; The louder the defence gets the more you know that those standing to gain are having their doubts.

Case in point: this link was shared by an influential Silicon Valley investor. I was surprised to see them getting this worried.

DeAnander said...

Yikes! Late night random thoughts

1) last week's post was great fun

2) "A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels."

3) in Mike Pollan's latest book (Cooked) he devotes quite a few pages to the ritual aspects of traditional BBQ and ... wait for it... the possibility that it represents a slender but unbroken thread of meaning from ancient days (pre-civ even) of ritual animal slaughter and feasting, offering to the gods the smoke or insubstantial/spiritual essence of the sacrifice, and sharing among the "congregation" the earthly nourishment. Temple religion indeed!

4) The idea that our "home" is some other place that we go to only after we die is one of the strangest we humans have come up with, imho. "Trailing clouds of glory do we come" and all that -- the idea that our physical life is actually a dream or sleep or period of benighted idiocy from which we wake, upon death, to our *real* existence... well it's hard to wrap my head around it, that's for sure. Certainly a useful religious sensibility for slaves and other similarly downtrodden folks who have to endure much hardship and suffering in life and need to hope for deliverance to a Better Place.

5) There is a divergent theme in NT theology that intreprets Christ's message as actually subversive of this "pie in sky" sensibility, and interprets "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" as meaning not "it's coming real soon now, any day" but "it's right here w/in arm's reach if you can only see it." There are injunctions to the faithful to behave like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field -- in other words, to be more creaturely and less self-conscious and worried about some putative future.

That's enough stray thoughts for now. Must sleep. My quite elderly Mum is visiting, so thoughts of age, mortality, Time and inexorable change are very much with me... I notice in passing that there seems to be a wry sort of consolation for doomer/preppers who contemplate the inevitable loss of beloved, aged parents in the context of the Long Descent; we can feel somewhat relieved if we expect them to die *before* things get too much worse. Whereas doomers/preppers with grandkids (ones I meet anyway) have a lot to worry about. Strange, innit. Very strange. Turning the Narrative of Progress upside-down upends also the consolations/sorrows of generational positioning. Children and grandchildren represent, not security and hope, but worry; the natural aging and demise of parents (who lived pretty good lives during the fossil party, if they were born in the right place with the right phenotype) seem almost, ummm, lucky?

Kevin May said...

JMG,
Thanks for another great post. As always thought provoking and informative.

So, there are two kinds of people... :)

I understand the point you are making with the two camps you've presented so eloquently here and it's useful for thinking about where we are and who we are as a society. However I'd like to point out that there are many tricky shades in between.

To be sure some of your readers reacted negatively to last weeks post and for some this reaction likely sprung from their faith in progress being slighted. But my own feeling of having been left cold from your story was not out of any perceived insult to any faith I might have in progress... you've done a fine job in knocking that nonsense out of me :)

In my experience wonder and awe are not synonymous with consolation. I've read about long dark nights of  the soul and heard tell of students who've had a taste of satori too soon and been left quite rattled. While I haven't experienced that kind of drama I do know someday that I'll die. It's natural. I know this. And I know it differently on an average Monday than I do at a loved ones funeral. I'll probably know it on another level entirely on my deathbed. To not feel warm and fuzzy contemplating an atom of mine shared by some future being doesn't necessarily mean I'm a disciple of progress. And for someone to feel warm and fuzzy doesn't necessarily mean they're any more in sync than I am with the way things are. Maybe they are repeating that mantra because it means they can avoid feeling otherwise about this terrible beauty we call death? Or maybe I'm just singing a more melancholy air on the same theme. Either way I'm guessing neither of us are enlightened,

If we all lived in your first sensibility promoting culture there would still be those who are left, if not cold, certainly not warm and fuzzy at the mystery of life because after all there are two kinds of people; those who are dead and... :)

sunfyrlion said...

"... What stirs awe and wonder in these people, rather, is a sense of belonging and of participation in the great cycles of Nature, an awareness of oneness with life that does not shrink in terror from life’s natural completion in death. What inspires them is not the hope of a final separation from the realities of nature, life, history and time, but a conscious and delighted participation in these realities—not the promise of salvation, but the reality of homecoming. ..."

I can relate to those thoughts/sentiments at this stage of my life, after 69 years of living, trying several 'religions' and finally realizing that living is the true reward, not something to endure, but something to be part of. I will be 'planted' either as ashes or whole at the base of a young tree and my atoms will live on after I pass.

What humankind could have been by now, had we taken a different path, a different approach to the riches we were given by Gaia. Had we used them to improve the species, we might have actually lived up to our name, homo sapiens.

This is my first comment, but I have been a regular reader of your thoughts for years. Thank you!

Bruin Silverbear said...

JMG,

It would be nice if you could make these posts longer so that I do not have to be patient and wait for next week. Now that I am done my fawning over your work, I will get to the guts of my impressions.

I have stated many times to friends a quote I myself came up with among a few self admnistered pats on the back..."As long as the road to Walmart is paved, most people just don't give a $#!+". Unfortunately, much of what I see in the world right now tends to reinforce this ideology. It is my impression that through a lackluster educational system that is more interested in creating new consumers than it is workers we've created a culture that fails to question anything beyond how our basic needs are met. In essence, few people want to be bothered to learn about what is happening outside their windows. Those of us who do cast a critical eye to what we are being told by the mass media and the authorities are generally marginalized. Far from giving up, perhaps it is time that we collectively make more concerted efforts towards planting sustainable communities and growing them into something that can last beyond the long arc of our current culture. Even if we have the next breakthrough in technology next week that gives us perpetual motion and cold fusion in a handy briefcase size device, who would it harm?

Thijs Goverde said...

Well! That was... a tad disappointing!
You neatly contrast the awed & the angry, pretty much along the expected lines, but the category I was most interested in (of course - I put myself there) was the indifferent. No small group, if I recall correctly. I was very much wondering what you would say about the third option (actually it was the fourth, but that is neither here nor there) you so generously provided, especially as I couldn't see how it would fit into the narrative you'd been building up in the past few months.
So I couldn't help feeling a bit cheated when the 'mehs' got exactly zero mention today.

However, it's a source of wry amusement to me that you frame the awed and the angry as the new and the old religious sensibility, respectively.
What does that make the indifferent ones?
If they are of neither the old nor the new religious feeling, what are they? One is tempted to say that they have *no* religious sensibility, but, as has been made rather clear in this forum on a previous occasion, the idea that people of no religious sensibility exist is self-evidently too preposterous to even talk about (and by 'self evidently', I mean 'and no arguments for this will be forthcoming').

For what it's worth, I'll give my take on the 'meh'-feeling.
Deep time is a very awesome place, to be sure, but that one of 'my' atoms may end up in an alien does not have any discernible implications for my actions in the here and now. Whatever I do, that atom will go on its merry way, carrying with it no memories of 'me' whatsoever.
I could take up kicking puppies for a hobby, and the atom wouldn't know or care, and neither would the alien.
By contrast, a photon bouncing off my shiny shoe may end up somewhere in the Horsehead Nebula a millennium and a half from now, and there it may connect with the visual apparatus of an alien. This might give me pause: do I really want to kick this puppy when the aliens are watching me?
By even starker contrast, of course, one might consider the feelings of the puppy.

I always enjoy SF, Alternate History, Ten-billion-years-from-now-blogposts, grue/bleen-dichotomies, what-books-would-you-take-to-a-desert-island-coversations, how-do-you-think-that-puppy-feels-questions and all other thought experiments. Just for the art's sake, as it were.
However, when a thought experiment specifically mentions me, and then turns out to have no discernible implications for me, then I tend to feel it is a pointless excercise.
Funny, that.

robertguyton said...

I’m starting a movement and calling it ‘Common Ground”.
I invite you to join; it’s free and you probably already qualify for membership, as ‘Common Ground’ is for people who plant.
It’s as simple as that.
There’s a token as well, a sticker with the head of the leafy-faced Green Man, a traditional symbol of vegetative vigour.
I’ll post a sticker to you, if you would like one. Email me at rguy10@actrix.co.nz
You could stick it somewhere visible; on the handle of your garden fork or on the bumper of your car, so that anyone who’s not heard of the movement can ask you about it.
You’ll see the Green Man face on some of the articles I write, here and in other publications kind enough to give me space, where the topics might be of special relevance to the objective of “Common Ground”, that is, encouraging more planting, especially that which benefits the community you are part of.
That’s all there is to it.
Keep an eye out for the Green Man and the ‘Common Ground’ movement.
I intend that it should become a useful and enjoyable vehicle for improving our shared spaces.

k-dog said...

In old kingdom Egyptian times (ca. 2350 BCE) maat ruled. Maat was order, truth, appropriateness, reciprocity, justice. The king’s place was to bring in maat so it filled the land. Opposite to maat was the disorder of 'isfet'. Later maat became a goddess the Egyptian pantheon.

Living life in sustainable cycles is maat, celebrating friends, family and tilling the garden is maat. Maat is living with others sharing the bounty earth provides.

Lynn White is right the origins of our environmental crisis are deeply entangled with the religious sensibility. The endless cycle of maat would be well remembered. Maat means recycling. Armageddon means burn the gas oh chosen one and leave none for another. For it is written this is all there so get it before it's gone. Religious sensibility. It was a cruel joke to title that book 'Revelations'.

A you say it’s important "not to impose the traditional folk mythology of progress onto these shifts from one religious sensibility to another". But this (The IHEU) has to rain on your parade pretty hard not to be called progress. - K-Dog

Tom Bannister said...

JMG- Thanks for once again encapsulating and explaining something I think I've noticed for a while but haven't quite been able to put into words.

Like as you mentioned in this post, I have noticed for some time a lack of faith in myself in the traditional explanations of spiritual salvation. 'We are chosen by god or we ascend into the stars and become gods etc'. I completely agree btw that more people are gradually emerging with the 'other' sense of religious/spiritual sensibility (I am also seeing this for myself). I know you probably don't want to hear this but this is what at least some of us were (kind of, but not too strictly) pinning the 2012 stuff on...

I guess one thing I would like to know more about (and this might be in a later post), is a more detailed explanation as to why these different religious sensibilities emerge when they do (without using the narrative of progress of course). Is simply another circular pattern? is it something to do with human evolution or maybe a change in social/political economic circumstances? Cheers

Lei said...

Well, although a classical sinologist, I do not know anything about "upon tomes of wholly ecological and sustainability-focused philosophies in ancient China". - Maybe because a classical sinologist, I suspect. In any case, there is an excellent overview article by Heiner Roetz in Concepts of Nature (http://www.brill.com/concepts-nature); and of course, much can be learnt from Mark Elvin's The Retreat of the Elephants.

No Orient-flavoured romanticism about ancient China, please :o)

Stonymeadow said...

re: "more cause for reverence in [...] the dance of energies through an ecosystem"

triggered a few related things i've found inspiring over the last few years...

for those that may not be familiar with Stephen Harrod Buhner, here's a link to an excerpt from one of his books that does a good job of explaining the intricate chemical interactions that play out in nature. biology isn't my strong suit, but i really find his descriptions quite marvelous:
-----
The Lost Language of Plants, By Stephen Harrod Buhner

http://www.gaianstudies.org/articles2.htm
-----

and another type of "dance" from Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in a poem "Praan" (Life):
-----
http://obtusity.blogspot.com/2008/07/life-throb-of-ages-garry-schyman-praan.html

Stream of Life
by Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
-----

i think that at least some, and perhaps many mystics of the monotheistic faiths also feel the same way re: the dance of life. eg: from the christian mystic Thomas Traeherne has a poem that i really enjoy, only one stanza of which is somewhat famous:
-----
You never enjoy the world aright,
til the sea itself floweth in your veins;
til you are clothed with the heavens
and crowned with the stars
and perceive yourself to be the sole heir
of the whole world

full poem at the beginning of:
http://www.shintaido.co.uk/files/sfnews/sfnews22.pdf
-----

Juhana said...

Very interesting stuff, this one!

This rings some half-forgotten bells for me. It seems that you are adherent of "deep time" thinking. Some scholars I have read put it this way (my pardon about very bad translation to English):

There are at least three layers in history. First, most easily observed layer is that of news and daily happenings. Attention span of this layer is from one year up to one decade. Current hazzle about Syria works as good exampe about this one.

Second layer is the one where cultural and political mood shifts inside civilizations occur. It's attention span is from decade up to one century. Our current zeitgeist period started after World War Two, when horrific brutalities and excesses caused by 1800's philosophies on steroids send Western civilization tailspinning into abyss of current political correctness, self-shaming and bashing of all manly virtues. Period of mentioned cultural trends we are living is in turn experiencing it's own twilight years currently. Good riddance.

Third layer is that of millenias. It is where tectonic forces of cultural evolution change very slowly ways mankind observes reality around. It is in this unit of time where intellectual "revolutions" of 600 BC and 300-600 AD happened. Below daily "news" of those eras deeper forces were working. Changes caused by them are more lasting and durable than state formations or empires which offered stage for them to occur. Emprerors and kings and caliphs, none of them remains, but laws laid down by rabbis, bishops in Nicaea and the ulama shape the world where we are living today. There can be no stronger testimony to power of that force but the fact that billions of people profess belief in single god and lead their lives in accordance.

Curiously enough, this "deep time" construct used by some secular historians has counterpart in the world of mystical/religious thinking, and way older one.

Sun's position in sky moves slowly at equinoxes and solstices, one degree per 72 years or something like that. In some traditions this unit of time is called Great Month, and whole circulation of the Sun is called Great Year.

There is also different interpretation, where peregrination of one degree roughly corresponds "Year of Gods" measured other way. Year starts with sign (observed through whole of the world) that no person alive experiences but once during lifetime... This means that when last person alive to have perceived this sign departs, the new sign is experienced by those alive during that exact moment, and cycle of the Great Year starts all over again... This cycle is supposed to roughly correspond precession of the Sun.

I'm sorry for this quite confused explanation, but I have no anthropology skills or adequate level of English language to explain better. These probably Gnostic traits of thinking have had some publicity here in my country back in the days, when our famous author of historical fiction and eager investigator of mystic traditions weaved this world view into two novels, "The Immortal Turms" and "Johannes Angelos"... Later was written in the form of (fictional) correspondence by last porphyrogénnētos of the (New) Rome, and is very good novel indeed.

However, my actual point in all this is that "deep time" is actually one of the oldest surviving ways to perceive world history, descending from astronomer-priests of Mesopotamia through Parsi to at least some current non-anglosaxon Indo-Europeans of the East... So semi-mystical and/or religious thinking comes to same conclusions as some secular historians.

Once more, sorry about horrific English in this comment. I am in way too deep waters here, trying to describe opinions and abstract paradigms I do not comprehend very well myself with alien language... Feel free to try same thing :).

Ursachi Alexandru said...

"there are always those who don’t fit in, whose personal sense of the sacred pulls them in directions outside the accepted religious sensibility of their age"

Nicely put. Although I am an atheist with regard to belief in deities, I feel equally alienated from the "new atheist" movement that a number of young people in my country have picked up from the West as from the politically entagled religious dogmatism of mainstream Romanian Christian Orthodoxy.

That being said, I am cautious of any new religions or religious-type movements that might arise. While I do find reverence in the cycles of nature - a reason for which I was awestruck by your previous article - something akin to the Gaian religion in your fictional future would likely keep me equally distant. Not that I see it or anything else replacing my country's dominant religion any time soon. If population decline and emigration doesn't drive this nation into extinction, I imagine some form of refurbished Orthodox Christianity surviving here long after the West's traditional theist religios have been replaced by new ones. Even our 200 year old clumsy tendency to follow the West only goes so far.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

"...while to the atheists, having the right beliefs brings salvation from the ignorant and superstitious past that fills the place of eternal damnation in their mythos."

A bright observation! This is also the very sign of modernist architecture, the architecture of progress, to contradict all traditional architecture. Except for Norman Borlaug, I can hardly think of anyone that has brought more damage upon our world than Le Corbusier.

Salingaros has a nice essay about this in last issue of New English Review: http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/142185/sec_id/142185

By the way, in Norway we have a party named "Fremskrittspartiet", which directly translated means "the party of progress." In the election this week they got close to 17% of the votes.

A pity not more people here read your blog, then not so many would have voted for a party with such an obscure name.

flute said...

Thanks for this and last week's posts.

What I see today is something you just put a label on for me: "religious sensibility". I see it in my children and their friends, as well as in other people. A respect for nature that the previous technocentric generations have had very little of. You can also see parts of it in movements such as Greenpeace or radical vegans who e.g. go around freeing animals from fur farms.
At least I see this trend here in Sweden. I guess how much you will see of it varies from country to country.

brazza said...

"I’ve come to believe that what’s going on is the emergence, for the first time in more than two thousand years, of a genuinely new religious sensibility in the western world." Your excellent essay does more than inspire my own sense of connection to the wonder of natural law; it also confirms my own perception that a shift is occurring world-wide. I often question such perception as perhaps tainted by wishful thinking, but having found you consistently unwilling to chase after chimeras ... your confirmation is highly comforting. Thank you!

JC said...

Wonderful post, thank you.

So strange to consider that Darwin was an early contributor to seeding this new sensibilty: his most controversial claim was that humans are part of nature, not made by god as something special.

Jon

ando said...

Excellent, JMG. Having realized that the "big name teachers" were making a bundle on promising people an escape from the trials of living, I was researching more natural, western ways when I stumbled upon the Archdruid Report. (Searching Druidry) The seeking has stopped. It is an inside job. Looking forward to the upcoming posts.

Mac

SMJ said...

Hello JMG

In "A Peculiar Absence of Bellybones" (3 Jul 2013) you mentioned Oswald Spengler's Second Religiosity. Is the new religious sensibility you foresee related to this?

Also, in "Asking the Hard Questions" (10 Jul 2013) you mentioned that The New Age was slated to arrive in 1879. Might the new religious sensibility, or Spengler's Second Religiosity, be this New Age?

Harlan Bjornstad said...

Your post moves me because I have for so many years struggled with a sometimes overwhelming despair at how Christianity, my own faith, has so utterly failed to grapple with what I consider the only real question of our time: how we're going to make peace with our home the earth. For a long time I thought that the trouble was just a failure of focus. Now I'm much more inclined to believe it has to do with something far more central, namely Christian metaphysics itself, which insists, as you rightly put it, that in the end the goal is to transcend this world, to place our hope in a life beyond it. Now I would argue that a faith that puts incarnation (the divine becoming flesh and blood) at the center of its vision of reality, does not have to be a faith that overlooks or despises the natural world; nevertheless Christians in my opinion have never been too good at finding, in the creation itself, a gift to desperately love. Instead if there's beauty, well that's a sign that points somewhere else, to an beauty infinitely greater. Or if there's anything frightening or dark or violent about it, (disasters) well that's a sign of our need for refuge in a world beyond.
And where does that leave us? Unsatisfied with the here and the now, and in the end never quite willing or able wholeheartedly to love it. The arrow strikes the intended target at a tangent and glances off. No desperate falling in love for us. No speechless wonder at this gorgeous reality we inhabit. No overwhelming desire to protect, to embrace, to nurture the world, the very elements of which are knitted into our very flesh and bone! I myself would use marriage language to communicate the way that I feel we should love the planet. But try injecting that into a conversation with most of my Christian friends!
I could never give up the faith; it's so much a part of me, it would be like giving up my language, or cutting off a foot. But I do find that quite often I have to go it alone, in expressing my response to what I think others around me of the same faith just fail to see or hear. The beauty (and the troubles) of the world themselves call attention to the shortcomings of our response. It's like trying to play the Hammerklavier sonata with one hand.

HB

http://ninevoltnomad.blogspot.com/

Christine4 said...

You have put into words something I have long been aware of, but not really recognised clearly. My first reaction to this post was that you're identifying nothing new; this sensibility is everywhere, whether you call it The New Age or eco-whatever. But then I realised what you have brought into focus so clearly is the emotion/worldview behind it, and more crucially the worldview of those who don't share it. I have been surrounded by 'nature lovers' (for want of a better term) for so long I had forgotten what other people really feel. My mind boggles that people take more comfort from believing in 'the afterlife', 'enlightenment', or 'infinite human progress' than from being alive in this world now.

I was brought up as a traditional Catholic Christian in my formative years, but to me now the details of the theology seem preposterous and laughable - the virgin birth, transubstantiation, etc. I don't know whether I still believe in 'God' and 'life after death'. But either way I have no EMOTIONAL investment in these ideas. As you identify, what matters is the emotions, the source of one's awe, one's sense of reverence. I find it in the natural world, in deep ecology and deep time.

Likewise, I have always loved science fiction, whether the drama-in-space kind or the more intellectually ticklish classic short stories from those who ask "what if?". But I have never 'believed' sci-fi and space travel like a religion, the way I 'believe' in the sanctity of earth's ecosystem and the wonder of life and consciousness in a physical universe.

Many thanks for sharing your ideas - I look forward to your posts every week.

Nathan A said...

Although ten billion years is a significantly mind-boggling span of time, my main concern about the account of "Nature's enduring order and continuity" was that it doesn't go far enough!
As far as I understand it, current science points to a Universe that will be ever more cold, uniform and lifeless over time.
When seen this way, I see little comfort in the hope of being somehow part of various future lifeforms, since they are only to become ever more scarce and separated.
The theist may be able to overcome this with his/her hope in the Eternal God, but I struggle to see how nature on its own gives much hope, except to say that, like everything within it, the Universe itself must cease.

Yupped said...

Will be interesting to hear more about this. I've spent the last several years I suppose unconsciously letting go of fixed habits of thought, all various versions of attaining future salvation through "right" belief and behavior. Belief in work/upward mobility, a couple of religions, political narratives, etc. Running, running, running. Even my initial participation in the process of simplifying my life was shaped by this sense of "do this and things will work out well in the future". Always the future, and I would always get quite bothered when any of these belief systems were shaken.

It seems I've had to exhaust this process, by falling in and out of love with several systems of belief, to be able to really understand that there is no salvation in the future. There is just acceptance of the fullness of life right now, with all its ups and downs, an acceptance that our happiness and satisfaction is completely rooted in our life in natural world and the relationships which span out from it. As you start to get this it seems so obvious, and the experience of life deeper deeper and easier, more peaceful. But I spent so much of my life trying to resist it without even realizing that was what I was doing.

Andy Brown said...

And animism underlay the temple religions. I'm skeptical about totalizing narratives like the one you lay out here, but being a godless pagan myself, I'd love for it to be true.

I think there is a profound spiritual malaise among our societies (tied, I think, to a toxic consumerism , the failures of Progress, and anxieties brought on by our inability to confront the future ), and it remains an open question what people are going to do about it. Green wizardry is a better response than most, I'm sure. Someone has to keep their head in the coming days of brimstone prophets and cargo cults.

Juhana said...

Precession explained so that you can actually understand it :).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Precession_animation_small_new.gif

The Watchman? said...

The awe inspiring participation in the order of things sounds almost Thomistic, though Lynn White might have had something to say about the invocation of Aquinas' name, particularly if it were mentioned in a positive relation to environmental sustainability. Btw, have you read Dawson's work 'Progress and Religion'? I've recently picked it up and have found it to be an excellent read thus far.

RPC said...

Good show! It would be interesting to know your take on the time bomb (Theology of the Body) that Pope John Paul II dropped into the heart of Roman Catholicism. Its (re)embrace of carnality seems to mark a break with the super-natural sensibility you've described.

Matthew Lindquist said...

This has always bothered me the most about pretty much any of the mainstream religions I've been exposed to- if "Salvation from the natural world and the human condition remains the core premise (and thus also the most important promise) of all these faiths", then why the dickens are we *here* in the natural world and in the human condition?

I have heard many explanations, among them the fall from Eden, and the benighted curse of past superstitions, but both of those ring as hollow as the miracles of past and future. I can only say that your assessment rings true, if only because(as a dyed-in-the-tie-dye Unitarian Universalist child of Progress), all the old ways are seeming more threadbare by the day.

On another note, and along the same lines, I've noticed that the younger the people I talk to about decline/collapse, the more it seems they have already accepted it- perhaps that reflects the new sensibility, too?

Bill Pulliam said...

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a couple who live up the road, the husband of whom fishes in my pond. She goes to the Baptist church, mostly for social reasons; he seems to have that sort of chimeric vague monotheism found in a lot of present-day folks of mixed european and native american cultural background. While we were discussing her choice of church, he gestured at the landscape around him and said "this is my church." I then mentioned that I was an animist; I generally avoid the "P" word in most circles around here since most people think it is synonymous with either atheism or satanism (after all what else is there in the world but Jesus, Satan, and the Void?). They didn't know what the word meant, so I explained it briefly. They both said "Oh, that's what we are too."

About 25 years ago I was listening to a casual lunchtime seminar by a professor of religion at the University of Georgia. He mentioned that, based on the sorts of questions and comments he hears from them in classroom discussions, he felt that about 3-5% of his undergraduate students were animists (or at least held beliefs indistinguishable from animism), whether they self-identified that way or not.

Alex Forrest said...

I didn't comment on the 10 billion year entry from last week, but it did leave me with a profound sense of reverence and consolation--to describe it as a sense of homecoming sounds about right; the feeling that "yes, that's how it really is, and how it ought to be."

This entry left me thinking though, particularly this part:

"What stirs awe and wonder in these people, rather, is a sense of belonging and of participation in the great cycles of Nature, an awareness of oneness with life that does not shrink in terror from life’s natural completion in death. What inspires them is not the hope of a final separation from the realities of nature, life, history and time, but a conscious and delighted participation in these realities—not the promise of salvation, but the reality of homecoming."

I'm getting strong vibes of G.K. Chesterton's writings in "Orthodoxy," which leads me to think that perhaps--even in mainstream religions--the transition to a new, very different religiosity has been in progress for a century already. In the same vein of thought as Oswald Spengler, I think the rise of materialism in a culture signifies the death of an older religious sensibility, and the advent of a new one, which may take many years to fully manifest itself. While I still regard myself as a Catholic, my sense of the universe is very close to what you describe in today's entry.

I'm interested in what you think of the role of complexity science in this new religious sense. Beginning with Mandelbrot, and elaborated by Christopher Alexander, Jane Jacobs, Nassim Taleb, and Nikos Salingaros (among many others with whom I am less familiar), complexity science and fractal geometry are a central part of my worldview, and an anchor for my sense of belonging in the universe. I also observe that complexity science is very disruptive to existing paradigms in economics, architecture, politics, medicine, religion (and atheism), etc; this new line of thinking has the potential to dissolve previous worldviews and give rise to new ones. What do you think?

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Putting on my Bardic hat, I think this relates to a discussion I was having in a poetry group I am part of. In times past Poets produced and called forth meaning from within their interiority. Post-modern poets have produced a babel-like collage of multiple meanings from the semiotic bric-a-brac and detritus of culture all around them.
How does that relate? It's the difference of looking to something outside of yourself to be "saved" by or find meaning from.

Now I know that looking to nature and to the spirits of and powers outside the material realm is also looking outside. It requires interior vision and imagination. But maybe what we are looking for in these visions isn't always salvation or progress.
Sometimes things need to be culled or destroyed. Who knows whats best? Knowing what's best has gotten us to where we are...

As a human its hard enough sometimes to know what's best for myself, let alone the rest of you, or other species. The arrogance that one savior can wash the feet of the rest humanity staggers.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that somewhere along the way, Western culture exteriorized its thinking over-much, and part of the new religious sensibilities re-emerging will be a return to trusting inner vision and imagination.

(Though just because you can imagine a flying car doesn't mean a whole fleet of them will manifest on the material plane.:)



Liquid Paradigm said...

I was disappointed in Brin's knee-jerk response here last week. Having read his additional comments (I rather wish you hadn't linked that; what a sour start to the day), I have lost all respect for him. If he disagrees with the discussions here, okay. I don't expect or even want everyone to agree on everything. But I do expect them to at least avoid straw men and be civil about it; neither condition is met over there.

And some of it is just embarrassing. To wit: "That is a [foul-mouth] Evil Meme at the very least and pure Black Majick at the very worst. In his need to bring about his Desired Outcome, he has Invoked Darkness and Disaster and all the Death and Pain that would surely follow..."

Gods spare me the hysterical pronouncements of dilettantes, and shield me from their silly grammar.

Okay, enough of that, then. Back to my Evile Blacke Magicke! Or, as I might phrase it, the somber business of attempting to deal with the world as it actually is.

William Church said...

Good post John.

You mentioned the fact that current views of a science/technology driven paradise are not only laughable to many based on what we see around us but also that they hold little allure in and of themselves. The reason I bring this up is that in my own very fallible opinion this in large part is a direct result of the younger generations exposure to both financial insecurity/lowered expectations AND the emphasis on environmental issues at a young age.

It is the one area where I think the environmental movement has had large success in the last decade or two. It seems like kids today are much more receptive to environmental issues than my generation was. They believe in long term viability and are much less likely to just throw the environment under the bus at any economic justification.

I am very interested to see how this new attitude will affect the environmental movement as they grow into leadership roles within it. On MANY issues that movement has been willing to ignore policies that are directly contradictory to their stated goals but very much aligned with the interests of their political handlers. Mass immigration and globalization anyone?

Will

someofparts said...

I work with dogs at a local kennel. It has made me laugh to notice that kennel work has felt more religious to me than anything that ever happened in a church. The company of our dogs satisfies needs of the heart, eye and hand that I hardly suspected were going unmet. Their company returns me to a sense of peace and balance.

It doesn't seem as if I'm the only person who feels that way either. Take your own dog to the park. Notice how often people who would normally never speak to you become downright friendly when our dogs are around to keep us human.

thrig said...

"nobody cared about what opinions individuals might have about details of religious doctrine"

Except I believe C.S. Lewis pointed out that the one-god believers were considered atheists due to their unnatural exclusivity of thought.

Matthew Sweet said...

JMG:

You wrote:
"What stirs awe and wonder in these people, rather, is a sense of belonging and of participation in the great cycles of Nature, an awareness of oneness with life that does not shrink in terror from life’s natural completion in death."

This terror accurately describes my reaction to last week's post. Having been raised in a Protestant church until my early 20s, I can fairly say that I experienced the preoccupation with the afterlife and salvation. In my mid-20s when I started seriously contemplating death, I began panicking. The very thought of oblivion without something beyond death still terrifies me to this day. In fact a few days after reading last week's post (while watching the film "Oblivion" ironically), I suddenly had a few moments of total dread as the idea of dying and the end of consciousness flooded my mind. I don't know if this is a challenge I will ever overcome.

Having said that, I have been embracing nature and the sort of sensibility you describe in recent years. Again, the final result of that thinking is as yet unclear to me, much as what that journey could look like. I do my best to avoid thinking about where this is all going, and rather try to enjoy the trip.

Maria said...

JMG, such is the magic of your writing that for the second time in as many months, you have helped me to begin solving off-topic problems. The first was the essay about ritual theater where everyone has a prescribed role, which helped me to host and participate in a large family party without having to retire the the couch for the following few days with stress-related ailments. (Heck, I even found a lot of it funny.)

This time, periodic flare-ups in a relationship with a close friend that have felt random and confusing I can now see as the simple fact that we are on opposite sides of the fault line you discussed in this essay. It remains to be seen how the situation will pan out, but right now it feels a whole lot less personal. That helps.

It makes sense that society's issues are reflected in the personal issues of people in that society. I'm eager to see what's in store for us next week.



Ben said...

I'm always trying to convince people that Christianity & modern atheism are 2 sides of the same coin, but as is my unfortunate habit, I've never been able to form an especially cogent reasoning behind this observation. You've made such an eloquent argument here that I'll have to borrow it. This attitude that atheism is the next logical step in a straight line of progress (toward...?) is quickly becoming accepted as fact among my peers. I hope you're right about a new sensibility arising -- we certainly need one.

Picador said...

JMG,

Tremendous post. I wish I'd had access to your writings when I was a young undergraduate at MIT in the 90's, where I found myself surrounded by nominal "atheists" whose religious fervour in the name of Science and Progress was unlike anything I'd ever seen in a more conventional religious setting. The low points had to have been the Singularity cult and the Extropians, both of whom gave the Scientologists a run for their money for sheer lunacy, running around waving their magical galvanic skin sensors in the air and spouting holy writ from their pulp-novel sci-fi scriptures. But aside from these bits of comedy gold, the entire institute was pervaded by a culture of enthusiasm for the inevitable, eternal march of Progress, and I found even the relatively sane, reasonable members of the community to be pretty crazy.

At the time, I knew I couldn't embrace that mythology, but I had very little idea about where else to turn for a vision of the world that I could accept as true. I went through an extended New Age / Eastern Religions phase, which ended up being enriching but still left me a bit unsatisfied -- I'm perhaps not enough of a serious person to play along with any of it without rolling my eyes now and again (no offence). It took me about five years after leaving MIT to get comfortable with calling myself an "atheist" again, this time meaning something quite distinct from the neoliberal cult of Progress that currently owns the use of that term in pop culture.

Your writings are a real comfort to me. Not because they paint a way forward for my own life (they really don't), but because they remind me that I'm not crazy to believe what is obviously true about the world and our place in it.

Thanks,
Picador

shrama said...

A real tour de force - the last few posts.

As a fan of salvation - via the medium of austerity and rigorous spiritual practice - I was a bit taken aback when you implied jettisoning salvational ideals along with the religion of progress. But when I thought about it, it did make some sense. Salvation may be a failed ideal, at least as an effective response to industrial civilization's crises at the collective level. It might have helped had the austere way to salvation been really popular but that is not how it has turned out. The most popular paths to salvation currently only end up making the crises worse.

Also, given that no future human civilization is likely to have the wherewithal to inflict the kind of damage that we have had on the biosphere, what's the need for salvation? The austere path to salvation would be needed only as a treatment for individual psychological problems - something for which other methods may prove equally effective.

So maybe the corvins are the ones in real need for salvational religions - and only if it is of the right kind.

Doc said...

When you consider the realm of function that takes place in natural systems, it is a wonder that the field of biomimicry has not taken off. The chemistry of natural systems is in reality the chemistry of water and Pollack's new book of the 4th phase of water will change some thinking about our most precious substance. I think your druidism and my new weigh are in good philosophical agreement - we need as many creative individual approaches that can give us a diversity of opinion that lands us all in the same logical place - taking care of Gaia and stopping the great fouling of our next.

Another well written series addition - thanks for being a voice standing out of the crowd.

Jeffrey said...

A great essay. Capernicus, Galileo and Darwin succeeded, to the scorn of religious institutions, in taking humans off the altered position of being the center of the universe and opened the door of seeing the vast universe and relative insignifigance of humans in it. And as you so brilliantly write here the civil religion of progress really is only a sibling putting us write back on center stage. There really is so little difference.

It is the very emergence of a weakening biosphere because of this hubris that we are also seeing the emergence of this new religious sensitivity standing in awe before the workings of nature. That is so timely and no coincidence.

Neither 2000 years ago when western religions were emerging nor the past 200 years of the civil religion of progress was the biosphere really a tangible concept of the sacred. Because like oxygen, when it is present it is invisible. It only becomes visible in its absence or when threatened. And so we see this new religious sensitivity coming just at the right time.

This new religious sensitivity will grow with the biblical consequences of biosphere feedback in the decades ahead and will reawaken a sense of the sacred in the natural world, aided by the return of the predators (germs and famine) that will act like heat that tempers steel in allowing this new religious sensitivity to define the culture that surrounds it.

It is a vision that really awakens a sense of the sacred in me and gives me great hope.

Karl said...

I wonder if you have heard of the book Debt the first 5000 years. The author David Graeber is an anthropologist.

the book deals with the history of debt and money. In the book he writes about the "Axial Age" religions.

In particular, he says that the development of metal money triggered similar religious revolutions in different cultures. Among the changes, were the ones that you describe as increased Victorianism.

Although parts of the book are preachy (and the author is some variant of anarcho-Marxist) it is overall a good read.

Joy said...

"...in the heyday of the old temple cults, while acts of impiety toward sacred objects or ceremonies would earn a messy death in short order, nobody cared about what opinions individuals might have about details of religious doctrine, and thinkers could redefine the gods any way they wished so long as they continued to show proper respect for holy things and holy seasons."--JMG

I've wondered if there is a place for an agnostic like me in all of this. I recognize humanity as being a religious animal, though I've gradually become turned off to the continuous salvific proclamations by those from all sides of the religious (and scientific, and political, etc.) paradigm. The idea that I am lost or broken, and thus need to be saved or fixed, is not very empowering, respectful or supportful. I think such theologies have been developed for the believers, not for those who don't believe. I've become quite interested in Taoism, as I've seen in its philosophy the idea not to save the world, but live in and with it. Perhaps I need to pursue more studies in that direction. I also know some pagans,so that may be a friendly place to develop a philosophy of life in; as one pagan lady told me, when she saw an agnostic bumpersticker, "That's what I think; nobody knows."

Richard Larson said...

If you are right, you might have to rewrite your last blog and a few million years to the human race.

Odin's Raven said...

Does Druidry contain a 'vertical' way of transcendence equivalent to that of the philosophers and mystics seeking Being (or non-Being)? Is it all about participation in and concern for the rhythms of nature and society in the 'horizontal' level of Becoming?

Mike Ewing said...

Thank's for that throw-away reference to White. I was unaware of the essay and enjoyed it very much. Minor quibble: as I read it, White's essay places the root of our crisis in the doctrine of Man's dominion over Nature. In your interpretation, he says it stems, rather, from the sensibility of salvation and its ensuing beliefs and institutional forms. It seems you have either misinterpreted White's thesis or see a link here that I fail to grasp. Care to explain?

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

@Ray_Wharton says, "When in Doubt, make topsoil." JMG, you may have to include a 'Sacred Guild of Topsoil Monks' in your novel about the future. Hopefully this world will be fortunate enough to have Topsoil Monks over the next 1000 years.

Robert said...

Off topic - In an attempt to reach out to the American public, the New York Times has published an op-ed written by Putin himself:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?src=twr&_r=2&amp

Putin: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.”

Alexander Carpenter said...

This is just something I stumbled on. It regards "progress," a recent topic here:

http://hipcrime.blogspot.com/2013/09/progress-was-invented-around-1870.html

and

http://hipcrime.blogspot.com/2013/09/progress-was-invented-around-1870-part-2.html

More preaching to the choir, perhaps, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Alexander

A.S. said...

JMG,

Are you familiar with the work of Martin Prechtel and Stephen Jenkinson ? They immediately popped into my mind when you mentioned a "new religious sensibility". I have friends that attend both of their schools, and I admit to becoming enamoured at times with what they do.

Ken Rose has archived interviews with both of them if you or your readers are interested in what they have to say.

There are many parallels between your own work and theirs, and I`m curious as to any thoughts you might have.

A.S.

Zach said...

John Michael,

Thought-provoking as always. Your ability to deal fairly and accurately with religious traditions (and sensibilities!) outside your own is a breath of fresh air, and appreciated.

Some of the thoughts provoked:

I'm having trouble seeing this 'new' sensibility as all that new -- or incompatible with the old. Maybe that's just me? If I use myself as a data point, I seem to count as a fairly traditionalist Christian. I certainly do think that these questions about the ultimate realities are crucially important!

And yet, I also find contemplation of a blade of grass can lead to the numinous. Death certainly ought not to be something a Christian shrinks from in their thoughts -- much the opposite, consider the practice of the memento mori!

Perhaps I am simply a creature of my time, but I'm not seeing the conflict. Looking back in time, I see echoes of this sensibility at least as far back as the Psalms. St. Francis certainly had this sensibility. One of the reasons for his modern popularity, no doubt - his preaching to the birds and taming the wolf of Gubbio are looked to much more than his love for Holy Poverty. :)

Curious what you make of that. According to this week's analysis, it would seem I ought to have been one of the ones annoyed with last week's story, rather than being appreciative of it - since I think I'm pretty firmly embedded in the old sensibility. But I'm not an acolyte of the Religion of Progress. Maybe that's the key?

Extrapolating further, do you see examples of religions which encompass multiple sensibilities?

peace,
Zach

Mike R said...

I think the attempts in the 1970s to describe the limits to growth and create a culture of conservation and appreciation for nature had more of a lasting influence than you realize!

I'm 42, so the late 70s were the time when I learned about the world, and I have no belief that limitless progress is viable. Your post last week was beautiful to me. Let's just say I've embraced the second path you mention, and I don't know anyone my age who would strongly disagree with me (to the extent it's discussed). I live a very "mainstream" American life, for the record.

People who seem most invested in an idea of limitless progress are those, it seems to me, who came of age in the 1950s and early 60s. No big surprise there, I guess!

Doug Darrah said...

Thanks for the excellent (and hopeful! Take that, Brin!) follow-up to last week's post. It perfectly placed into context the feelings I had after reading it; it hadn't occurred to me the warm, happy-to-be-part-of-the-Great-Chain feeling I walked away with last week was part of an emerging sensibility shared by many others.

Maybe things aren't as dark as I thought....

My donkey said...

But what about the folks who responded "Meh" to last week's post?

I made a reference to such people in a comment on your Religion of Progress article four months ago,
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.ca/2013/04/the-religion-of-progress.html
writing, in part, "We spend as much time thinking about god as we do thinking about the possible existence of microscopic creatures living in the mud beneath some extraterrestrial ocean in the Andromeda galaxy. And we spend an equal amount of time thinking about Space Bats and Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom we've never heard of and couldn't care less about. None of these things have any effect on our daily lives, which is why we don't know about them, don't care about them, and don't think about them."

and you responded:
"I'm aware that most people aren't listening. I'm talking to the few that are."

Preaching to the choir is fine for you and the choir, but a great majority of the rest of the populace seem to care more about smart phones, social media, computer games, watching TV and putting cute clothes on little Suzie. If such folks were given the exercise of reading your Next 10 Billion Years article, I imagine most of those who finished it (maybe half?) would respond with a "Meh".

Just because most people aren't currently listening, I don't think it's a good idea to ignore such folk. They represent a huge part of our society, and can have a major effect on our lives. What happens when, a little further down the Collapse road, a group of Repo Men show up at our door and say "We're here to take various items to be used for such-and-such"? If we respond with "My religious sensibility won't allow it", I can hear the Repo Men replying "You say you want your kneecaps broken? Splendid!"

That might seem like a silly or remote example, but I'm sure there are lots of very good reasons to pay attention to a huge group of people who aren't *currently* paying any attention to us.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- beautifully done.

I think this is one of the changes that will make the ecotecnic societies of the future nearly incomprehensible to today's intellectuals, and our society seem insane to tomorrows thinkers.

It's why I'm reluctant to speculate too much on what future societies will look like.

I love your idea of going back to tube-driven radio sets, since (as you point out) tubes can be built in a garage, where large-scale integration chips with high-density ball-grid arrays cannot.

My question is whether people will WANT long-distance communication with foreigners.

Of course, WE would. But as neighbors become more important than hotheads screaming their heads off in Washington, DC, I wonder if that will continue to be true? Everyone has at least a touch of xenophobia. I recall the words of a mechanic I encountered in Pennsylvania, regarding New York City: "I ain't lost nuthin there, see no reason to go lookin for it." Most small towns tend to be pretty insular.

On the other hand, people in the future could become even more intent on coordinating large-scale efforts, assuming that the new model gives appropriate weight to ecological interdependence. Polluting water in Colorado has a big effect on Los Angeles, which is hard to discover or work out if your quickest form of communication is courier traveling by horse.

Good things to think about....

Marcello said...

"As long as the road to Walmart is paved, most people just don't give a $#!+"

Bruin, I suspect that this sort of indifference will be fondly remembered in a not too distant future once the hunt for scapegoats shifts into high gear.
Plenty of intelligent people have been suckered into wrong headed ideological -isms which purported to solve the System predicaments in the past, so I am not particularly convinced that stirring people up is going to make things wonderful.
As for sustainable communities: if what people have in mind is viable we should be already seeing something like that in the real world in places where the decline is further ahead. If not then its viability is at the very least questionable.

Steve Morgan said...

"What stirs awe and wonder in these people, rather, is a sense of belonging and of participation in the great cycles of Nature, an awareness of oneness with life that does not shrink in terror from life’s natural completion in death. What inspires them is not the hope of a final separation from the realities of nature, life, history and time, but a conscious and delighted participation in these realities—not the promise of salvation, but the reality of homecoming."

Yep. Pretty much nailed it right there. The concept of differing religious sensibilities is useful, and it helps clarify some fundamental differences I've had with others.

One place this difference shows up is the importance of belief, as you mentioned. If one's concern is with the condition of the physical, natural world and its impact on those born (and sprouted, etc.) into it, practice becomes central, while belief becomes peripheral. To my mind, this is a crucial difference between the appropriate tech lit of the 70s cited in Green Wizardry and the "sustainability" movement of today. It seems these days that environmental activists are often more concerned with what people believe about climate change, etc. and not as much concerned with the consequences of actions. This is interesting, as today's Americans wield more power (as measured in watts) than any generation in history or elsewhere on Earth, and the ways in which we use (or choose not to use) that power are likely to have outsized impacts on the future of the country for generations to come.

I'm enjoying this series quite a bit, and I hope that at some point you circle back to tie up the loose end of several weeks ago. Your take on what scientific research might look like in the context of a declining society certainly piqued my curiosity. In light of this different religious sensibility you introduced this week, I'd guess it'll be somewhat less deified. Thank you for continuing such a fascinating discussion.

k-dog said...

"Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and will become a fallen ruin," reads Isaiah 17, a passage some Christians say they believe details a horrific event that leaves the city uninhabitable and leads to worldwide tribulation and the second coming of Christ."

An article exists here with five links in it. titled "Yes, Weird Christian Beliefs Do Influence America. The phrase "reading is fundamental" bubbles up from a long forgotten memory in the vast empty universe between my ears.

From the first of the links.

"Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and will become a fallen ruin," reads Isaiah 17, a passage some Christians say they believe details a horrific event that leaves the city uninhabitable and leads to worldwide tribulation and the second coming of Christ."

I did not make this comment in a 'crusade' to make a bad joke. The links are relevant to this weeks subject and I thought others might enjoy them too. I hope my 'faith' is not misplaced.

My earlier commment had a line.

For it is written this is all there so get it before it's gone. which should have been For it is written this is all there is so get it before it's gone. For most of you the 'is' was added by divine intervention and you probably did not even notice. That I should have made this unintentional mistake and shown the real life influence of the big bus driver at work by so doing; divine. The second coming of the dog to the Archdruid comment area in one week. - K-Dog

Steve in Colorado said...

This is inspiring, and I very much hope that it's right.

It is interesting to me that the new sensibility is just that-- a sensibility. It is shared by people who's outward faith is Christian (like Wendell Barry), Buddhist (like Gary Snyder), atheist and neo-pagan. And by the same token there are people in all of those movements, including neopaganism, that don't share the new sensibility at all.

That might sound obvious, but it was very surprising to me. When I was younger I enjoyed ecospiritual writings by Buddhists and Christians, but I assumed that they were missing something, because they clothed their religious sensibilities in the trappings of the old, salvation-oriented religion. Now I see that this isn't at all the case. I actually came upon this realization in a somewhat startling way. In the last year I've gotten heavily into ceremonial magic. Initially I was uncomfortable with the Judeo-Christian entities that make regular appearances in the Golden Dawn tradition. Then one day I invoked the four Archangels and I realized that the beings looking back at me, whatever name I called them by, were completely unrelated to the concept of an "archangel" I had picked up in Catholic Sunday school. Instead, they were nothing less than the gods of the natural world that I had always by nature preferred!

That brings up another point, which is that there are elements of the older religions worth preserving, including in area of personal "salvation," however you want to define it. Spiritual growth, mysticism and monasticism, the hard work. The good stuff. I wonder if you might not feel that way also (you did write Paths of Wisdom after all), and if The Celtic Golden Dawn might be an effort at exactly that end?

Bill Pulliam said...

Wow, if y'all think Brin's little rant was extreme when it comes to internet temper tantrums, you must have lead pretty sheltered online lives. On the whole spectrum of online discourse, that was only moderately flameward of center. I've gotten comparable tirades launched at me over techniques of chicken raising, and far worse attacks in disputes over the identification of a woodpecker! Perhaps the most unusual part was that he was decent enough to sign his real name.

If you like someone's fiction, it's often a good idea to NOT learn too much about their non-fiction life...

Interesting that he chooses to headline his own blog post with optimistic but outdated forecasts for a comet that most current info is actually suggesting might not even reach naked-eye visibility in the unlikely event it survives its perihelion...

Reverse Developer said...

JMG,
What you state about the source of inspiration for the emerging religeous sensibility, that it "is not the hope of a final separation from the realities of nature, life, history and time, but a conscious and delighted participation in these realities—not the promise of salvation, but the reality of homecoming." is spot on. Or as I am fond of saying, 'Participation is the New ownership'

Now, whether or not that translates to real estate or land reform, I can hardly say. But how can we have a homecoming without a home. And by home I do not mean the little prison on a postage stamp domicile model we now have....

Thanks

redoak said...

JMG wrote:

“Still, the contemporary quarrels between atheists and theists, like the equally fierce quarrels between the different theist religions of salvation, take place within a shared sensibility. It’s indicative, for example, that theists and atheists agree on the vast importance of what individuals believe about basic religious questions such as the existence of God”

I’d also like to connect the above to something Justin wrote as well regarding the source of poetic inspiration.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from classical Greek philosophy is the common mis-assignment of the source of our political/social and individual experience. Individualism and freedom are very often assigned to the realm of thought and “philosophy” (broadly understood), when in fact these experiences are almost entirely fabricated from the purely social experiences available through and to language. On the other hand, the body is often relegated to the role of slavery and political control simply because the body is obviously susceptible to imprisonment, torture, etc. Example: Thoreau’s mind is free while writing Civil Disobedience, though his body be imprisoned.

My intuition tells me at the root of this shift in religious sensibility there is work to be done properly assigning the above roles. The mind is constructed of political and social ideals. But the body provides an entrance to the world outside the nomos (law).

Incidentally, JMG, did you ever notice in Plato’s famous image of the cave that the only access the prisoners have to the natural world is through their physical self? And to Justin, what would it mean for the poet to recast intellectualism and the life of the mind as the inauthentic representation of social norms?

peacegarden said...

Another awe inspiring essay!
I have been one of the “not quite fitting in” types all my life. I’ve rebelled, played along like a good girl, ran off the rails yet again seeking something real…rinse and repeat. Resource depletion and the damage we have allowed here on our little orb sent me into a deep depression. I had to go through the “stages of grief” a la Kubler- Ross as best I could, finally seeing that I could choose despair (tempting) or seek something more positive. I decided to try to do good here and now to the best of my ability, to work on things that I had a genuine chance of affecting, and letting go of what I could not influence.
That time was also when I came across your blog, JMG. It was just as you were ending the series of posts that went towards The Ecotechnic Future, when the concept of Green Wizardry was being developed.
I got on board and have not looked back. What would Thursday mornings be without a visit to the Archdruid! Your writing and that of the community of commenters have been inspiring and comforting.
One idea from the Green Wizardry cannon was preserving knowledge for the future; my chosen field being medicinal plants: the identification, harvesting, growing and making medicine with them. One of my goals is having a library of books and an archival herbarium of the plants most needed and used locally. I find it wonderful that several different commenters have referred to books by Stephen Harrod Buhner, most recently, Stonemeadow . I find his work very helpful in bringing us into nature rather than just talking at us about it…on an experiential level.
The further I delve into the secret world of plants, the further I am pulled into the great wheel of the seasons, the solstices and equinoxes, the “rightness” of slowing down and resting in the winter and the bright busyness of the garden cycle. More time just being in the now, more time just be-ing.
Peace,
Gail

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Voyager I leaves solar system

Captcha lihtsgu

trippticket said...

I don't know how to explain the feelings this post stirs up in me except to let you know that I emailed the last person that did this to me, after I read it, for the first time ever. That experience was nearly 5 years ago, and I've been trying to sort out the resulting fire ever since.

I sent him the link to this post, hoping it might add some depth to gut feelings he published in an amazing book several years back. This is someone who was raised an atheist, but through his decades of further development of the permaculture concept (he and Bill Mollison came up with permaculture) came to the conclusion that a new spiritual awakening was at hand.

I could tell he was struggling to talk about it in the book, and I've witnessed some of the other permaculture cadre ostracizing him somewhat for doing so, but his practice of his principles (that millions of people now hold dear) lead him unequivocally to that conclusion.

I think it resonates very clearly with this post. And I wouldn't be surprised if he lurks here now and then. But I sent the link just in case...

Jason Heppenstall said...

Yesterday, finding I had 13 hours to kill waiting for my wife at Bristol Airport, I decided to go on a small (and rapid) pilgrimage of a few sacred spots in western England. First off was the Chalice Well in Glastonbury - which I believe you are acquainted with. I drank the water and sat in the meadow, looking up at the Tor - which I climbed up next.

Next off I went to the huge stone circle at Avebury, and made a cosmic fool of myself by slipping over on the chalky surface in the rain, almost breaking my wrist in the process.

At each site I encountered a number of people - some young, some old - who seemed to be looking for some kind of connection with the universe as it is, rather than as we want it to be. Perhaps it is because the civil religion of progress doesn't have such a strong foothold over here - and Christianity has slipped down the rankings too - but it seems that an increasing number of people are finding meaning in - for want of a better phrase - Earth based religions.

Cripes, they are even teaching the kids about druidry at my daughters' school now (much to the consternation of a few conservative Christians).

I'm not one for believing in mass fundamental shifts in human consciousness, but I'm willing to be persuaded.

onething said...

I may have misunderstood your question at the end of last week's post. I had focused on the “We are stardust” aspect which I find pretty cool, but not so much your vision of the ongoing universe. I did not take that vision to imply a lack of meaning or purpose or spirit, since such questions were not addressed.
If nature's enduring order is for naught – order generally having a purpose – and there is only an endless string of intelligent species rising and falling, each looking out at the stars and wondering deep questions but with nary an answer existent, well, that is somewhat bleak.

If salvationist religions made an appearance and had mass appeal beginning around 600 BC, that would be quite interesting in light of what the yogi Yuktaswar, Yogananda's guru, said about the yugas. That we descended into Kali Yuga about that time, and that its duration is only some 2400 years. The ancient Egyptians had a similar system, which seems possible to me in that there are so many cycles to nature, why shouldn't we be affected by cycles we have not yet understood that affect us psychically?

I guess I am an elitist when it comes to salvation. Christian salvation theology is a dumbing down of spiritual common sense; I call it cheap salvation. It actually negates free will and is somewhat boring and pointless as a cosmic worldview.

On the other hand, if we look at nature there is a tremendous amount of step by step ordering, so why should there not be progress on the part of living entities, as they gain wisdom through lived experience? Anything which the human being longs for so consistently ought to real.

I have long thought that atheists and theists or Christians are not so different on the spectrum. It may well be that belief in God has some importance, and that the theist has got that part right, but what I see in the world is that believers only believe slightly, and are almost entirely immersed in this life. I don't see a big difference in the avoidance of death between believers and nonbelievers. To ask whether someone believes or does not believe in God is a shallow question. If I want to know something about the developing wisdom of a soul, I would ask whether they are able to engage in deep introspection, whether they are able to deeply question their worldview and take it apart for examination, whether they have ever been struck by the fact that they know nothing, how many good questions have occurred to them? Likewise, have they learned that other people are real and not only themselves?

I once read that someone said to the Buddha, “But what about God?” And the answer was to get enlightened, before which the question was not really appropriate. That is wisdom. For beginners, belief in God doesn't help them all that much so far as I can see, and the atheist can do perfectly well in increasing personal wisdom just by living and thinking. Even though God is the all in all in my view, belief in his existence is only of minor relevance which is why he doesn't care. Indeed, a stopover in atheism may be a valuable learning experience.

I don't want salvation from the world, but I want to purify my soul within it, I want to know who I am and be able to come and go in physical manifestation without amnesia. That would be salvation enough for me.

All is sacred.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Harlan Bjornstad--there's a school of thought among Catholic and ex-Catholic theologians addressing the metaphysical issues you describe, critiquing world-rejection and including a different understanding of the Incarnation. Matthew Fox is or was an exponent of this school. I took a class from him before he got expelled from the Dominican Order and dropped from the faculty of St. Mary's.

The book Original Blessing is part of this attempt to reorient Christianity from the root. Original Blessing was often mentioned in class, but I haven't actually read it. You might find it worth a look.

wall0159 said...

I can still remember reading a David Suzuki book in the mid 90s (forget which, sorry).

The basic premise of the book is that our perception of ourselves as being separated from the world around us is a delusion. This is true both in space (consider the continual diffusion of matter through our skin in both directions) and time (our bodies are not composed of a set of molecules. we are more like an ever-changing cloud). Esentially, it was a scientific-rationalist argument for perceiving ourselves as at one with the world.

In a way, I think this is a deeper truth than the idea of molecules in my brain making their way around the cosmos after I die. In truth, there is no clear separation between me and the cosmos, even while I am living!

Nano said...

Weaving through all the personal narratives and thoughts made me think of an quote from good uncle Bob.

"All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense."

Bogatyr said...

I've been reading the comments on last week's post, and the ongoing reverberations into this week, with some bemusement. I found last week's essay mildy interesting at best, and I've been surprised at the intensity of the reactions.

I can only conclude that all of this, by chance is old hat for me. My early teenage years were dominated by sci-fi writers; while these included cornucopians aplenty (Isaac Asimov, I'm looking at you), I also read a great deal of Larry Niven, whose writings included:

- an acceptance that explosions of stars at the galaxy's core will ultimately exterminate all life (all stories with the Puppeteers);
- a vast construct around a star, whose founders' civilisation has fallen beyond memory (Ringworld);
- an intelligent being who undertakes an epic journey across the void to save his species, only to discover that they are long dead, and their much-evolved descendants want nothing to do with him (Protector).

Not to mention Gene Wolfe's New Earth series, in which so many civilisations have died that much of the earth's surface is composed of their relics...

I recommend these to other readers of the Archdruid Report...

fromorctohuman said...

My friend,

May light shine upon you (and upon me).

What you have written here is so unsatisfactory.

If I understand you correctly,

Christians believe God exists, that he had a son, who became incarnate, primarily to justify rejection of natural law, which Christians find unsavory.

“Salvation from the natural world and the human condition remains the core premise (and thus also the most important promise) of all these faiths,”

Perhaps. I guess.

There are other, much more interesting/meaningful possibilities, however.

Here’s one:

Reality is greater than we suppose (or are capable of supposing). Relationship is the core principal of that reality and is the very essence of God. Jesus became incarnate because this is not something we could come to without him doing so. Salvation is salvation from the human condition of ignorance of this reality.

(I’m not sure what nature has to do with it, but none of this requires rejecting nature at all unless you maintain that nothing is true of nature except what we know of our own discovery (without revelation). For what it’s worth, in this exegesis, God is a natural being, revealing natural truth, which is beyond human understanding without his natural help. Just replace reality with nature in the above, and the statements are unchanged.).

Objections?

“The bible says otherwise…”, notes the first objector.

So what. Truth cannot be communicated by a book. Perhaps that’s why Jesus never said, “Go write a bible.” Also, the bible can be made to say anything you want it to say - with sufficient mental gymnastics.

“If the bible isn’t known to be true, then how can you know any of your premises: namely, that God exists, he has a son, his son became incarnate? We only know these through the bible,” asks the second.

False. While Christians do place far too much emphasis on the bible, it is not because of the bible that Christianity exists, but the other way around.

Anyway, what you have here may be true for all I know; In which case Christians are a pretty boorish lot.

:- (

Dave said...

It don't know how accurate the Archdruid's prophesies of doom are, but it hardly matters. Evolution favors blind optimism (aka "faith") over rational pessimism because optimists have more babies. If the resource pie really is shrinking, that just means you and your descendants must fight harder to secure an adequate slice of it.

Bogatyr said...

I'm not enough of a religious scholar to comment on your description of the religions of Classical Europe; nor have I ever been to Japan, so I can't comment on Shinto.

What I can tell you is that some years ago I had become an accepted member of a Cantonese-speaking subculture in Singapore; sufficient for people to speak openly to me. I remember a long conversation with a man who had become a spirit medium in order to uphold his end of a bargain with a powerful martial spirit from the Chinese underworld. None of the other people at the table batted an eyelid; they knew he was telling the truth. This culture used to be widespread in Singapore; it's been driven underground by an officialdom obsessed with the cult of the modern and/or evangelical Christianity. Nevertheless, it endures, hiding in apartments and midnight car parks in the suburbs. I highly recommend Margaret Chan's 'Ritual is Theatre: Theatre is Ritual', though it is highly intellectual, and focuses on the Hokkien dialect group.

I've also been fortunate enough to spend time on retreat in the tradition of Therevadan Buddhism, absorbing the message that nothing endures, and of Zen, in which the message of Therevada merged with the Chinese concept of the Dao, learning to live with natural laws and flows.

As the prestige of the West wanes into belligerent impotence, and that of Asian cultures rises due to their increased weight in the world, I wonder to what degree these views of the world and spirituality will follow on the heels of the increasing Chinese influence on Hollywood, and Chinese designers' impact on the fashion world...

Ben Simon said...

Dear John;
I have been struggling with a need to express/ convey several ideas that have not “jelled” into understandable form, but I think a try, at this point is worthwhile.
1. I developed an idea that in order to implement the kind of general change required for future human survival, the social- psychological force needed can only come from a religious source, as exemplified in the past, by the construction of cathedrals and the like.
2. The basic psychological difficulty people have in regard to their dying and death is their simple recognition that the end of their physical functioning as a living entity means no further experiencing of anything, period. I agree that this is a very hard concept to accept and internalize, but in grasping it, a serious psychological issue is firmly settled. Also, at this point, the case boils down to understanding that “nothing really matters” after you are no longer capable of awareness.
This is a great “out” for any contemplations about personal existence, whatever that may consist of and should be a great relief. In addition, with this, it should be recognized that there cannot be any hope of contact, in any form, with those who have gone down the road, previously. This desire is deep part of the emotional being that humans are, but must be lived and grown through by us all.
I am concerned with the issue of how can human beings be possibly be comforted when the dying starts as a result of the breakdown of industrial civilization. I don’t think that there will be an initial, soft process of “dieoff”. The destruction of technological infrastructure and its normal functioning, presently, has no alternative path for survival, at the level needed. Billions of people are going to be without food, water and shelter in a very short interval of time. The means to obtain these necessities outside of the system are minimal and will be reduced further, in the event. The deep vicious circle of warfare and destruction will come to a halt, but not before the demise of most of present day humanity. The collapse won’t be total, but horrific never the less.
If the needed religious mechanisms can be implemented, a great deal of suffering can be avoided, especially if there are developed, as a major part of it principles, a deep respect for life and productive living, including effective methods of social sharing and physical care for each other as well as the environment. An additional lesson that will be needed, by humanity, will simply be learning how to raise personal consciousness and awareness, beyond one’s own attention. The effort for doing this can be started, even now, with prospective beneficial results.
I hope that my expressed thought, here, will be of some value.

Respectfully,
Ben Simon

John Michael Greer said...

Well, this one certainly seems to have stirred up a bit of interest! Thanks to everyone for their feedback -- yes, even those of you who disagree with me.

Ray, let me be sure I understand this. Your four-year-old sang a song to bring rain for the compost, and it immediately started to rain? I think you may have a budding wizard on your hands. ;-)

Lure Junkie, the paradox is purely in the linear scheme of religious evolution you're applying here. You might consider Shinto, which is a polytheist faith which most Japanese practice; do you find those same grievous downsides in Japan? For that matter, where monotheist faiths don't have a secular government riding herd on their propensity to persecute, they tend to have some pretty grievous downsides of their own. As for today's Druidry, it isn't ancient Druidry; we don't bury people in bogs, any more than you burn heretics and Jews at the stake, and it's rather a display of bad faith to bring up the one without acknowledging the other, don't you think?

Jo, you're welcome, and thank you.

Patrick, the only reason I've been able to figure out how to talk about it is that I encounter a lot of people who share the new sensibility, and have had pleny of chances to fumble vaguely with words about it!

Unknown, thanks for the link! You're quite right, of course -- the panic in that article is palpable, as is the free use of really dubious logic.

DeAnander, bingo -- sacrificial ceremonies were basically community barbecues, with the gods and goddesses as the guests of honor. It definitely made for good, hearty, stick-to-the-ribs religion.

Kevin, of course there are many shades and variations, and there are also plenty of people who aren't touched by either of the sensibilities I described. If you'll reread the post, you'll find that I mentioned that in so many words.

Sunfyrlion, well, I don't think Homo sap. is quite finished yet, so we may manage the thing one of these days.

Bruin, before we can have sustainable communities we have to have sustainable individuals. Get working on your own life, and once that's sustainable, it's time to start working with others.

Thijs, you might want to glance back over the post, and notice the place where I said that, ahem, "the dominance of a religious sensibility is never total; even when a great majority of people take the presuppositions of a given sensibility for granted as unchallengeable truths, there are always those who don’t fit in, whose personal sense of the sacred pulls them in directions outside the accepted religious sensibility of their age: some toward sensibilities that have been dominant in the past, others toward sensibilities that may potentially play the same role in the future." If your personal sensibility doesn't fit in either of the two I've traced out, well, that follows, doesn't it?

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, I'll simply pass on to you the very good advice I received from a more experienced Druid leader when I was elected head of AODA: "The thing you must always be sure to do is have fun."

K-dog, I don't consider the IHEU progress, just another expression of dissensus at work!

Tom, why religious sensibilities arise and fade is an extraordinarily complex question, to which I don't know any testable answers.

Lei, thank you. That's why I tend to focus on ancient societies I know a little about, when citing examples of ecologically sensible practices in premodern times.

Stonymeadow, if Thomas Traherne is being quoted in full on shintaido sites, I'm even more sorry that I've never lived anywhere where shintaido is taught!

Juhana, your English is considerably better than that of many US high school graduates, so no need to worry. As for precession, I have no idea if it's available in your part of the world, but the book Hamlet's Mill by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend might be worth a read.

Ursachi, what drives the replacement of one religion by another is always a complex matter, and it's quite possible that a lot of Eastern Europe will remain Christian for a very long time to come, even if other religions end up predominating in Western Europe and America.

Øyvind, granted, Le Corbusier has a lot to answer for, but I'd save a share of the blame for the Bauhaus. My sister-in-law had to spend a year in a college dorm designed by Gropius, and ended up wishing that he could be condemned by a just and wrathful God to spend all eternity in his own buildings.

Flute, glad it's a useful concept for you -- I was looking for a way to talk about the emotional and perceptual underpinnings of a religious worldview, as distinct from the specific beliefs, imagery, and institutions built on that foundation.

Brazza, it's going to be a slow process, but there might be some positive changes at the end of it.

JC, I find Darwin's own writings very inspiring reading.

Ando, the quest for an escape hatch from the human condition is becoming ever more frantic as the consequences of decades of really bad choices pile up, and so, yes, there are a lot of people cashing in on that demand.

John Michael Greer said...

SMJ, the Second Religiosity in Spengler's theory is usually a revival of traditional religious forms -- thus in America and western Europe, it will draw its forms from Christianity, whatever the sensibility that underlies this. As for the New Age, well, I suppose you could twist the concept around to mean that; just remember that neither the Second Religiosity nor the emergence of a new religious sensibility means the end of history, or the evasion of any of the consequences of all those bad decisions we've made for decades now.

Harlan, there's no need for you to give up your faith. There's been a significant amount of movement toward expressions of the new sensibility I've discussed within Christianity, and if the Christian faith manages the transition to the new sensibility, it won't be the first example -- the Jewish and Hindu religions both managed the leap from the old sacrificial temple cult to salvation-centered faith without abandoning their primary commitments.

Christine4, you're quite right that the new sensibility is nothing new; it's been slowly emerging for several centuries now. Still, as I mentioned in my post, I think it's approaching a critical mass.

Nathan, I tend to think that what's going to happen forty or fifty billion years from now is not really something we have to concern ourselves with!

Yupped, exactly! One of the downsides of salvation-centered religions is that they can produce an extreme form of provisional living -- everything is about heaven or nirvana or what have you, rather than here and now. In turn, the mystical traditions within salvation-centered religions have had to come up with any number of ways to counteract this bias.

Andy, not at all; what was before the temple religions had its own distinct sensibility, which replaced another one before that, and so on back for a good long while. Also, how do you get a totalizing narrative out of an abstract analytical category that I pointed out, in so many words, was never monolithic or universal?

Juhana, nice! Thank you.

Watchman, I haven't -- I'll put it on the to-read pile. As for White, we'll be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of his case shortly.

RPC, I haven't followed current Catholic theology, so wasn't familiar with the piece in question. I'll have to find time to look it up.

Matthew, I've also noticed more of the new sensibility in younger people -- not to mention an easier time grasping the reality of the ongoing decline of the industrial world. It seems like a good omen.

Bill, I encounter the same thing quite often, as I'm sure you can imagine! Very few people "convert" to Druidry; what typically happens is that they find out about what we are and what we teach, and say, "Wow, that's what I think, too. I guess I must be a Druid."

Alex, I haven't studied complexity science closely, though I've read Wolfram's not-unrelated A New Kind of Science and will have some comments on that shortly. I'll see if I can find time to read up on Mandelbrot et al.

thecrowandsheep said...

Record number of comments last week?

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, I suspect it may be more a matter of trusting to the natural world, rather than trying to impose some model of abstract perfection on that world and then demanding that the world follow your model!

Liquid, sorry for spoiling your morning! Still, I felt it was important to link to Brin's comments, because they're a perfect example of an intelligent man goaded to rage by the conflict between his basic sensibility and one that contradicts it.

Will, that will indeed be interesting. The moment I'm waiting for is when somebody drags out the imagery of infinite progress, and the only response is a general laugh.

Someofparts, fascinating. I'm not a dog person, but I can see how that might work.

Thrig, that's one of the few things Lewis got wrong. Monotheists were considered atheioi (literally, those without gods) because they didn't offer proper respect to holy things, festivals, etc. It wasn't their belief but their actions -- thus even in the nastiest of the Roman persecutions of Christianity, you could get off scot free by simply burning some incense publicly to the guardian spirit of the Emperor.

Matthew, if you'll glance back over both these posts, you'll notice that nothing in them either supports or opposes the idea of life after death. That's quite deliberate; within any given sensibility, there are many beliefs about that issue.

Maria, delighted to hear it!

Ben, if you're interested, my book A World Full of Gods builds that argument a good deal further.

Picador, glad to be of help. One question, though -- must your life move "forward"? Forward to what?

Shrama, every religion and every religious sensibility I know of has a place for those who seek transcendence through austerities and spiritual practice. What varies is the relevance of such people and their path to the broader purposes of religion. Thus I don't doubt that religious forms that emerge out of the new sensibility will have their own modes of intensive spiritual practice; it's simply that everyone else won't be expected to practice a "mysticism lite" made effective through faith.

Doc, widespread adoption of biomimicry would require human designers and engineers to admit that nature is smarter than we are. That'll happen, but not until the new sensibility becomes a lot more widespread than it is now.

Jeffrey, the remarkable thing -- as I mentioned in an earlier post -- is that the worldviews before Copernicus et al didn't actually put humanity at the center of the cosmos; it's simply important to the historical mythology of the modern world that they be thought to have done so. This is all the more remarkable because the civil religion of progress gives Man, the Conqueror of Nature, a far more central and important role than any theistic religion ever did!

Jo said...

I have to say a big 'thankyou' to everyone who contributed to last week's discussion on the perfect cup of tea! I am so excited to discover I may be able to grow my very own backyard tea hedge.
The passion engendered by the discussion of tea leaves makes me think there may be an opening for a tea-based cult. Tea drinking has all the hallmarks of a major religion - mythology, ritual, worshippers, doctrinal dissension. How about it? Anyone in?

thecrowandsheep said...

@Greer

I think you've gone too far here. What do you have against Bauhaus?!?

John Michael Greer said...

Karl, haven't read it -- I'll put it on the list.

Joy, back in the days of the old temple cults, nobody cared what or whether you believed in any particular set of claims about the gods, thus you would have fit in just fine -- assuming, that is, that you like the taste of barbecued beef! Exactly what role belief is likely to play in the religious forms that evolve out of the new sensibility is anybody's guess, but I'd be surprised if it was as central as it's been in recent centuries in the west -- that's the most belief-centric religious sensibility in history, as far as I know.

Richard, not at all. Eleven million years is a very long time, and I've assumed the gradual evolution of more ecologically sensible approaches among human societies over that time.

Raven, ask three Druids, get at least five answers. The variety of Druidry I practice includes a strong vertical dimension.

Mike, we'll be covering that next week. The short form is that yes, there's a link you've missed.

Emmanuel, in the world of my novel, everybody composts everything. It's as automatic and as unthinking as taking out the trash is to today's Americans. If there were monastics, though, they would be nuns, not monks -- there's a definite gynocentric pattern to the religious and intellectual life of my imagined Merigan culture.

Robert, do you remember when Spengler, the columnist for The Asian Times, was insisting tongue in cheek that the US ought to elect Vladimir Putin as its next president, since he's got plenty of experience with rescuing a collapsed superpower? It was a very edged joke, sharpened considerably by the fact that Putin seems considerably more capable of talking plain common sense than any of the buffoons we have in US politics these days.

Alexander, thanks for the link.

A.S., not in the least. Thanks for the tip -- I'll look into them.

Zach, that's a complex issue. I've seen significant movements toward the new religious sensibility in many branches of Christianity -- and generally the more conservative ones at that; consider Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who's arguably part of the most conservative church of all, and has been way out there in front in terms of ecological activism, including such practical steps as getting Orthodox monasteries to put in solar power.

As I mentioned to Harlan above, it's far from uncommon for religious forms to make the jump from one sensibility to another with their central commitments intact. If I'm right about the new sensibility, I'd expect future Christianities to put a great deal of focus on the incarnation and a kenotic Christology, among other things, but that's not all that far from trends at work today.

Mike, if that's true, I'll be delighted.

Doug, that's certainly my take on things.

John Michael Greer said...

Donkey, the fact that I know I can't communicate to the "meh majority" doesn't mean I'm not taking them into account. It's simply that, as an intellectual on the cultural and religious fringes, there are only a very few people, all things considered, that I'll be able to reach at all.

Joseph, that's an excellent question. I don't propose to make the future's choices in advance -- but if they want printing presses and shortwave radios, I'd like them to have the opportunity to have them.

Steve, I haven't forgotten about science in a post-progress world; I simply get to things in my own eccentric order... ;-)

K-dog, oh man. I wonder if such obvious clutching at straws is going to be the thing that finally makes the Rapture business so embarrassing that nobody wants to admit they used to believe in it.

Steve, as I mentioned to Shrama, every religious sensibility I know of has had a place for disciplined spiritual practice, so there will doubtless be something of the kind in the future -- and it may borrow quite a bit from older forms. As for my esoteric writings, I'm mostly concerned with providing students right now with something that they can work with; the far future will no doubt come up with its own approach!

Bill, nah, I didn't think his comment was extreme. Blustering and intemperate, yes, but on the internet? That's par for the course. (There are good reasons why I keep this forum tightly moderated.)

Developer, the attitude of societies toward land is a very complex and fluid thing, and yes, it's usually shaped by the religious sensibility of the time. How long will it take for the new sensibility to start shaping our land use patterns? Good question...

Redoak, excellent! You get today's gold star for asking some very hard questions. I don't propose to try to answer them off the cuff, as they deserve more thought than that.

Peacegarden, I know a lot of people who've had that experience. My vegetable garden is one of my main links to the cycle of the seasons, and thus to the sacred powers immanent in nature.

Unknown Deborah, I wonder if anyone out there will ever find it.

Trippticket, fascinating! If David Holmgren ever wants to talk, I'd be delighted.

Jason, I have no problem with mass shifts in human consciousness, as long as it's recognized that they normally take centuries or millennia to unfold!

Justin Scoggin said...

Your points are well taken. I find several misconceptions, but I will only address one for the moment. Both people who turn away from traditional religious scripture and towards nature for religious inspiration and those that turn to traditional religious scripture and away from nature for the same purpose will find their search incomplete. As I see it, Nature and Scripture are the two "Books" of revelation unto humanity.

Human interpretation of their true meaning, and our role in both, is inevitably disastrous, leaving both nearly unrecognizable and often undesirable.

Getting beyond this dross, seeing both for what they are, brings us a truly unifying vision. Natural law and spiritual law coincide harmoniously. For example, we eat to commune with the earth and to nourish our bodies. We pray to commune with our Creator and nourish our souls. The absence of either causes illness. These are but a single law manifested in the natural and spiritual realms.

This is the avenue humanity needs to explore at our current crossroads, now that our earth is being objectified and mistreated and our religious sensibilities torn asunder by moral relativism.

Liquid Paradigm said...

"Unknown Deborah, I wonder if anyone out there will ever find it."

According to Gene Roddenberry, Captain Kirk does in the late 23rd century CE. Apparently, it turns into a bald woman who makes the cosmic whoopie with some fellow who looks like John Tesh, and...I don't know after that. I always fall asleep during the 20-minute "oh my great golly gosh it's the Enterprise!" sequence earlier in the movie. ;-)

Nick Vail said...

Hi JMG,
As always, you bring up some interesting points in this week's post.
I identify as an American Buddhist in a Tibetan vajrayana tradition.
I'm hoping you could please clarify and elaborate on what you mean by, "a vision of salvation from the natural world and the human condition itself," in the context of early Buddhism.
Many thanks.

MawKernewek said...

@Jason Heppenstall

I don't suppose you saw the Gorsedh in Cornwall last weekend? In fact I was installed as a bard. My name is Steronydh.

Enrique said...

John Michael,

Have you seen this latest hit piece? And the post concludes by showing a video clip of St. Sagan of the Holy Church of Cosmic Progress. I see he’s also gunning for Jim Kunstler, and made some unflattering comments about Kunstler when he was a teenager. Sounds like we have another Jason Godetsky out there, but this time on the side of the Religion of Progress rather than neo-primitivism.

http://nebris.livejournal.com/5526647.html

You must have really touched a raw nerve with the true believers in the Cult of Perpetual Progress. Eric Hoffer once observed in “The True Believer” that people who buy into a particular belief system tend to become more strident and insistent and increasingly willing to tune out contrary evidence as their worldview becomes more and more untenable. The Archdruid as a black magician and a “pocket vest version of Sauron”? Responses like this one and David Brin’s piece suggest that the believers in the Religion of Progress are getting desperate in spite of their outward optimism.

They keep telling themselves that new miracle sources of energy such as solar power, wind turbines, algae based biofuels, shale gas, fusion reactors and zero point energy (all of which are either not new at all or are science-fiction if not science-fantasy and likely to remain that way) will allow them to keep living the same mass consumer lifestyle that so many consider to be an entitlement today. It’s a scary thing to contemplate the idea that all of that might be going away and that we will have to make do with a lot less in a much harsher world due to the foolish choices of the last few decades.

Deep down inside, I think they know the gig is just about up, and it scares the hell out of them, so they are desperately telling themselves and anyone who will listen that there is no need to worry because this or that miracle solution will come along. “I believe it because it is absurd” applies just as much to the Religion of Progress as it does to Tertullian’s theology. There a lot of people in deep denial who are desperate to keep the status quo going, but they are setting themselves up for a fall and perhaps an early grave by their inability to face up to reality and just deal with it.

Ruben said...

Jo, I read your comment about last weeks' tea discussion, so I went back to look it up.

There is a man at our farmer's market who sells tea plants, but many nurseries carry them, camellia sinensis.

It is the same plant for green and black tea, but the leaves are fermented for black tea, which as near as I can tell, means they are wok-fried. I found an article on the fermenting process online, but can't find it in my bookmarks right now.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if decorative hedges were tea bushes?

BeaverPuppet said...

Hello Jim, first time caller, long-time listener. I'm curious about the excerpt below. How were people persuaded to go from celebrating sexuality to being shamefaced about it. It seems like a tough sell.

"You can track its spread by the way that robust traditional celebrations of human sexuality gave way to shamefaced discomfort with the facts of reproduction."

Also, if I may plug, I have a new blog called eyeofthebeaver.blogspot.com. It discusses Long Descent type issues, but without any meaningful suggestions. It's just gallows humor.

trippticket said...

Reading through the comments tonight I can't help but feel like one of the Ewoks in their sweet little Swiss Family Robinson treehouse village, dancing and celebrating the recent deposing of the imperial troops that had been oppressing them for who-knows-how-long. I also realize that most people in the US would think I'm an absolute loon for thinking this way, but I really don't care.

I'm awfully glad that I worked through all the "guidance" I got from New Agers and "The Secret" hockers right after I had that incredible experience 5 years ago that sent me down the path that ultimately led me here.

That big pot of smoked apple bar-b-que sauce simmering on the stove just now is dying for a converted propane tank grill full of pastured chicken (and OK, sweet corn, too) to slather it all over.

Muster all the Earth spirits you can find! And somebody wake up Mr. Toynbee, too, please...

Yub Yub!!;)

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, "purpose" doesn't necessarily mean "progress toward a final goal." Is the purpose of a poem getting to the end of it? (Well, I've read a few of which that could be said...) I'd like to suggest the possibility that the order and meaning of the universe, like that of a poem, a dance, or any other creative work, is found in the journey, not in the destination.

Wall0519, Suzuki's got a lot of mystics on his side; for that matter, though I don't consider myself much of a mystic, it's an experience I've had tolerably often. If you ever remember the name of the book, post it here; I'd be interested in reading it.

Nano, always a good starting point!

Bogatyr, down the road a bit I want to write about my favorite works of non-progress SF. There's been quite a bit of it down through the years, including some thumping good reads.

Orc, no, that's not what I'm saying at all. What I'm saying is that Christianity, like other religions that emerged over the millennium or so after the birth of Jesus, was powerfully shaped by what I've called a religious sensibility -- a human, social, collective set of emotions and presuppositions -- that predisposed believers to interpret the message of Jesus in terms of leaving the world behind and going to Heaven. That's far from the only way to interpret the Christian faith, but that's the way that was historically most prominent over the last two thousand years or so. If I'm right and a new religious sensibility is coming into play in the western world, other ways of thinking about the Christian message may be more common in the two thousand years or so ahead of us. Is that a little clearer?

Dave, that's an incredibly oversimplified model of the way human population dynamics work. I'd encourage you to study some ecology before making such generalizations.

Bogatyr, a good friend of mine with a Chinese wife and mother-in-law has connections with a very similar tradition; they're all through the Chinese diaspora, and have roots going back to the Han dynasty. The interesting thing there is that we have homegrown traditions like that in the Western world as well -- the notion that everybody in the west was a vanilla-flavored Christian until 1965 or so is pure hogwash, though it's pleasing hogwash to some of today's pseudoconservative pundits. Will Chinese traditions get wider influence as China does/ You bet -- but they won't be alone on the playing field by a long shot.

Ben, I think you're incorrect in expecting a sudden dieoff of billions of people, and I'm far from sure your denial of life after death is as essential, or as relevant, as you believe -- though that's your call, of course. Do people need to start thinking hard about how to deal with death up close and personal, on a fairly large scale? There, of course, you're on much more solid ground, because even the sort of extended stairstep decline I'm expecting will involve lots of death.

Thecrowandsheep, yes, by a small margin. As for Bauhaus, my sister-in-law described the Gropius dorm as basically unlivable -- designed with no attention to human needs such as basic soundproofing between one unit and the next, for example, as well as stunningly ugly.

Jo, sounds like a plan -- and the folks at Lucky Mojo Curio Co. can get you set up with books and a cup for tea leaf reading, so you can add foretelling the future to your new religious movement!

John Michael Greer said...

Justin, if that works for you, by all means! A religious sensibility, again, doesn't define the religious forms that are built atop it, and if your take on that sensibility involves the Bible (or some other scripture) as well as study of nature, then go to it.

Liquid, well, you got further into the movie than I did. I never could find much to interest me in the whole Star Trek business.

Nick, what is the human condition according to the Theravadin tradition, the oldest historically documented form of Buddhism? Suffering. What does the Buddha teach? Liberation from suffering. To enter Nirvana is to leave behind the human condition. Once you bring in the Mahayana, not to mention the Vajrayana, things get a lot more nuanced, which is why I specified as I did.

MawKernewek, keslowena! That's a worthwhile achievement. (It's actually been one of my ambitions to get fluent enough in Cornish to qualify, though I'll have to find time to get back to work on it...)

Enrique, oh, him. He used to post here before he got banned for trolling, and has been spluttering about me on and off ever since. I don't mind; Jason Godesky was the best publicity I could have had -- I long ago lost count of the number of people who first encountered me via his tirades, came here to see what all the fuss was about, and decided that I made more sense than he did -- and if this guy wants to give me the same sort of career boost, I won't complain.

BeaverPuppet, you do it by convincing the intellectuals first. They're an easy sell -- you can convince intellectuals of just about anything -- and once they get into something, it will percolate through society as a whole. Read up on the history of ideas and you'll find that same process playing a regular role in the spread of various ideas, some sensible, some utterly absurd.

Trippticket, Toynbee was a devout Anglican and might not welcome being awakened. Still, I have to admit that it sounds like a very tasty meal!

Shining Hector said...

Maybe what's off-putting is more the overt proselytizing. The binary thinking gives it away. That and the fanboys.

Brin makes for a facile butt-monkey since he doesn't deign to defend himself, but I didn't find it a spluttering rant myself. Maybe a little harsh, but that's the internet for you. The main issue I think was the amount of liberties you took. It was quite a loaded story. The ascended zebra mussels came across as your own personal Mary Sue, if that means anything to you. No need for tedious explanations, poof, they're ultimately wise, they've taken scientific discovery to the end, and they've wisely agreed with your own conclusions that it's of course a fool's errand to try and spread past the ball of rock they were born on. Let's all sit around the campfire and fawn over their timeless wisdom.

A lot of us don't care about where our atoms end up. And a blade of grass is just not that interesting to me. It just exists. Other people and their ideas are what's compelling. I'd find a corvid quite interesting to communicate with and try to understand, but the idea that none of my species would be around to make the attempt makes its eventual existence or lack thereof fairly irrelevant to me.

Sangye Christianson said...

I find Salvation in Nature,
I seek Salvation in the Human Condition, and I find Salvation in this Blog, it's Author and it's Readers, thank you all.

John Michael Greer said...

Hector, I admit I'm wondering whether you found the "overt proselytizing" in Bardi's version as off-putting -- or whether it's just that you're on the other side of the boundary between sensibilities I traced in this week's post. Having corbicules decide that certain things never were going to work seems a lot less extreme a liberty to me than insisting that human beings can create an artificial intelligence that becomes God; still, your mileage will no doubt vary.

Sangye, you're welcome, but I hope you don't really expect to find salvation from me!

KL Cooke said...

"...the panic in that article is palpable, as is the free use of really dubious logic."

The best he could come up with was "They'll think of something."

John Michael Greer said...

KL, ah, but that's the holy mantra of the Cornucopian church! If repeating those words would get you into nirvana, we'd have a lot of enlightened masters in the US right now -- I've lost track of the number of times I've lost track of the number of times I've heard that used as an excuse not to think about the future!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Jo--It's called Teaosophy. The Teaosophists are amicable rivals to the Javacrucians. Javacrucian morning prayer: "Gods, I needed that!"

I'm not making this up, you know.

Zachary Braverman said...

It's funny, I've long been a fan of Brin's fiction, but I find myself squarely on your side of the sensibility of the thing.

I don't have nearly enough knowledge to begin to have an opinion about whose vision of the future is more likely, but the thought of a civilization and then a race dying, to be supplanted by others, does not strike me as a particularly "negative" thing. Hence I never would have characterized your previous post as gloomy. More awe-inspring.

Also, with all this talk of Shinto, I hope you don't mind me posting some photos of my daughter at a major Shinto matsuri (festival) here in Japan:

http://www.kotodama.net/blog/2013/07/miae-matsuri-take-2/

wiseman said...

JMG,
True humility and wisdom comes when you observe and experience pain, the western industrial civilization has fortunately not experienced any for the last 70 years. Same applies to the members of the cornucopian church living in other places.
Over the years I have come to realize that it's the difference in expectations and the psychological trauma it causes which creates most amount of distress, not actual physical suffering (exceptions apply)

Which is why it's the middle class which usually takes up arms in times of distress, not the poor. I am guessing that the perceived pain will be highest in people who are expecting perpetual growth.

k-dog said...

K-dog, I don't consider the IHEU progress, just another expression of dissensus at work!

Fair enough, I was just looking at AODA for the first time. Your opinion of what makes dissensus is respected by me!

K-dog, oh man. I wonder if such obvious clutching at straws is going to be the thing that finally makes the Rapture business so embarrassing that nobody wants to admit they used to believe in it.

Yet it is a business with staying power, culturally embedded. I share your wish, it should be embarrassing to hate, but the hold is strong.

Leo said...

That actually makes sense of a lot of things.

Also explains where the idea that collapse would finally free us from greed, war or whatever else is considered bad. Or the end of civilization (neo-primitivism) if that path's chosen. Salvation, but in the material world.

Also begs the question; why is there the desire for humans to become something they aren't now.

Also, something you'd appreciate for the cultural con servers project:
http://theviewfrombrittany.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/the-great-pruning.html

Also this might be a good resource for any future posts on war in a collapsing world. The podcast is supposed to come out tomorrow, I haven't heard it but my Twin said it was good.
http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/cap-events/2013-09-12/revolution-limits-and-changing-character-war#.UjKqzT-bGSp

DeAnander said...

Re: religious belief system assisting in sustainable land-use patterns...

It seems to me that I read a lengthy scholarly tome some years back about water management in Bali. IIRC the point being made was that Balinese terraced fields were watered by a complex irrigation system (gravity fed of course), and it turned out that the irrigation system's design and maintenance were coordinated and specified by an equally complex set of "religious" festivals, calendars, practises, temples, etc. The local religion, in other words, was a beautiful panoply of stories, songs, and rituals which helped/guided the people to manage their agriculture and watersheds so as to survive, both culturally and personally, across the long term. And the "priesthood" were indistinguishable (in a blunt functional sense) from sophisticated watershed managers and irrigation engineers. If you Google for the topic you'll find references to the "subak" system, lots of publications, yada yada; I should probably read some of them to refresh my aging memory. The other take-home message of the book I read way back when was that -- no surprise here -- the eager (and arrogant) engineers of the Green Revolution did not at all appreciate or understand the sophistication and elegance of the traditional Balinese water management system, but dismissed it prima facie as "superstition" and backwardness (to be outmoded/eliminated by the crusading forces of Progress, natch). It has taken decades for Anglo scholars to "discover" that the Balinese so-called superstitions were actually guides, mnemonics and laws enabling and mandating sound ecopraxis.

So I'll propose this as a candidate for the list of cases in which a religion has assisted a culture in maintaining ecological responsibility and stewardship.

Is it just me or is Captcha getting more, er, captious?

Thomas Daulton said...

There is something that never fails to astound and flabbergast me about this David Brin type of response to a Doomer-ish perspective. And I get this reaction from many different people about various political subjects, especially regarding alternative energy and pollution, even if the broader societal doom never actually enters the picture.

The argument begins by me pointing out that we are on an unsustainable course. What we're doing can't go on forever. The other person agrees completely. Nevertheless, the response comes back, shrilly insistent, "don't you worry your little head about that, because whenever humanity (or America, or the Free Market, etc.) has gotten into trouble, the adversity has forced us to innovate."

Okay doesn't anybody see the inherent contradiction there? If I may be permitted to paraphrase maliciously, people just like David Brin keep telling me over and over, "When our backs are against the wall, we always come up with a solution. So quit acting like our backs are against the wall!"

Wait, do these people even believe in their own premises? "Necessity is the mother of invention, so therefore there is no need to worry, there's no necessity." I have heard that type of response from so many people over so many decades, over such a wide variety of subjects, from political reform, through traffic congestion, to the energy and pollution issues, all the while I keep watching the problems get worse.

I don't believe humanity's destiny, be it doom or ascension, is set in stone, and I don't believe anybody who claims it is. But _if_ anything is going to doom humanity, I think it will be this insistence that nobody be allowed to seriously discuss the possibility of failure. This is what I referred to as the "Tinkerbell Strategy" last week. (Now I see why JMG detests "The Secret" so much!) Can't anybody besides me see that this attitude itself is one of the biggest barriers against finding the solutions that the other person assumes will save us? Is it just me, or are these people insistent on shooting themselves in the foot?

And yet somehow the people who say "all our problems will inevitably be solved" accuse people like you and me of promoting complacency. The people who say "We don't need to worry about our problems" [until they become far worse] accuse you and me of reveling in human suffering. What a strange world, what a strange culture we live in.

Unknown said...

"Unknown Deborah, I wonder if anyone out there will ever find it."

At the time, I thought identifying our location was rash. Given the speed of Voyager and and the dearth of local traffic, it probably makes no difference.

Juhana said...

@JMG:
Thanks for the book tip! I found this "Hamlet's mill" as an e-book (blessings of modernity, speed of information transfer), and it seems very plausible indeed.

In Kalevala there is big epic piece decipting battle over Sampo, heavenly mill, between Mistress of Pohjola and bunch of adventurers led by Väinämöinen, Väinö, zither player with might of knowledge on his side. Giorgio de Santillana's interpretation doesn't seem too far fetched.

It is absolutely impossible here, at the rooftop of the world, to live near nature and to NOT notice celestial movements. During cold winter days, when darkness falls 3 PM and night is eighteen hours long, black lid of the sky merges seamlessly to air so cold and thin it hurts your lungs even under parka, beanie and woolen scarf. If you live outside bic cities, during those nights stars are so bright they seem to hang just over your head, shining cold and dreamy light to snow fields around.

Everything dreams, animals are hiding and using as little energy as possible, even trees are dreaming as sap has escaped from vulnerable branches towards hearts of trees. Coldness makes you taste tiniest amount of blood in your own mouth.

It was during that kind of winter days, while skiing on frozen ice and snow sheet of nearby lakes with my friends that I got interested about celestial movements first time. It is absolutely impossible that my ancestors, who lived without TV, GPS or electric light, would not have gotinterested about them too.

I am returning favour now. Behind link below is description of book that is Bible of old-school survival and preying skills in cold latitudes. And I mean old school. It describes tricks of the trade for surviving outdoors when it is -25 Celsius degrees, how to build traps (to get furs, I mean), how to use cognitive weaknesses of prey animals against them, how to built shelter and fire in most punishing environments. If some American-Finnish friend of yours can translate even little bits, you probably get many revelations from it. Recommended.

http://www.gummerus.fi/page.asp?sivuID=280&component=/PublishDB/Kirjat_kirjaesittely.asp&recID=426

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Maybe I'm naive, but when people speak of salvation, I'm not 100% sure I even understand what they are talking about. Salvation, from what precisely?

Nature seems to me that it is just the way things happen to be at that point in time in that location. Over the long term though nature always seeks equilibrium. I'm borrowing the atoms in my body from the environment and realise that I have no real ownership of them.

Fatso the massive wombat was run over and killed the other day. I saw him toes up in a neighbour’s driveway and just felt sad. The competition for the herbage and water here is quite intense and there is only a finite amount to go around, so Fatso went elsewhere to his detriment. On a more positive note check out the photo of stumpy the wallaby happily giving the finger to the bees!

Stumpy the nemesis of all fruit trees giving the finger to the bees

Stumpy and poopy the Pomeranian had a face off the other day and stumpy (who is considerably larger) won that bout and the dogs have come to an arrangement with Stumpy.

Despite all of the rhetoric, the climate here is warming up. I'm doing my best to adapt though. This season the hot winds from the centre of the continent seem to be flowing north of the Great Dividing Range (although it is early days yet). Spare a thought for the folks in New South Wales and Queensland who are dealing with bushfires this early in autumn. The centre of the continent is hitting record temperatures already…

A taste of things to come for all, I'd reckon.

Regards

Chris

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Perhaps from hindsight, a bit of elucidation is in order on my previous comment.

The lessons that we learn from our existence in nature - no matter how harsh, easy or somewhere in between - are those lessons that we are required to learn. The promise of salvation without the hard yards or asceticism seems like a cop out to me and I am always wary of those that pedal the easy option - as it is usually the hardest option dressed up in drag.

Regards

Chris

Jose Coces said...

Funny thing, this "Cornucopian Church"...I wonder if any fifth-century Roman ever said the same. The Empire is falling apart, but no matter, "they will think of something".

trippticket said...

"Trippticket, Toynbee was a devout Anglican and might not welcome being awakened. Still, I have to admit that it sounds like a very tasty meal!"

Not want to be awakened for an Ewok bar-b-que? Surely you jest.

Devout Anglican perhaps but one who saw and commented on the cycles that I think only a deep connection with Nature could inform. And he did it while neck-deep in a hostile environment. I have a hard time believing he wasn't in transition.

RPC said...

"My sister-in-law had to spend a year in a college dorm designed by Gropius, and ended up wishing that he could be condemned by a just and wrathful God to spend all eternity in his own buildings." Tea-sprayer! There's something to be said for the view that, if there's an afterlife, it consists of us experiencing what we've done to the rest of the world...

trippticket said...

JMG, could you or one of your more well-"versed" commenters point me in the direction of some groovy druid music. As a jumping off point I do enjoy Fiona Ritchie's program Thistle and Shamrock, but I'm not a particularly well-travelled musical aficionado.

Much obliged.

Nick Vail said...

Thank you for your response; I really appreciate how you take the time to interact individually here.
You mention two of the 4 Noble Truths that Shakyamuni taught in Deer Park so long ago, but I also want to highlight the others to provide more context.
Technically, the first Noble Truth that you reference is indeed the seeming existence of suffering, however technically it is that contaminated phenomena are suffering. The "contaminated" bit is the bridge the the second Noble Truth, that suffering seems to arise based on clinging to an ultimately nonexistent sense of self.
I would offer that this teaching is not a repudiation of the natural world nor of the human condition; rather, it is like a doctor's diagnosis of a disease, the disease of suffering, that is an unnecessary addition to the natural world and the human condition.
Happily, as he experienced under the bodhi tree, there is an alternative to suffering, nirvana, and a path to alleviate and ultimately be liberated from our deeply held delusions and their symptoms.
My interpretation of this is that this is indeed the homecoming of your title for this week's post; that we can understand and relinquish our unnecessary suffering, and instead directly experience the natural world and our genuine humanity.

Hal said...

JMG, if you ever get around to writing a book on architectural criticism from the view of appropriate tech I have a title for you (with a nod to Wolfe):

From Bauhaus to Outhouse.

DeAnander said...

Re: the "they'll think of something" mantra

I often want to respond that "they" *have* "thought of something", often and repeatedly, and look where we are now...

realguy1010 said...

nice essay JMG
The western approach to religion is methodological and systematic,while easterners do things in different way...during this process,the real aim of religion is lost..
I listen to western classical music like Schubert's concert and indian classical music like raag kedar,raag jog..There is no comparison..both are outstanding but in different way..
Western music fills mind with exhilaration and feeling of heard awesome music..while raag kedar touches more in soul than just your ears...
may be you can use this comparison somewhere

Joseph Nemeth said...

I think it was Robert Matheison in the comments for a previous post who pointed out that our idea of War changed around the time of the US Vietnam War: it changed from winning (e.g. WWII) to minimizing casualties (e.g. Afghanistan/Iraq). I note that this is more-or-less concurrent with the rise of "miracle medicine," infant mortality statistics as a measure of national advancement, the "youth culture" in advertising, and the strange idea that personal immortality is desirable.

I recently panned the film Olympus Has Fallen, in part because of what virtually any other culture in any other time would recognize as an ethic of rank cowardice running through it: absolutely anything is permissible to "save a life."

I think this is the issue that the Cult of Progress is tripping over. The anxiety they face is that they don't know how to feed 7b people, or 14b people, without high-tech and wasteful use of cheap energy. Most say it's impossible (as do you) -- and That's The Worst Possible Thing Ever, according to this modern ethic that places saving a life above all other considerations.

Of course, it isn't The Worst Possible Thing Ever. But if you think it is, the idea of NOT developing higher-tech and even cheaper energy is unthinkable -- and Evil, you Archdruidic Minion of Sauron, you! :-)

But billions of people will die!

Yep. Approximately seven billion of them -- every last one of them is going to die: some sooner, some later. All their children will die. All their grandchildren will die. Every last one of their great-great-great-grandchildren will die. It's the cycle of life.

Not if I can help it!

And there is perhaps the whole insanity of our modern world in a nutshell. Not if I can help it. Everyone must live forever. Whatever it takes, and whatever that implies.

John Michael Greer said...

Zachary, thanks for the photos -- very sweet!

Wiseman, no argument there.

K-dog, granted, but even apocalyptic fantasies can jump the shark, and go out of fashion for a while. That happened in the wake of the Great Disappointment in 1844, for example.

Leo, we'll be talking next week about the roots of the craving for release from the human condition. Thanks for the links, also -- Damien Perrotin is one of my favorite bloggers on these subjects, and this latest is even more cogent than usual.

DeAnander, thanks for the reminder -- I'd read of this, and will want to review it for a future post.

Thomas, excellent! That gets you today's gold star for sheer perspicacity. It's an amazing double bind, isn't it?

Unknown Deborah, I've long had the notion that twenty million years from now, Voyager 1 will drift into orbit around a star that happens to have a planet full of intelligent critters on it. They happen to detect it, and since they're in their spaceflight stage, they put together a mission in a hurry and bring it in. There it is, sitting in a museum, silent and incomprehensible, the product of an intelligence utterly alien to these aliens. I wonder how much they'll figure out about it, and about the distant, ancient species that sent it on its way...

Juhana, thank you! I'm going to ask if anybody else reading this has a reading knowledge of Finnish or a friend who does -- I don't happen to -- and would be willing to have a look.

Cherokee, I'm sorry to hear about Fatso's fate! As for the weather, isn't it still late winter where you are -- not even technically spring yet? If your temperatures are already spiking...wow.

Jose, good! I think they did -- certainly very, very few people at the time expressed any awareness that anything unusual was happening. It was all just a matter of temporary troubles, of the kind the empire had overcome many times in the past...

Trippticket, an interesting question. You'd certainly have to let him say grace. As for Druid music, Joseph, can you point him to some good sources? You're the local expert on that subject!

RPC, a case could be made...

John Michael Greer said...

Nick, my understanding is that the view you've presented is classic Mahayana, and is not found in the Theravadin teachings. (I'm willing to be corrected if this is not the case.) Certainly the view you've outlined is one that finds plenty of resonance in the Shingon Buddhism I learned about via my Japanese stepfamily! Still, I'd encourage you to check this against the Theravadin tradition and see what you find.

Hall, good. Thank you.

DeAnander, nice!

Realguy, oddly enough, I'll be talking about ragas down the road a bit, in comparison both to Western classical music and to jazz. More on this later!

Joseph, that's the biophobia I talked about earlier -- the terror of things that ripen and die, the frantic attempt to make time and change come to a screeching halt -- expressed in a memorably absurd way. I'll be discussing that in quite a bit of detail as we proceed.

Twilight said...

I find it interesting to consider what may be driving this new sensibility and how widespread it may be. The old one spans roughly from the peak of the Roman empire through to the creation of the industrial society, finding its ultimate expression in the form of the religion of Progress, and peaking (perhaps) with the energy source which drives our modern technological society. Whatever one may believe about the causes or what will follow, it is hard to miss that something is badly broken and that the institutions of the day don't seem to be able to respond, if they even still function at all.

Beyond that it may be that many find the orgy of debt and consumption that coincided with the end of the 20th century to have been unfulfilling, not to mention increasingly out of reach. I suspect that for some this drives a search for meaning in other places. What I wonder is how many have enough contact with nature in order to drive such feelings? I don't know how long term urban dwellers would come to it, but I have no contact with that life. I do know many rural people have little to no care for the natural world around them, and almost seem to dislike it – perhaps that is because the old spirituality is still strong there.

…...........

This tension between the old and new spirituality seems very similar to other conflicts with which I have wrestled my whole life. I was raised a Lutheran and believed strongly until my late teens, when I threw it off to be an atheist for a time – but that only fit for a while. I'm the son of an engineering professor and a artist/teacher, raised on SF books and believing fully in the progression to the stars. I saw the technology my Dad worked with, and became an engineer myself. But in truth I took after the artist in the way I think about things, and it took many years to reconcile that conflict. And I grew up in the country, so when I was not reading SF or repairing machines, I was running around in the woods and helping with the garden and gathering firewood with my Dad. At 50 I am a mish-mash of both, but these old battles are long settled – the engineering is something I do to pay the bills, and I am only really at peace when I am home in the woods.

…...........

I have been reading your Druidry Handbook, and have had a similar reaction. While the specific rituals and practices are unfamiliar, and the terminology for other languages is difficult and cumbersome for me, the ideas are very familiar and comfortable, like an old pair of jeans.

Bill Pulliam said...

I find it interesting, your suggestion that a new cyclical life-focused religious sensibility may well expand within a Christian framework. Certainly those scriptures have been molded and reinterpreted many times in the past to fit whatever sensibility was in vogue. We now see in several branches beliefs that God rewards goodness with material prosperity and we should pursue this as a righteous goal, in spite of the fact that the Bible I read seemed to rather clearly proclaim quite the opposite. It is not hard to imagine the parable of Eden read to show that body shame is a great sin and a sign of separation from God=Nature, and envision nudity converted to a holy state of union with God-In-Nature, not a sin and crime punishable by shunning and the sex offender registry.

I wonder specifically about your fictional world in Stars Reach, where the prevailing religion is Gaianist and gynocentric, and seems to have rejected or at least ditched most of the language and imagery of Christianity. Is this just something you put in there because you would enjoy imagining how it might work? Or do you envision this as a later phase in the evolution of religion here? As an aside for Juhana, the manly virtues and values are extremely in evidence in JMG's fictional future even though women hold most of the political and religious power, and the religious imagery is all quite female-centered. Trey and his buddies would have no trouble putting most 21st Century western men to shame in any contest of traditional masculinity. Even the intersex character is tougher, stronger, and more "manly" than most guys you see running around North America now.

Bill Pulliam said...

As a p.s., I just hope I live long enough to see Jesus grow antlers!

fromorctohuman said...

Yes, that’s clearer. Much appreciated.

The actual point of what you’ve posted is slowly dawning on me. What you’re calling religious sensibility is the impetus for much of what happens in religion, even among those that would consider themselves polar opposites, or the unique holders of ultimate truth.

This undercurrent varies with the times/environment, but is also shaped by emergent ideas or cultural memes (I’m not even sure exactly what a meme is, but I’ve finally found cause to use it in a sentence so I feel like I’ve accomplished something…)

This begs the question, for me, is there a truth worth getting at, if you are able to “disconnect” yourself from the cultural current of the time? I think there is, but I’m not sure how you’d answer that.

Along those lines (and I don’t want to be labeled as a disciple of progress, but…), I do think that some of these sensibilities are more appropriate than others. That is, that there is a movement toward the “better” by those who mature in their faith in whatever.

As an example, in an earlier post you wrote: “you can apprehend the order of the cosmos in love and awe, and accept your place in it, even when that conflicts with the cravings of your ego, or you can put your ego and its cravings at the center of your world and insist that the order of the cosmos doesn’t matter if it gets in the way of what you think you want.” These are two sensibilities which are not only different, but exclusionary. (Ar at least, the dawning of apprehension is certainly an improvement…)

My own set of exclusionary religious sensibilities: “you can apprehend the _relatedness_of_individuals_ in love and awe, and accept your place in it, even when that conflicts with the cravings of your ego, or you can put your ego and its cravings at the center of your world and insist that the _relatedness_of_individuals_ doesn’t matter if it gets in the way of what you think you want.”

The difference between these two is only of emphasis as far as I’m concerned, as I believe the order of the cosmos is predicated upon the relatedness of individuals.

I barely even know what I mean by that though, so I won’t push it any further!

Peace

Nick Vail said...


Ok - so, this first bit may not be fit for publishing...your call. Let me just say, I deeply appreciate you and your writings here and elsewhere. I'm hip-deep into Inside a Magical Lodge, and see a lot of parallels with my experience in my tradition. I'm also reading Green Wizardry, which is awesome. Secondly, you may have already encountered Kukai, but if you haven't already read this, I highly recommend: http://www.amazon.com/Kukai-His-Major-Works/dp/0231059337/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379101606&sr=8-1&keywords=kukai

I'd like to acknowledge the filters of my view through the tradition I am coming from in this conversation; at least two thousand years after the awakening of Shakyamuni in multiple cultural contexts. At the same time, there are several factors at play in terms of my understanding of Foundational Buddhism that I'd like to address. From a purely historical/sociological perspective, what Shakyamuni was teaching and to whom was radical in his context. His first teaching was to the 5 Hindu ascetics with whom he'd previously practiced extreme austerities. To them he taught the middle way and the 4 Noble Truths. In response to their extremism in terms of asceticism, his middle way was quite controversial, and the fact that he taught women and members of all castes is in contrast to your assertion of the buddhadharma being "available to an elite few."
I'd also like to point out that there are 4 Seals that are accepted by all schools of Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana, and otherwise, that are hallmarks of Shakyamuni's heritage. More can be researched here.
Again, I would say from my interpretation, that the teachings of Shakyamuni, Gautama Buddha, beginning with the 4 Noble Truths at Deer Park, are about bringing it all back home: seeing clearly through the illusions of self, and resting uncontrived in the selfless and interdependent nature of all phenomena, including the natural world and the human condition.

Liquid Paradigm said...

@Trippticket,

George Nicholas has some (in my undoubtedly faulty) opinion good music ('Cernunnos Rising' and 'Urban Druid'). I'm also a fan of Damh the Bard and Omnia. While not really Druish, Chris Wood's music always gets me into that frame of mind.

If you want your bank account to suffer as mine has suffered, the monthly podcast offerings of OBOD (hosted by Damh the Bard), entitled 'Druidcast,' almost always has some excellent musical selections included. And the "talky bits" are always instructive to me on one point or another.

(Captcha: Ccononc. Ccononc the Mighty! Ccononc the Intimidating! Worthy Ccononc, Hero of the Glade!)

Joseph Nemeth said...

Sorry, but I'm not an expert on Druid music at all.

I'm a composer, and I've written some Druid music. I'm probably the world's foremost expert on that. :-) And, of course, I highly recommend it!

http://www.themonthebard.org/music.

See the Missa Druidica, but also Anu Danu, which is adapted from the Lammas Bread Blessing by Nickomo.

Beyond that, I'm in the same boat as Trippticket.

I guess I could say a few things, all of which I believe to be true, but might not be. YMMV.

There is no ancient Druid music for the same reason there is no ancient Roman music or ancient Egyptian music. They never wrote it down, or if they did, we either haven't found it, or we don't know how to read it.

Druidry has a long, knotted history, but after 1700 it was culturally wedded to Western Europe, specifically the British Isles. The "Druid music" of any Druid prior to, say, the mid-1900's was just good old-fashioned Western European music. Beethoven. Brahms. Sea chanties and tavern songs and church hymns.

All popular music since about 1950 has been dominated by the recording industry, which is out to make money, not music. A "Druid" label would have been such an unthinkably small niche market, that I don't believe there is any such thing. I'd be happy to be told I'm wrong.

More recently, as the recording industry fell into the Law of Diminishing Returns, it started to diversify, and you can find quite a lot of modern and explicitly Celtic music, some of which could probably be considered Druidic. There's also bound to be oodles of stuff, of varying production quality, out there in the Cloud.

Authentic modern Druid music -- that is, music created by or for Druids -- is mostly congregational tonal chant, with harmonies (if any) that can be taught without reading music, as well as "folk" style music, typically a single singer and a guitar or harp accompaniment. Look up Damh the Bard, or Nickomo for examples.

Most Druid groves seem to have their own preferred cycle of tunes that they sing during celebrations, many borrowed from the larger neo-Pagan community. All of them are in D minor. (I'm joking.)

I don't know if there's anything in the gap between this and what I've written.

The music I've written is odd and in some ways pointless. I write it because the Muse tells me to: it's a labor of love. But it has zero commercial potential, so you aren't going to find much else like it out there. I'm guessing that holds true all the way down to the congregational singing of Druids -- there simply isn't a market, and without a market, it just isn't done.

hadashi said...

Hi JMG
I find myself bookmarking almost all of your posts for re-reading (though I hardly ever find the time) but I'll make a special effort for this one. It speaks to me on a very personal level. Your post about religious sensibility addresses the change of worldview that I have experienced lately.

For two or three decades I had followed a meditative philosophy (Sant Mat) that purported to deliver a means of detaching oneself from the world, and to rise above and escape its sordid reality. Then, about 10 years ago, I abandoned it to return to first principles. I needed to construct my own philosophy. I eventually cobbled one together, believing that it was unique. But then, in the past year or so, I stumbled across the books and lectures of Alan Watts, a self-professed 'spiritual entertainer' who gives his own take of Hindu, Buddhism, Zen and so forth.

I was astounded and encouraged to discover that at least 80% of what he expounded upon meshes with the fruits of my own rumination, and I am enjoying the process of exploring the remaining mini-crescents of our combined Venn Diagram. In short, I have undergone a personal religious sensibility shift of the type that this post talks about.

I can testify (if that word is not too loaded in the current context) that one's outlook is very, very different when operating in a different religious sensibility. A revelation, indeed!

Bring on the Age of Aquarius???

trippticket said...

@themonthebard and liquidparadigm:

You know, surprisingly, there was quite a bit of "druid" music on YouTube, which made me wonder...is this the real McCoy?

Where to turn, where to turn? Oh yeah, the comments section of that silly old druid blog that I read religiously every Thursday! I like that place. And the people who animate it.

I will definitely check out both of your recommendations, and get back to you with my critiques...whatever that's worth.

Cheers,
Um, you know my real name is Grover? I should sign this that way.
Cheers,
Grover...Grover Trippticket

KL Cooke said...

"...Le Corbusier has a lot to answer for..."

I've always kind of liked his buildings--the way they look like they're already falling down.

I never had to occupy one, though.

SLClaire said...

If I might weigh in on the questions Nick Vail and you have been discussing about Buddhism ...

I have been practicing Zen for 15 years, less so in the past year or two however. When I first started practicing Zen I didn't read the foundational sutras (scriptures recording Buddha's teachings to his disciples) because my teacher spent much more time discussing Dogen or his own interpretation of Dogen. Fair enough as he's practicing in the Soto Zen tradition that Dogen founded in the 1200s in Japan. Unlike some religions, Buddhist sects are free to add their own writings to the sutra collection, thus it's no issue to study Dogen rather than the sutras that Buddha taught.

Nick's interpretation of the Four Noble Truths is quite consistent with my teacher's and one I could relate to in my own practice. However, because my husband got a copy of an English translation of the Majjhima Nikaya (Middle Length Discourses, one of the original sutras taught by Buddha) he and I, and also other members of our sangha, had occasion to read this particular foundational text. It certainly struck me in many places, and unpleasantly so, as being salvational in tone. Buddha held up the arhat as the standard to shoot for. The arhat's goal was to not be reborn, to leave existence forever, because existence cannot ever be satisfying. I think JMG's take on this is correct. The bodhisattva ideal in Zen and other Mahayana sects of Buddhism holds off on the final attainment (leaving existence forever) in favor of helping others to achieve it before oneself. Thus, the original goal of the arhat remains, but as best as I understand it, not while other suffering beings still exist. I should say that I am not much of a scholar of Buddhism, so I might be wrong, but this is my sense of things.

Joseph Nemeth said...

I don't put a lot of stock in the idea of authentic.

I'm sure Stradivarius turned out a few crap fiddles.

And there have been luthiers who've surpassed him, as well.

If you enjoy the music, enjoy it!

trippticket said...

Themon,
Beautiful stuff! Rather more like church choir music than I had anticipated. Except that I envisioned the flute part being played by a shapely, and naked, young siren sitting on a mossy rock at the edge of my creek instead of a bespectacled ugly and fat lady (thankfully!) wearing a full-length robe that fits her like a pup tent.

Even if that were the only difference between Christianity and Druidry I think I could learn to appreciate it fully!

Appreciate the lead.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

"There it is, sitting in a museum, silent and incomprehensible"

inscribed with twenty-seven selections of music from all over the world, running about eighty-six minutes altogether. They didn't think to include birdsong, insect music, whistling elks and gibbons or humpback whale songs, but the selection of human music is comprehensive, and includes one of my favorites, "Kinds of Flowers".

list of Voyager music

Kyoto Motors said...

"...the dubious claims of past miracles offered by theist religions or the equally dubious promises of future miracles made so freely by the civil religion of progress."
I identify with this perspective to a T. Nice to see it so succinctly put.

The closing point has come up in the past, and I look forward to next week's post. Any further discussion about what might motivate people to collaborate on meaningful projects would be welcome. I'm thinking of the antidote to the "they'll think of something" line of reasoning more than anything, since I encounter these types quite frequently.

On another note, up here in Quebec, where some aspire to national independence from Canada, the debate surrounding religions has been turned into a cynical, political ploy to erase visible religiosity from the public sector (all civil servant posts, from Hospitals to daycares, as well as government bureaus). It seems to be the separatists'/Nationalists' move to bolster a certain type of core, majority (xenophobic) support. The pretense to be secular (said to be "neutral")as a state is almost amusing after having followed these posts over the past several months. But really it's just sad.

John Michael Greer said...

Twilight, thanks for the reflections! I don't know that it takes a lot of contact with nature to send people moving toward the new sensibility I've sketched out -- I see a lot of people who start seeking contact with nature as a result of new feelings and perceptions stirring in them.

Bill, you'll notice that in the imagined future I created for Star's Reach, Christians are still around -- they're called Old Believers by the majority, and have a status halfway between that of Catholics in post-1688 England and Jews in medieval Europe. I chose to make the religion of 25th-century Meriga a gynocentric Gaia-worship partly because that's what felt right, partly because of the way I wanted to explore gender issues in that imagined future.

One of the things that makes Merigan culture distinct from ours is that men and women by and large have different spheres of activity, and don't compete with one another. Religion, scholarship, one set of trades, and the larger share of politics are women's country; war, a different set of trades, and some dimensions of politics are men's country, and you don't get much overlap. It's not a utopia by any means; it's a violent, troubled Dark Age society on the far side of some very hard times; but that dimension of Merigan society, at least, gave me a chance to think out loud about one of the ways things might unfold from the reshaping of gender roles under way in America today.

Orc, I think it can certainly be said that some ways of thought and action are better than others; that doesn't require a belief in progress -- quite the contrary, as C.S. Lewis liked to point out, the facile equation of "better" with "whatever comes next" makes it easy to leave behind good options in favor of worse ones.

Nick, once again, that's a very Mahayana understanding of what Shakyamuni taught; for all I know, the Mahayana may be right -- but it's not the understanding you'll find in the Pali Canon. As for Kukai's works, yes, I read those in my early 20s, when I was considering Shingon Buddhism as a potential spiritual path; I took another route, but I enjoyed Kobo Daishi's work -- and learned some things from it, too.

Joseph, you're as close as we've got here on this blog!

Hadashi, now there's a blast from the past! Watts is definitely an interesting read -- I got turned onto him by aging hippies at my first college. I should revisit his work sometime.

KL, they're great to look at, from outside.

SLClaire, that was exactly the point I was trying to make. Thank you.

Unknown Deborah, now let's hope that the alien species in question has a sense organ that perceives vibrations in that range, and figures out that that's what the music is supposed to be...

Kyoto, it's a source of wry amusement to me that many of the people who claim loudest that their atheism is not a religion act just like the most intolerant sort of religious zealots when it comes to competing religions...

Appleknocker said...

You have to read this if you've not.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/opinion/overpopulation-is-not-the-problem.html?hpw

adamatari said...

This is a late comment, but I would like to say that I had a sort of revelatory moment about 6 months ago myself when I was out snorkeling... While I have always seen nature as sacred to some degree, this was less of a reverent or "awesome" experience and more of a subtle but fundamental shift. When out in nature it is easy to be awed, frankly we are very much a small part of a very large universe. Nature is very powerful and ultimately the time scales are far beyond the human.

But this is not so much about that. This felt much more like some sort of Zen awakening.

I had been going through a rough period with very little money and some despair over getting a job. I was watching the fish and I realized that their lives were equal to ours - not lesser - and that the concept of "meaning" when applied to life was an illusion. A fish lives, does the things a fish does, and dies... And we are not really much different. We don't need to excuse our existence or prove our usefulness to society or create "meaning". Our life is granted to us without reservation, and it will leave us just as easily.

While there are things I would like to do in my life that I see as "meaningful", this experience helped me out a lot and changed my perspective deeply. I don't feel as weighted down by expectations or existential dread. Of course, as a human, we are part of society and our own biology drives us to seek status and meaning, but in the end we are a living being on the earth.

That is a small lesson but I feel like it is one that is strongly resisted by the current paradigm (with humans on "top" in both the Abrahamic religions and in the religion of progress). Nature doesn't always shock with beauty or power, sometimes it just knocks softly and delivers a little note.

hadashi said...

@wall0159
"I can still remember reading a David Suzuki book in the mid 90s (forget which, sorry). The basic premise of the book is that our perception of ourselves as being separated from the world around us is a delusion."

Could it have been Alan Watts's The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are"?

He writes about the notion of the "skin bag".

Space Seeder said...

Kyoto, it's a source of wry amusement to me that many of the people who claim loudest that their atheism is not a religion act just like the most intolerant sort of religious zealots when it comes to competing religions...

As an atheist I find it hard to understand where that intolerance comes from. I don't care if others refer to my beliefs as a "worldview" or a "belief system" or a "religion" or any other catagory. The beliefs are what they are and don't suffer at all for what another person may label them.

I'm probably somewhat heretical as atheists go, though. I don't see a need to attack religion itself. Specific instances where it is a source of harm, yes, but not religion in and of itself.

Maybe atheists who feel the way I do are just very quiet, and thus not as well known as those of the Dawkinsian variety.

JMG, I'm curious to know what you mean by the term "rationalist", which you used in your story last week. Is "rationalism" something apart from "being rational"? I see your posts as being very rational. If I may ask, what views do you hold that are not compatible with this "rationalism"?

By the way, I very much enjoyed the comment you made between theories of the early universe and epicycles. That was a connection I had made myself, and I didn't know that some others see it the same way.

John Michael Greer said...

Appleknocker, thank you -- a fine example of hubristic cornucopian drivel.

Adamatari, it sounds as though you just stepped into the new sensibility. More on this as we proceed.

Spaceseeder, "rationalism" is the belief that human reason is the best or only way of knowing truth; in the story, I used it as shorthand for the sort of skepticism toward religious teachings and trust in current scientific beliefs that one finds in, say, many of today's atheists, in drawing one of the story's many ironic contrasts. Personally, I don't think truth as such, pure unqualified truth, can be attained by any human being through any means whatsoever; the best we can do is create models that seem to work most of the time, and reason is only one of many tools that can be applied helpfully to the creation of those models.

Most of the atheists I know, by the way, are perfectly courteous about the differences between their beliefs and others. As so often happens, though, it's the minority of jerks who get all the publicity.

wall0159 said...

Hi JMG,

I've had a look online, and I think the david Suzuki book was "the sacred balance" -- I'm fairly sure, but not certain. Best wishes, wall

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thank you. Fatso will be missed. People are some of the largest predators of them all up here and roadsides are where the freshest grass usually is located. Wombats have such poor eyesight and hearing, that they can’t react to vehicles plus people don’t slow down at night when the wombats are out and about.

Queensland breaks early season heat record

With each passing year things are slowly heating up here. This year, we've broken quite a few records already and it is only very early spring (not sure why I wrote autumn in the previous comment?). Fortunately, I'm going into summer with a lot more water reserves this year. The spring rains seem to me to be doing the same thing they did last year too, which was not very much at all.

Pah, we'll have to agree to disagree about Star Trek. How could you not like the film Star Trek 6?

Hi Deborah,

Thanks for the update on the Voyager craft. I remember eagerly reading the National Geographic photos beamed back from the spacecraft as a youngster and they were always awe inspiring.

Hi Joseph,

Old time farmers here used to say, "keep 10 sheep, when you can feed 10 sheep". Nature is quite simple really.

Regards

Chris

John Doe said...

I have been told shintoists have had this awe at being part of the natural cycle for over a thousand years. In fact, people that refer to them as pantheists derives in a sense from poor translation of the word kami (as gods). In Shinto, as I understand, kami are the spirits in all natural things—the pebble on the roadside, the fern, the sun, the blade of grass, etc—which they revere. In short, poor translation of the word kami as gods leads people to think they are pantheistic, but it's really a result of their reverence of nature.

Obviously, I don't know a lot about the subject. I'm merely relaying that which I was told by Japanese friends, and have seen on an even more flawed source—Japanese television programs (the grown-up kind, at least, not cartoons). Though, still, I thought I'd put it out there.

Nestorian said...

JMG,

I think your appraisal of Christianity in relation to the religious sensibility you articulate is based on the distorted versions of Christianity that have come to prevail in the West. Eastern Christianity is on the whole truer to the essential spirit of the faith, including in the respects you have commented on.

For example, you cite Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as instantiating elements of this new religious sensibility. But in point of fact, this sensibility is not new to Eastern Orthodoxy at all. The ecclesiastical calendar of Eastern Orthodoxy has an ancient feast called the "Blessing of the Waters," which is essentially a celebration of nature in tune with the “new” religious sensibility - one lost to Western Christianity especially since the rise of capitalism and industrialism. A close study of traditional Athonite and Russian Orthodox mysticism will also reveal that nature, as intrinsically beautiful and resplendent, often plays a prominent role.

A further example of the abiding presence of the sensibility you describe in Eastern Christianity is the traditional emphasis on the holiness of all matter, even the most ordinary of dirt and rocks, and its destiny to be freed of the effects of the curse and transfigured in the fullness of time. This theme of the holiness of all matter is especially prominent, I believe, in early Christian Syriac writings.

One last point: The separation of heaven as the locus of personal destiny after death from a renewed and transfigured earth as the locus of the “immanentized eschaton” foretold in scriptural apolcalyptic has its origin in the post-Constantinean depoliticization of the Christian faith. By contrast, the ante-Nicene fathers were hostile to Imperial Rome, and looked forward to the return of Christ among other reasons because it represented the overthrow of this imperial order. This was to be preceded by the Resurrection of the just, and the post-Roman rule of Christ was identified with personal salvation and eternal life after one’s natural death. In other words, “heaven” was not experienced in heaven, but on earth.

In short, the unnatural separation of individual heaven from a transfigured earth is the result of a political accommodation to earthly power that represents a distortion of true biblical and Christian theology. Unfortunately, the Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities embraced this particular “Romanizing” error with as much enthusiasm as the Roman Catholic popes. This is yet another reason why I regard the distinctly non-Roman origin of Nestorian Christianity as theologically important.

Marcello said...

"Yep. Approximately seven billion of them -- every last one of them is going to die: some sooner, some later. All their children will die. All their grandchildren will die. Every last one of their great-great-great-grandchildren will die. It's the cycle of life."

Of course everyone dies but most people would consider a bit tad different to die of old age after having enjoyed a decent life and to starve to death after having watched your children die of the same.This already happens but the end of the current civilization might make it a painful reality not just in distant third world countries...

trippticket said...

@Themon:
If there's an aspect of druidry that I don't particularly care for it's the never-ending nonchalance one-upmanship. I came in search of an alternative to the 3 or 4 songs I'd trialed on YouTube that hadn't really done it for me - you offered a couple, I enjoyed them, done.

I figured that from a group of folks I'd never had much philosophical argument with I might find a little music that fit the same pattern. And I did. Thank you.

Though you certainly cost yourself a certain measure of adoration with your follow-up comment.

trippticket said...

@Liquidparadigm:

The first OBOD druidcast I launched came right out with a didgeridoo in the background of a song called "I Don't Speak Human." I've listened to didge music for a couple decades now, so great start!

I've never been terribly concerned about whether that didge was played by someone with black skin adorned with white dots and swirls, or by a white dude sitting in a train station playing for tips, I just always tended to enjoy it. Thanks for the lead!

Cheers.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Some thoughts on the survival of cultural knowledge.

I realized this morning that the Voyager disc is like that one surviving fragment of Roman music. If anyone ever picks it up, it's likely to be the sole surviving record of long dead musical traditions represented on it.

JMG, as you say, whoever is capable of retrieving the Voyager gold disc will probably be able to transcribe the music and find patterns in it. It doesn't follow that they will know it is art. They might very well think it's a set of mathematical statements, and waste time trying to decipher their meaning without a Rosetta stone. Hoping, perhaps, to learn something about alien Earth tech.

On Earth we have artifacts and entire structures that archeologists don't know the purpose of. Not ooga-booga alien technology, just just stuff that we have entirely lost the tradition of what it's for, or somebody does know perfectly well but the archaeologists haven't talked to that person. It doesn't take much disruption for knowledge of the use of things to be lost and replaced by wild-assed guesses. I saw a mid twentieth century angel food cake cutter in an antiques shop labeled as some kind of comb. And that's not a complicated piece of equipment.

If you have no clue as to the purpose of an artifact, and especially if it's ripped out of its original setting, you will not notice or understand the significance of its details. You might not even recognize that it is an artifact.

Within the last few decades, ecologists and foresters have come to realize that many open meadows that used to exist in California mountain forests were artifacts. In a climax forest without human intervention, the meadows get filled in by trees. The Indians kept meadows open by setting fires periodically, until they were prevented from doing so. European settlers killed most of the Indians and removed the rest from their ancestral lands, and in so doing threw away all their knowledge of forest management.

KL Cooke said...

"I've lost track of the number of times I've lost track of the number of times I've heard that used as an excuse not to think about the future"

Get a load of this one.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/opinion/overpopulation-is-not-the-problem.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130914&_r=0

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi everyone,

The comments above about Druid music sparked my interest and I thought I'd provide some links to some solid Druid music:

Arctic Monkeys - Do I Wanna Know?

This talented independent English band is going from strength to strength and this latest song is no exception. 12 million+ youtube views can't be wrong?

Grouplove - Ways to Go

This song is just strangely catchy as it is a grower. The young lady singing is toothy in a Richard Branson sort of way. Nice teeth, respect. Their early song Tongue tied was exceptionally good too.

British India - Plastic Souvenirs

Local Melbourne lads, British India are writing some great music and are solid performers. I'm really enjoying this recent song.

LORDE - Royals

Yep, the New Zealand Wunderkind at the age of 16 has side music projects and a number 1 song on the US alternative music charts. Well done.

Alright, I fess up. None of those were even related to Druid music. What's that anyway? Pah, you lot need to listen to some current music. It’s good for you, take your medicine and don’t complain. Music culture hasn't peaked.

Regards

Chris

Tom Bannister said...

Enrique -

Thanks for the Link to that blog denouncing JMG as evil and in the pocket of sauron etc. What I find rather interesting about his insistence on JMG being evil because of his point about the incantation is that he (the blogger) kind of proved JMG's point by completely missing it. JMG of course specifically said placing an incarnation on someone who is not willing to accept it will do the exact opposite of what it is meant to do. JMG says "there is no brighter future ahead" and the blogger, not willing to accept this statement, determinedly denounces it as 'evil'.(in opposing the religion of progress). I hope this is an accurate summary (Please correct if I'm not quite right). Cheers

Ray Wharton said...

Things are getting a lot less abstract around here. I had the honor of setting up a guest room for some folks displaced by the recent rains just to my South. Between fire and rain I suspect that certain parts of the mountains are going to start being abandoned. After this event there will most likely be one or two roads they never get around to rebuilding, and plenty of houses that never are replaced by anything so grand. God help Colorado if this flooding is just the start of an unfortunate new weather pattern. With current infrastructure and emergency response infrastructure folks are dealing, a flood like this 10 years down the road would likely involve a good deal more ruthless triage in response.

My guests are settling down to sleep, a good idea which I should copy soon. In the morning sourdough pancakes.

My account of my roommate's daughter singing down the rain had a very different meaning to me by the time that I next checked the comments section here. I suppose in a few years it may turn into a story among my group, I wonder what the moral should be? Be careful what you wish for?

I am blessed where I am, the rain has watered my gardens and compost piles and excused me to have a couple days of reflection and study, with most of my work projects a bit too wet to progress on, except for finishing that aforementioned 14 yard compost pile on Friday (with thanks to my new friend and recent convert to the spiritual homecoming of composting). My house is just high enough to be relatively safe.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3uaXCJcRrE This is my contribution to the Druid music collection for the day, it couldn't be any truer to Colorado.

Ray Wharton said...

http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/31/8/1803



A 5 year drop in life expectancy over 18 years among white women without highschool educations. Smaller, but considerable drops among all without highschool education.

Hopefully my GED will protect me?

Grebulocities said...

I think I'm the opposite of the "meh" crowd, in that I have both reactions at the same time. I do feel a sense of awe at the fact that we are simply another species following its own life cycles like any other form of life, united with the rest of the natural world. But I also feel a sense of despair - I once believed that the future will feature not only a lot of unimaginably advanced technology, but also a better quality of life for most people on the planet. My vision of the future has shifted to one where humanity faces the consequences of its radically unsustainable behavior and falls back down to Earth again in a slow, grinding decline, with plenty of misery to go around. I know that people can and do live meaningful lives in hard times, but it can be difficult to see decline as anything other than a much gloomier outcome than the shiny new world that the religion of progress leads the faithful to expect.

That said, I am slowly shifting toward this new sensibility and accepting the fact that we won't get the future we ordered. Losing faith in a future that delivers humans from suffering is tough, though, and I understand why people like Brin write desperate tirades against your writing. I wrote the same sorts of things on Internet forums just before my faith in progress finally came crashing down.

DeAnander said...

I'm increasingly unsure whether all the miracles of technology have really "delivered humans from suffering." It's a reflection that troubles me; but when we look back, it seems as though the atrocities of C20 were about as atrocious as those of C19, and those were about as bad as the ones in C18, and so on.

The printing press, wondrous as it is, was used early on to print the Malleus Malificarum. The railroads were grand, but they were also often built by slave and corvee labour, and they served to extract the resources of conquered colonial possessions for the benefit of invading overlords. Shipping insurance -- Lloyd's of London -- a sophisticated innovation, and deeply involved in the Triangle Trade (early globalisation!). Do we have to go back through all the ghastly things done to indigenous peoples by the allegedly "advanced" forces of Progress? Or the ways in which the Third Reich made cutting-edge use of early computer technology?

Technology, Progress, all the advances of the fossil fuel era, they definitely freed *some* humans from suffering (and inflicted unthinkable suffering on others). They definitely increased (at least temporarily) the number of living humans present at any one time on the planet -- to an historically unprecedented peak. Transport, organised central governments, communication, hygiene -- yep, great things achieved, famines averted, resources better distributed in some cases, slavery significantly reduced in many areas, nutrition improved, literacy expanded, etc. -- hard to argue with the success stories.

And yet. And yet. It seems to me that if a larger number of humans than ever before are living lives of relative comfort (even luxury) and security, it's *also* true that a larger number of humans than ever before are still living in poverty, hunger, precarity and fear; because the human habit of establishing overdogs and underdogs, and awarding most of the goodies to the overdogs, hasn't changed a whole lot. So now that there are 7 billion of us, there are a lot more underdogs as well as a lot more overdogs; but there are *always* way more underdogs than overdogs at any one given moment.

So if we had a fancy Star Trek dolorimeter device that could actually *measure* the amount of pain, fear, distress and grief in the world, wouldn't that meter be reading higher now that, say, 75 percent of a population of 7 billion is in distress, than it did when 75 percent of a population of 1 billion was in distress? Is that "progress"? I'm not so sure. I used to feel sure. I wish I still felt sure.

Second Wind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcello said...

"A 5 year drop in life expectancy over 18 years among white women without highschool educations. Smaller, but considerable drops among all without highschool education.
Hopefully my GED will protect me?"

It may seem trivial but this is the sort of demographic data that Emmanuel Todd used in 1976 to conclude the soviets were truly done for.

MawKernewek said...

I wonder whether any aliens who find the Voyager disc, if they do, which is unlikely since it is going to simply be drifting in interstellar space, might interpret the tones of the music as a language encoding specific information, rather than as an art form, and spend a great deal of time trying to decipher it as such.

I sometimes wonder what alien languages would be like, perhaps they might be polytonic and their speech to us would sound like music.

There are human languages where tonality has lexical significance, but perhaps there are some alien ones where this is the primary basis of it.

Phil Harris said...

JMG
I for one am never going to catch up with your reading list, but as another comment implied this week - there is much to be gained by trying!

I have just finished CS Lewis lecture series A Discarded Image. This was one of the best books I have read in years. I gave up the study of literature in academic settings when I was 16, because it was too important for me and I did not want it messed up by curricula and academic hand-me-downs. In a way I am glad I only came to this book in my early 70s (still way to go) because I had a chance to get some of my own experience in first. (I hasten to add that his reading list is of course also beyond me.) But I wish the man was still around to engage in discussion! Maybe I should have tried harder back when.

Anyway; thanks a lot!
best
Phil

Liquid Paradigm said...

@Second Wind

Nice straw man, but needs more ketchup.

DeAnander said...

Given that human beings -- and all the other terrestrial mammals -- are more or less a byproduct of trees, it doesn't quite parse to me to "prefer a tree to survive over a human being." Human beings historically do not exist without trees (i.e. all the services that trees provide that maintain a habitable biosphere for us to live in). Trees, however, can exist just fine without human beings :-) and have done so for millions of years.

Anyway, at some point even if one is wholly human-centric (a perfectly natural animal point of view, much as a bear's consciousness is bear-centric and a salmon's is salmon-centric), one has to realise that placing zero value on the biosphere -- regarding all non-human life as worthless compared to human life -- is in the end a suicidal ideology, much like regarding one's intestinal flora as worthless compared to one's brain. The brain will quickly sicken, starve, and die without the nutrients processed by the intestinal flora. Whether we like it or not, perching on the top of the "special" pyramid requires a pyramid (and a hefty one) to perch on. Regarding the rest of the pyramid as worthless or lesser, and regarding its extermination with sangfroid, imho strongly resembles the old cartoon of sawing off the branch that one is sitting on :-)

Surely it is a deeper misanthropy in the last analysis that would condemn future humans to a truly miserable existence in a wholly impoverished biosphere, than one which would urge, for example, lower birth rates and more tree planting in the present to ensure a kindlier biosphere for humans in the future?

Dwig said...

The last two posts, and the conversations arising from them, have sent me off in several directions at once. It'll probably take some serious time before I'm ready to pull it all together (and by that time, the conversation will have moved on...). Such is life.

However, I just ran across a quote that seemed so beautifully relevant, I have to post it:

"My scientist friends have come up with things like "principles of uncertainty" and dark holes. They're willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of "faith"! How strange that the very word "faith" has come to mean its exact opposite."
--Richard Rohr. Theologian

DeAnander said...

"There are human languages where tonality has lexical significance, but perhaps there are some alien ones where this is the primary basis of it."

Hmm, I can think of at least one: cetacean song :-)

Captcha, on the 4th try: entlyink... "Ently ink" ? Perhaps what Druid music is written in?

Brother Kornhoer said...

Trippticket,

If you like Celtic music, you might want to try the Shillelagh Law show on WREK Atlanta (available on the internet at http://wrek.org). WREK is home to several other great shows, including a big-band jazz show, a show of country music from the dawn of the recording age, and a great classic rock show full of all kinds of forgotten rock from that era. One of the station slogans is "music you don't hear on the radio."

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I recently mentioned a federal program for forgiveness of student loans in exchange for work at a nonprofit. Work for a government agency also qualifies. The debtor is required to continue making small payments on the loan for 120 months, but does not have to pay off the loan entirely.

More information may be found at these links. The first is an article in the business section of the Sunday, Sept. 15 San Francisco Chronicle. The other two are descriptions of the programs from the Federal government.

student loan forgiveness

federal FAQ1

federal FAQ2

Brother Kornhoer said...

P.S. The classic rock show is called "Stonehenge." :-).

Brother Kornhoer said...

On the subject of biomimicry, I'm looking forward to this becoming a key part of engineering. Engineering ethics already emphasizes enhancing human health, safety, and welfare; a natural-seeming (to me) extension of this is that engineered systems should protect the environment. To that end, engineered systems should reproduce the flows of nature to the greatest extent possible, so that they can be integrated into the larger natural systems more easily.

John Michael Greer said...

Wall0159, thank you -- I'll see if I can scare up a copy.

Cherokee, I saw no point in coughing up the money to watch it, so never had the chance.

John Doe, my experience with Shinto is that nearly everybody who practices it has a different take on what exactly it means. That's one of the beauties of it!

Nestorian, as I said in my post, there's always a lot of diversity within any given sensibility, nor is any one sensibility universal, even within a given culture. It's entirely possible that the Eastern branches of Christianity have been less tightly gripped by the ideal of salvation from the human condition than those further west. Still, the "renewed and transfigured earth" you mention is -- if the Book of Revelation is any guide -- as far from the human condition we now know as any heaven could be; I'll be discussing the new religious sensibility, as I understand it, in several further posts, and that may help clarify what I'm talking about.

Unknown Deborah, exactly -- and the aliens who examine if, if any ever do, will be in the position of somebody examining an angel food cake cutter who has never heard of angel food cake, or any other kind of cake. We tend to drastically misunderestimate the potential alienness of aliens!

KL, see my response to Appleknocker above!

Cherokee, well, to each his own. I'm middle-aged now, which qualifies me to roll my eyes at the awful things kids listen to nowadays, grumble grumble grumble.

Ray, glad that your friends made it out in one piece. As for the statistic, I agree with Marcello's comment below.

Grebulocities, I've wondered more than once if what's behind Brin's fist-pounding outrage is that he knows that vat-grown meat isn't going to save us...

DeAnander, that's one of those extraordinarily difficult questions for which nobody has an answer. I'd also note that when people get their physical needs met, they routinely find other things to suffer from.

John Michael Greer said...

Second Wind, what you're saying amounts to the claim that anybody who doesn't think that human beings are much more important than all other species must think that human beings are much less important than all other species. Are you sure you can't think of any other alternatives? No doubt some of the other readers here can help you out if necessary.

MawKernewek, and then there's the very real possibility that they don't communicate using sound waves at all, but use something else -- pulsed magnetic fields, for example.

Phil, Lewis' reading list is beyond me, too -- he was one of the best medievalists of the 20th century, and could read bad medieval Latin the way you and I read English. (I can pick my way through bad medieval Latin with a dictionary, thus admire his facility all the more.) He ran with a talented bunch; Tolkien could pray extempore in Gothic, for example.

Dwig, thank you! That gets you tonight's gold star. Rohr is quite correct; faith is not the insistence that one's beliefs are proven and absolutely correct -- it's the willingness to trust when knowledge isn't an option, but love is.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Off topic for this week, but perhaps on topic for broader concerns of this blog--

California mandates that electric utility companies increase the percentage of electric power supplied from renewable sources. (excluding nuclear and large hydroelectric). Substantially increasing the proportion of renewable sources creates a problem for the grid. Turbines are most efficient when running 24/7 but wind and solar power are not steady, nor readily powered up and down to meet short term demand. Geothermal power is steady, but not much is available in California.

According to an article in today's (Sunday) SF Chronicle, the commission which regulates California's utilities about to to require that utilities increase their power storage capacity in order to smooth out the flow.

Pacific Gas and Electric already has some pumped hydro storage via kinetic energy (you pump water from a lower reservoir to a higher at night when demand is low, and release it through turbines the next day). CPUC wants the utilities to purchase and develop other storage technologies such as battery banks, compressed air, flywheels and molten salt. Most of these require technological improvement. Batteries are the only tech suitable for distributed generation at present.

Obviously the energy losses inherent in multiple transitions of energy form added to transmission losses make it unlikely that these arrangements will be sustained for long. However, getting utility companies to invest in improved technology for electrical power storage while the money is available and the demand exists is probably a good thing. Link to the article:

proposal for utilities to store energy

onething said...

To second what Nestorian wrote, in Eastern Orthodox writings it is said that man is the terrestrial angel.

And, for what it's worth, the Eastern church did not like the book of Revelation, and voted against it but were outvoted.

Second Wind said,
"I reject the claim that you cannot hold humanity as being truly special without at the same time revering nature and being humbled by our dependence upon it."

Actually, I think it goes the other way. For example, Christians are thought to hold humanity in very high regard. But that is not so. Things have reached such a dismal point in Christianity that some now teach "utter depravity" the idea that human beings are so sinful, such a worthless lot, that their natural, default state is hell! That all humans perfectly justly belong in hell, and only this marvelous exception will be made for those few who grovel correctly will be saved from this natural fate. Is it any wonder then that such people consider animals and nature in such low regard? Personally, I find human beings amazing to such an extent that I have no trouble at all lifting animals up quite high.

onething said...

I don't think that's what Second Wind said! He is rather reacting against those who, seeing the destruction of nature, go to the opposite extreme of having little regard for humans. They end up being two sides of the same coin, both having low regard for humans. I don't see a positive outcome from that.

onething said...

A Russian monk in the 1930s:

"What has befallen me? How came I to lose joy, and shall I attain to that joy again?
Weep with me, all ye wild beasts and birds. Weep with me, forest and desert, Weep with me, every creature created of God, and comfort me in my sorrow."

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown Deborah, thanks for the details. As for the California utilities, good -- whether storage of grid power is going to be a viable option or not, we need to know sooner rather than later, and putting it to a legally mandated test ought to sort that out.

Brother K., funny. As for biomimicry, oh, granted -- as soon as engineers get over the idea that human beings by definition know better than nature, that's likely to become a major issue.

Onething, "utter depravity" goes back quite a ways -- John Calvin was teaching that during the Reformation, and I don't believe it was a new idea in his time. I grant that it's not a helpful notion! As for Second Wind, well, obviously I disagree -- he's insisting that anyone who doesn't have an exaggerated regard for humans must suffer from "psychopathic misanthropy." I find that logically dubious, as well as insulting.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

So much for not raining. I've had about an inch dumped here today and then later tonight, they're predicting a 20-30 minute thunderstorm. That jungle planet may happen sooner than anticipated. Meanwhile in central Australia:

Record unprecedented early heat in Alice Springs

hehe! No worries, I get you about the music and Star Trek. Dissensus rules the day! You may just surprise us all one day, by commenting that you enjoyed the latest instalment of the Star Trek franchise. At this point we’ll all have to suspect that Space Lizards and/ or walruses have taken you over and are transmitting their evil messages! Hehe!

The kangaroos love the rain and are happily out munching on the herbage. Both mums (of the mob of 3 roos plus two joeys) have a joey in their pouches and you can see the little tikes happily having a good scratch of their ears and generally looking around at everything.

I'm really enjoying this series of essays as there really is a spiritual dimension to all of this.

From personal experience, I can see that going against the dominant meme and doing something completely different and unexpected, there was a substantial period of adjustment when I spent time looking for a new story / sense of purpose (it is hard to put the experience into words).

I certainly didn't do something different, just for the sake of rebellion. The dominant meme of society just felt like an incorrect path at odds with my internal belief systems. It didn't help that I'm deeply cynical about the soothing lull-a-bys that get shopped around.

When it becomes obvious that the dominant story can't deliver for the majority of the population then most people will have to go through some sort of readjustment (?) of their internal narratives and this is a spiritual as well as physical journey.

Certainly we don't lack for the know how to achieve an ecotechnic society, it really is a question of the spiritual dimensions and the difficulty in accepting the limitations that that narrative will deliver in the face of the current plenty that is observed first hand in Industrial countries.

I worry that sooner or later, someone very charismatic will come along and offer to return us all to a time of plenty, in exchange for absolute power. Probably a stage we have to go through though...

Regards

Chris

Brian said...

JMG: Your link to the Druidry Handbook no longer works.

Second Wind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Clyde said...

Speaking of changing sensibilities, it sure is interesting to see that Japan is shutting down all of its nuclear facilities indefinitely, "for repairs"...

Travis said...

I am often amazed how blogs I read, or certain folks I listen to on podcast, delve into the very thoughts I have been having. For instance this weeks post playing with religious sensibility, and last weeks on immense amounts of time, fits into a philosophical wall of sorts I have been running up against, or perhaps in, for most my life, becoming more acute as of late; How does one not become nihilistic in the face of infinite? Gods, big bang, aliens, evolution, anything one can imagine is nothing but moving images on the back drop of, I suppose what I would call in the most nonreligious sense, God. God being the catch all. God being the everything and nothing. I wonder how others deal with, what is to me the unavoidable conclusion of all true philosophy, or religious thought, that all that exist is the one. That nothing can happen that the potential for was not already present. I say the one knowing that that implies the other, but alas words often fall short of infinite.
Thanks again.

Swathorne said...

I need to quickly comment on Carl Sagan, who someone here derided as a propagandist for the religion of progress earlier. Sagan was hugely concerned with anthropocentrism and urgently warned us to use our scientific capabilities to stabilize our ecosystems. "Who Speaks for Earth" anyone? While he adored the stars and space...he was very aware of the cognitive limitations which put our species at peril.

I clearly see that there is much that has transpired in the non-commerical scientific community over the past 50 years that is allied and in agreement with this "new sensibility".

I hate to see scientific thought thrown out the window by some commenters here.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, I've long suspected that you're right, and that charismatic scoundrels who claim to be able to bring back the good old days will have a field day in the near future. I've got a future post in the works tentatively titled "Weimar America."

Brian, thanks for the heads up -- the publisher must have changed their website around. I'll get it fixed.

Second Wind, well, I'd hoped that you might have something substantive and interesting to add, too, but apparently that's not the case. Your first comment was belligerent, your second petulant: classic trolling behavior, and not welcome here, so I think "go away" is the proper response.

Richard, isn't it? That's very much the Japanese way of doing things; they'll never formally announce that they're getting out of nuclear power, just as they'll never formally admit that they have nuclear weapons. It just happens, with an appropriate verbal smokescreen in the way.

Travis, that's certainly one way to look at it. Still, I'd encourage you to reflect on the fact that all this talk about billions of years and the like is simply chatter about mental models that we can never be sure have any relation to reality. This moment, this experience, is the closest approach we've got to what is; the rest is speculation and monkey-chatter.

Swathorne, Sagan was a very complex thinker; I challenge you to read, say, The Demon-Haunted World or Pale Blue Dot as anything but paeans in praise of the Great God Progress, but he also had his own distinctive ecological sensibility. I have no idea how future generations will assess his thinking; I know I find him about as congenial as fingernails screeching down blackboards, but that's probably just a personal thing.

Of course your broader point is correct; it's precisely because of systems theory, ecosystem ecology, and other branches of "green science" that we have the clear sense of ecological interconnections that we do, and I've been talking for some time about the need to conserve as much as possible of the scientific method and the more helpful discoveries of the last three hundred years through the time of troubles ahead. Unfortunately some of the ways that science as a set of institutions and a subculture have developed are likely to make that a difficult task; I'll be talking about that more as we proceed.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Yeah, it is just a gut feel thing as in general our society has a penchant for taking the easy path and nest feathering. I may be wrong though and we just may enter a phase of co-operation (or something else), but a culture of individualism makes us ripe for the pickings.

The end tally for yesterday’s rain was 40mm or a bit over an inch and a half.

If anyone is interested in how the field mouse and rat situation turned out here, I wrote an article about it. The photos are worth checking out even if you don't read the article:

Of mice and men... and chooks

The enforcer chook is really actually the enforcer in that collective. She quickly sorts out problems with a heavy claw.

I was pretty chuffed about the title too, although I'm not really taking the mickey out of a classic bit of American literature!

Regards

Chris

Unknown said...

Wait, there were people who responded to your post last week not by feeling inspired, relieved, and full of hope, but rather depressed or even angry? That...was not a response I had even considered possible while reading it. Huh.

Being essentially on that side of the dividing line since 1986,
--Mark H

BILL said...

In my Opinion religion has never taken "Thermodynamics" into consideration,Nor does any of the naysayer's have any kind of a handle on what that big word encompasses. Just my thoughts after reading some of the comments...Bill

Phil Harris said...

@Cherokee
Chris, re chooks article: nice one!
“If things seem a bit odd, it is probably because they are”.
That deserves framing.
(I have been outwitted by rats in the past. Some of the young ones though are not as smart as they think they are. There are even daft rats! And the youngest ones can die from traumatic shock when they venture into the wide world. I have a fair number of rat stories – some might even be considered parables. “Plans of mice and men …”?)

@Second Wind
It might be worth taking a deep breath and staying on the sidelines for a while? JMG seemed to be trying to cut a bit of slack; Q: “Are you sure you can't think of any other alternatives?”
One of the several useful things I learned from hanging around here for a while was that I was not nearly the tolerant person I thought I was. And that I did have opinions - including some about myself – based of course on a “lifetime of experience” (oh well…), and those said opinions needed a bit of, err… ‘Reflection’ and needed some re-framing if I wanted anybody to understand where I was coming from.
Best
Phil H

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear JMG,

I think there was something to what Second Wind said and was saddened to see him/her asked to go away (it wasn't just my penchant for controversy). I was reminded of a cartoon of a PETA raid on an animal testing lab: a few dead scientists lying around in their lab coats, a PETA warrior with a semi-automatic rifle slung across her shoulder petting a rabbit, saying something like "poor little bunny". There is a totally unsustainable pet culture going on, where people (mostly middle aged women) who have not been able to form intimate human bonds and/or satisfy their need for nurturing, resort to forming intimate bonds with pets instead (the pets are easier than humans in many ways). In more sustainable cultures, animals give back more than just love/loyalty and are expected to provide a large portion of their own food.
I wonder if pet culture is part of the emerging new religious sensibility or a symptom of the old one.

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

@BILL

That's probably because most of them were defined before thermodynamics was ever conceived of.

That said, check out Isaiah 51:6:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die like gnats;

but my salvation will be for ever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
(RSV)

It was precisely a sense of the impermanence of all things that lead to the longing for escape from that impermanence.

That said, I personally try to keep things like the fate of the universe in the perspective of human ignorance: the heat death of the universe is an extrapolation assuming that how things seem to be going will hold for the next 20-40 billion years with no as-yet-undetected forces or complications coming into play.

If all we knew about the world were forces that could be detected at the level of quantum mechanics, we'd never have formulated the theory of gravity.

So, between our ignorance, the great distance between us and the end of all things, and our total powerlessness to stop it if that's our destiny, it hardly seems worth concerning ourselves with.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG -- will be interested to see your thoughts on Weimar America.

I just finished Dmitri Orlov's book, which was seriously depressing. It takes me a while to digest such things, but I think he's missed the mark in a few ways.

The Soviet Union spent a long, long time collapsing, long enough to develop widespread dofenism, which he translates as "not giving a rat's ass." By the time the SU collapsed, no one believed in it any more -- not the people, not the soldiers, not the police, not even the officials. It basically just went away: quietly and gently, as such things go. Orloff talks about how one day, Andropov stood up and called it the "former Soviet Union," and that was that.

I hope we have enough time for dofenism to develop here, but I don't think we will. I think we're going to see a very different pattern of collapse.

The True Believers in America's Destiny are going to respond to a contracting economy by contracting and intensifying geographically, abandoning some areas entirely, but becoming much more ardent "Patriotic Americans" where they can: this is consistent with our whole metaphor of concentrating wealth, concentrating power, concentrating celebrity.

Following the idiotic pattern of some of our large corporations, the US will be carved up into "cost centers" and "profit centers," and the "cost centers" will be -- well, laid off. Federal support will be quietly, unofficially withdrawn, as when Katrina turned New Orleans into an overwhelming liability. I think those will be the best places to live, in the long run....

Because in the contested areas, the "profit centers," a high standard of living will be artificially supported, but as the system crumbles, those areas will be partitioned -- I'm guessing along racial lines -- to sustain the American Lifestyle with its same high standard of living among fewer and fewer people. The increasingly militarized police forces will demonize the underclass and take out their frustrations on those people: DWB (Driving While Black), for instance, will incur a randomly-distributed and ugly death sentence (in some places, it has almost reached that point, though the police usually stop at hospitalizing the "offender.") At some point, there will be a violent backlash from the underclass, and given modern communications, it will probably erupt everywhere at once.

I would like to hope that the underclass would win, but I don't think they will. We'll have our own Krystallnacht, and the militarized regime that survives will be ... brutal. While it lasts.

For reference, I point out that Germany's infamous Thousand-Year Reich lasted for only twelve years, and had invaded (and totally pissed-off) most of its neighbor-states, which got the remaining neighbors involved in shutting them down.

The contracted US, depending on how tightly it has contracted, will likely have no fronts within striking range: the area that Mexico will try to take back will be one of the areas the Feds will cede early in the game as a "cost center." As a result, I think the world community will quietly write off its financial losses and simply abandon the US to its second civil war.

Ugly.

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