Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Life Preservers for Mermaids

The new religious sensibility I began to sketch out in last week’s Archdruid Report post is a subtle thing, and easy to misunderstand. It was thus inevitable that a number of commenters over the last week misunderstood it, or what I was saying about it. Typical of this response were those who thought that the new sensibility I was talking about was simply a matter of ecological concern, and pointed to a variety of existing religious and irreligious traditions that embody ecological concern as a way of suggesting that the new sensibility wasn’t anything new.
Just now, the state of the world being what it is, the presence of ecological concern in any tradition of human thought is something to celebrate. Still, the new religious sensibility I have in mind isn’t simply a matter of caring about the environment. It implies certain things about the relation between humanity and the rest of nature, to be sure, and some of these things are radically different from the implications of the older sensibility that’s shaped the religious thought of the western world for the last couple of millennia. Still, it’s possible to care profoundly about the environment from within the old sensibility, and it’s no doubt possible to ignore humanity’s dependence on the natural world from within the new one, though I admit I haven’t yet been able to figure out how.

To grasp what’s actually involved in the new religious sensibility, we can begin with Ugo Bardi’s thoughtful response to my post of two weeks ago, The Next Ten Billion Years. In his post, Bardi noted the difference between those visions of the future that see history as repeating endlessly—the eastern vision, in his phrasing—and those visions, more common in the western world, that see history as passing through a single arc from beginning to end. He pointed out, and correctly, that the distinction between these two visions rests on fundamental presuppositions about existence, and arguments between them end up circling endlessly without resolution because the common understandings that would allow agreement simply aren’t there.

It’s a valid point. Still, our visions don’t fall as cleanly on either side of that line as a casual reading of Bardi’s post might suggest. Both our portrayals of the future incorporate the inevitable death of the Earth’s biosphere due to the steadily increasing heat of the Sun—Bardi used an estimate of when this will take place that differs from the one that guided my narrative, but it’s not as though anyone alive today knows exactly when the thing will happen, and either story could be made to fit the other estimate with a modest change in dates. Both presuppose that the Earth will be changed profoundly by its history and the presence of intelligent life, and that these changes will affect whatever future civilizations may rise on this planet. Bardi’s “good future” ends, for that matter, with a far more dramatic circling around to the beginning than mine did, with his artificial intelligence taking on God’s role in Genesis 1:1 et seq. and saying “Let there be light” to a new creation.

Those parallels aren’t accidental. Partly, of course, they’re a product of the fact that both narratives are set in the same universe, governed by the same facts of stellar, planetary, and biological evolution, and partly they’re a product of the fact that I deliberately modeled my future history on Bardi’s. I could have done so even more exactly, avoiding all references to historical cycles, and my narrative would still have gotten the fascinating split response I fielded last week. The core issue that distinguishes my narrative from Bardi’s isn’t that mine is cyclical while his is linear.  It’s that in his “good future,” history has a direction—the direction of cumulative technological progress toward cyber-godhood—while in his “bad future,” and in my narrative, it has none. 

That’s the fault line that my narrative was intended to demonstrate—or, from the point of view of devout believers in the religion of progress, the sore toe on which it was designed to stomp. Certainly those of my readers who found the narrative infuriating, depressing, or both, zeroed in on that point with commendable precision. To borrow a turn of phrase from one of the more evidently anguished of my readers, if I’m right, we’re stuck on this rock—“this rock” meaning, of course, what those of a different sensibility would call the living Earth in all its vastness and wonder, the unimaginably rich and complex whole system of which Homo sapiens is one small and decidedly temporary part.

It’s interesting to note the wholly abstract nature of that that passionate desire to leave “this rock” somewhere back there in the interstellar dust. Neither the reader from whose comment I borrowed that phrase, nor any of the others who expressed similar sentiments, showed any particular concern about the fact that they themselves were unlikely ever to have the chance to board a starship and go zooming off toward infinity. In Bardi’s narrative, for that matter, no human being will ever get that chance. To believers in progress, none of that matters. What matters is that Man, or Life, or Mind, or some other capitalized abstraction—in the traditional folk mythology of progress, the initial capital is what tells you that an abstract concept has suddenly morphed into a mythic hero—is going to do the thing.

To the believer in progress, history must have a direction, and it has to make cumulative progress in that direction. That’s specifically the thing I went out of the way to exclude from my narrative, while including nearly everything else that the mythology of progress normally includes. My portrayal of the future, after all, allots to human civilizations of the future a time span around 2200 times the length of all recorded history to date; it assumes that future human societies will accomplish impressive things that we haven’t—the aerostat towns and floating cities of a million years from now were meant to whet that particular appetite; it even assumes that relics of one of our species’ proudest achievements, the Apollo moon landings, will still be around to impress the stuffing out of a future intelligent species a hundred million years from now. To believers in progress, though, long life, stupendous achievements, and a legacy reaching into the far future aren’t enough; there has to be something more.

We’ll get to the nature of that “something more” later on. For the moment, I want to refocus on just how much time and possibility my narrative allows for human beings. One of the subtle traps hidden in the extraordinary human invention of abstract number is the bad habit of thinking that because we can slap a number on something, we can understand it. We talk about millions of years as though we’re counting apples, and lose track of the fact that “a million years” is a symbolic label for a period that’s quite literally too huge for the human mind to begin to grasp.

A human generation is the average period between when a child is born and when it fathers or bears children of its own. Over the course of most of human history, that’s averaged around twenty years. Those of my readers who have had children, or who have reached or passed the age when having a first child is common, might want to take a moment to think back over that interval in their own lives. There have been just under twelve generations—twelve periods as long as it took you to grow from infancy to adulthood—since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, seventy-seven since the fall of Rome, around two hundred fifty since the beginning of recorded history, and 12,500 or so since Homo sapiens evolved out of its hominid ancestors. By contrast, over the period my narrative allots to the human future, there’s room for 550,000 more—that is, well over half a million further generations of humankind—and most of them will experience the cultural and practical benefits of one or another of the 8,638 global civilizations to come.

The point I’m hoping to make here can be sharpened even further if we imagine that my narrative had included, say, the successful human colonization of Mars, or even the establishment of human colonies on hypothetical Earthlike planets around Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani, during the course of that eleven million year span. In that case, we would have gotten off this rock, and onto a few others, with a few orbital colonies or moonbases thrown in for good measure. Would that have satisfied those of my readers who were angered or depressed by the narrative? To judge by previous experiences, not if those colonies don’t spawn colonies in their turn, and so on out to infinity. To believers in the civil religion of progress, anything short of limitless cumulative extension just won’t cut it.

It’s in this context that the intrusion of religious imagery at the end of Bardi’s narrative is so revealing—yes, it was just as revealing in its original setting, in the Isaac Asimov short story from which Bardi borrowed it. Such things are astonishingly common in progress-centered visions of the future. I’ve talked more than once about the contemporary faith in the Singularity, that supposedly soon-to-arrive event—Ray Kurzweil’s prophecy puts it in 2045—when every detail of modern Protestant Rapture theology is supposed to appear in science-fiction drag, with superhuman artificial intelligences filling the role of Jesus, outer space that of heaven, robot bodies that of the glorified bodies of the elect, and so on through the list. More generally, from Olaf Stapledon right through to the present, attempts to project the curve of progress into the future reliably end up borrowing imagery and ideas from the mythic vocabulary of the western world’s theist religions, and the further they go into the future, the more extensive the borrowings become.

An earlier post in this sequence pointed out that civil religions like the modern faith in progress are derivative from, even parasitic on, the older theist religions that they replace. Partly that’s because theist religions inevitably get there first, and make extensive use of whatever superlatives their culture happens to prefer, so the civil religions that come afterwards end up borrowing images and ideas already shaped by centuries of theology.  I suggest, though, that there’s more to it than that.  Many of the people who dropped Christianity for a belief in the future triumph of science, progress, and human reason in a godless cosmos, for example, still had the emotional needs that were once met by Christianity, and inevitably sought fulfillment of those needs from their new belief system.

Those needs, in turn, aren’t universal to all human beings everywhere; they’re functions of a particular religious sensibility that began to emerge, as I described last week, in the western half of Eurasia around 600 BCE.  That sensibility shaped a variety of older and newly minted religious traditions in at least as diverse a range of ways, but the core theme with which all of them contended was a profound distaste for nature, history, and the human condition, and the conviction that there had to be an escape hatch through which the chosen few could leap straight out of the “black iron prison” of the world, into the infinity and eternity that was supposed to be humankind’s true home.

Exactly where to find the escape hatch and how to get through it was a matter of fierce and constant disagreement. From one perspective, the hatch would only fit one person at a time, and could be passed through by rigorous spiritual discipline. From another, the unique qualities of a prophet or savior had opened the escape hatch wide, so that everyone who embraced the true faith wholeheartedly and kept some set of moral or behavioral precepts could expect to leap through at some point after physical death. From still another, the hatch would someday soon be opened so wide that the whole world and everyone on it would slip through, in an apocalyptic transformation that would abolish nature, history, time and change all at once. Much of the complexity of the last two thousand years or so of Eurasian religious history comes from the fact that devout believers in any faith you care to name embraced each of these options, and blended them together in a dizzying assortment of ways.

As western civilization moved through the same historical transformations as its predecessors, and the rise of rationalism drove the replacement of traditional theist religions with civil religions, the same quest for an escape hatch from nature, history, and the human condition expressed itself in different ways. The discussion of civil religions earlier in this sequence of posts explored some of the ways that civil religions borrowed the rhetoric and imagery of their theist predecessors.

The civil religion of progress was arguably the most successful of all in coopting the forms of older religions. It had an abundance of saints, martyrs, and heroes, and a willingness to twist history to  manufacture others as needed; the development of technology, buoyed by a flood of cheap abundant energy from fossil fuels, allowed it to supplant the miracle stories of the older faiths with secular miracles of its own; the rise of scientific and engineering professions with their own passionate subcultures of commitment to the myth of progress gave it the equivalent of a priesthood, complete with ceremonial vestments in the form of the iconic white lab coat; the spread of materialist atheism as the default belief system among most scientists and engineers gave it a dogmatic creed that could be used, and in many circles is being used, as a litmus test for loyalty to the faith and a justification for warfare—so far, at least, merely verbal—against an assortment of unbelievers and heretics. 
What the civil religion of progress didn’t have, at least in its early stages, was the escape hatch from nature, history, and the human condition that the religious sensibility of the age demanded. This may well be why belief in progress remained a minority faith for so long. The nationalist religions of the 18th century, of which Americanism is a survivor, and the social religions of the 19th, of which Communism was the last man standing, both managed the trick far earlier—nationalism by calling the faithful to ecstatic identification with the supposedly immortal spirit of the national community and the eternal ideals for which it was believed to stand, such as liberty and justice for all; social religions such as Communism by offering believers the promise of a Utopian world “come the revolution” hovering somewhere in the tantalizingly near future.

It was science fiction that finally provided the civil religion of progress with the necessary promise of salvation from the human condition. The conceptual sleight of hand with which this was done deserves a discussion of its own, and I intend to discuss it in next week’s post. Yet one consistent result of the way it was done has been a reliance on overtly theistic imagery far more open and direct than anything in the other civil religions we’ve discussed. From H.G. Wells’ Men Like Gods straight through to the latest geek-pope pontifications about the Singularity, the idea that humanity will attain some close approximation to godhood, or at least give metaphorical birth to artificial intelligences that will accomplish that feat, pervades the more imaginative end of the literature of progress—just as the less blatantly theological ambition to banish poverty, want, illness, and death from the realm of human experience has played a central role in the rhetoric of progress all along.

There are, as it happens, at least two serious problems with the project of perching humanity on some approximation of a divine throne in heaven. The first, as discussed here at length, is that the project isn’t exactly performing to spec at the moment. Three hundred years of accelerating drawdown of the Earth’s irreplaceable natural resources, and the three hundred years of accelerating damage to the Earth’s biosphere made inevitable by that process, have exempted a rather small fraction of our species from the more serious kinds of poverty and the more readily curable diseases, and handed out an assortment of technological toys that allow them to play at being demigods now and then, when circumstances permit.  As nonrenewable resources run short and the impacts of ecological blowback mount, it’s becoming increasingly clear that only drastic efforts are likely to preserve any of these advantages into the future—and those drastic efforts are not happening.

Talk, as Zen masters are fond of saying, does not cook the rice, and enthusiastic chatter about artificial intelligence and space manufacturing does nothing to keep contemporary industrial society from stumbling down the same ragged trajectory toward history’s compost heap as all those dead civilizations that came before it. If anything, the easy assumption that the onward march of progress is unstoppable, and the artificial intelligences and orbital factories are therefore guaranteed to pop into being in due time, has become one of the major obstacles to constructive action at a time when constructive action is desperately needed. The use of emotionally appealing fantasies as a source of soothing mental pablum for those who, for good reason, are worried about the future is wildly popular these days, to be sure, but it’s hardly helpful.

Yet it’s at this point that the new religious sensibility I discussed in last week’s post throws a wild card into the game. It’s been my repeated experience that for those who already feel the new sensibility, the old promises haven’t just lost their plausibility; they’ve lost their emotional appeal. It’s one thing to proclaim salvation from nature, history, and the human condition to those who want that salvation but no longer believe that the ideology you’re offering can provide it. It’s quite another to do the same thing to people who no longer want the salvation you’re offering—people for whom nature, history, and the human condition aren’t a trap to escape, as they have been for most people in the western world for the last two millennia, but a reality to embrace in delight and wonder.

That’s the unexpected void that’s opening up beneath the feet of civil and theist religions alike at this turn of history’s wheel. In order to appeal to societies in which most people embraced the older religious sensibility, with its desperate craving for escape from the world of ordinary experience, religious traditions of both kinds have come to picture their role as that of lifeguards throwing life preservers to clumsy swimmers at risk of drowning in the waters of existence. What are they to do when a growing number of the swimmers in question ignore the flotation devices and, diving back into the depths of the water, show mermaid’s tails?


Bill Pulliam said...

In a recent conversation about all these ideas of transcendence and escape and all of that, I summarized my own feelings on those concepts this way:

"But, I like it here..."

Tom Bannister said...

Mermaids Tails!! Brilliant! Yup, its been my wonder for some time that people 'need' to keep progressing. I've always found if you have an eye on some future utopia, you don't enjoy the even better than utopia of existence: Reality/ the here and now!

Pain, suffering, I've come to all realize its all well... really quite fun and challenging. I'm not saying we have to suffer btw, but more often than not we will pass through suffering (as you will well know) to get to somewhere better.

Anyway, that's all I've got to say. Thanks!

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm just thinking out loud, but isn't the act of escape (or the need to act) usually driven by fear?

Fear shows a lack of acceptance, to me anyway.

Hi Phil,

Thanks for the story. Terriers punch well above their weight!



John Michael Greer said...

Bill, exactly. Exactly.

Tom, and that's one of the things I found least appealing about Bardi's future. A hundred million years in a robot-managed utopia pursuing hobbies?

Cherokee, I'm not sure that's a safe generalization. What I gather from reading the history of the old sensibility is that what motivated it was a sense that humanity somehow deserved something better than the world we know. Still, there may be fear down there somewhere as well.

John Michael Greer said...

Sunseeker (offlist), got it -- thanks for catching the garbled html.

Ray Wharton said...

I am reminded of Schopenhauer and his 'denial of the will' as being an extreme case of the old religious sensibility, a gainsaying to the world as it is. Be it erased or replaced!

The desire that there be an end to pain and suffering.

Nietzsche put a lot of thought into a reaction, mostly against, this. Much of his working life was filled with pain, both physical and emotional. Yet his disposition toward life was still one that felt it should be loved as strongly as a beings strength makes possible. To the love of life! De Cappo!

You can learn a lot about a mermaid by what happens when they get wet.

Alan Zulch said...

Mermaids tails might be considered attributes of the Sacred Feminine, equipped to swim, not sink, in the waters of the unconscious. I wonder whether you plan on discussing the role of the Feminine qualities of existence – so profoundly marginalized and demonized in our Culture of Progress – such as intuition, non-linear ways of knowing, and such?

Joel Caris said...


First off, let me say that I've been loving this series on religion. I haven't been around to comment for much of it as I took the summer off from the computer (an excellent decision) but I've been keeping up with the posts via the library, though that doesn't leave time for keeping up with the comments.

Anyway, the idea of a new religious sensibility, and Bill's comment above, left me thinking of my experience with a 10 day silent meditation retreat I did a couple years back at a Vipassana center in Washington state. It came highly recommended by a friend whom I trust and I was excited to give it a try. But, oh boy, it wasn't so much for me. The place where the center is was beautiful, I enjoyed walking around the grounds, the food was great, the hospitality lovely, and I stayed the entire time and found great value in not speaking for 10 days . . . but I just could not get past ol' S.N. Goenka's desire to teach me how to transcend the human existence. I never could decide if I was just missing something in the translation from an eastern culture to my decidedly non-eastern upbringing, but the whole thing seemed to be predicated on an ultimate goal of transcending and leaving behind everything about human life that I find so interesting and invigorating. I like being sad sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes. I like how messy and complicated life is, how relationships inspire strong emotions, how mixed up hurt and pain and joy and love is. I just didn't want to transcend this experience; as Bill said, I like it here.

Not to mention, it also drove me crazy that it was explicitly stated that you couldn't meditate outside, at least not until you were far more advanced. Outside was far too distracting. All those smells, sounds, and sensations, those other plants and creatures gumming up your ability to focus intently on yourself. Can't have that.

Walking around the grounds kept me sane during the retreat. I remember one walk a few days in during which I stopped and for maybe five or ten minutes found myself watching a group of birds in the brush. This was in early December, the brush was little more than bare twigs, and it was quite cold. This group of birds was poking around at some remaining, shriveled berries, looking for something decent to eat. I just watched them, and thought about birds and humans, the eating patterns of the seasons, and before you knew it I realized that I felt like I had received more wisdom in those five minutes of bird watching than in the previous three days of meditation.

In fact, most of my memories from that retreat are rooted in nature: those aforementioned bird; the night I walked with the group back to our rooms for bed and realized suddenly that a number of deer were just feet away from us in the dark, munching on the grass, apparently unconcerned by all these silent humans at a vegetarian retreat; the extreme cold snap that brought such sharp air and a thin blanket of dry snow.

I don't regret the experience in the least, but the religious sensibility behind it definitely did not work for me. I think now I have a better idea of why.

Tom Bannister said...

Just another thought I've had (and this is just a wild guess) it would almost seem to me like the religious sensibility of salvation arises with increased opportunities to vastly increase ones material wealth or social status (hence the rise of empires/ city states etc) and people realize there is an alternative way to live than to the simpler clan based hunter gatherer/ agricultural existence. We began to believe we can do 'big' things and hence avoid/not need to face up to the here and now.

Now of course, so many more of us have attempted such a 'bigger' existence and it has proved ultimately unfulfilling. Word is more strongly than ever seeping back that a 'big' existence is not necessarily all its cracked up to be. Anyway, just my theory. Cheers

P.S: Not that we shouldn't aspire to do 'big' things. But it need not replace the present moment.

Thijs Goverde said... my narrative, it has none. Except, of course for the tendency toward increased cephalisation in all vertebrates + at least one species of mollusc.
And also the fact that it goes around in circles, which is a kind of direction as well.
A soothng enough vision - your universe makes a lot more sense than the one I live in!
Mine is just a reality I neither want to escape nor embrace - it just sits there (with me somewehere in it).
Hi ho.

Leo said...

These posts have made me notice how the great god progress still has a hold on parts of the peak oil sphere.

Ugo Bardi is a case in point.

It's anti-religion, apocalypse has an even stronger hold on other parts. But that was always obvious.

Derv said...

I'm a traditionalist Catholic, and so a believer by definition in some final apocalypse and transcendence of mankind. I have no problem discussing and analyzing my religious beliefs through a lens of religious cultural critique. I rather enjoy your insights, and do see the development of a new sensibility.

That said, I think it's important not to oversimplify things here, nor to treat this as a purely cultural phenomenon. The notion of religion as a remedy to human suffering is a response to the very real existence of human suffering. It's difficult to justify the existence of pure principles, beings or purposes with the rather messy reality of life. That's not to imply the responses are contrived, mind you, but I think this notion of a broad religious sensibility is a very slippery thing.

Nearly all religions answer the question of death, as it is (at the very least) a source of fear. If the answer isn't anything at all pleasant, people aren't likely to want to believe it. As such, any religion that takes hold in the public imagination must offer some consolation of death, some answer to the fear of annihilation.

I see the beauty of the human condition and the natural world, but also its failings. Monotheism will always require an explanation for that which polytheism (despite its many other difficulties) can address quite easily as a struggle between forces.

I recognize the utter impossibility of not allowing your own views on the big questions to penetrate your analysis, so I wouldn't be so silly as to ask you to avoid it. I suppose I just want to remind you that your readership is broad and that the world is complex. :) Religion cannot be distilled to mere social response, and there is something inherent in us that desires salvation, even if you'd argue it is just a fear of death.

Sanyi said...

"what motivated it was a sense that humanity somehow deserved something better than the world we know"

I live in Budapest, Hungary. I think it's rather the other way around here. People here feel that they personally deserve something better and when they realise that it's not going to happen they project this sense first to the nation and maybe then to humanity.

Of course it's not that simple. Hungarians (as a nation) tend to think of themselves as one of the most tragic victims of history so the personal senses of that deserts may partially come from this.

Anyway, I don't think there could be one good way of generalizing this to fit every group of people.

By the way what you say is partly the same as what Daniel Quinn says in his Ishmael books. Are you familiar with his thoughts on this?

Unknown said...

"...nature, history, and the human condition aren’t a trap to escape, as they have been for most people in the western world for the last two millennia, but a reality to embrace in delight and wonder."

Very good. However, perhaps a warning as per G.K. Chesterton, if I understand him correctly: the surest way to be unnatural is to deliberately go out and try to be natural. I think what he was trying to get at is that to be natural in this world, you might have to be other-worldly in this world. Hence, the older religious sensibility has powerful practical reasons for it's appeal. I am frankly not personally pious and my smile is faithless. However, I am impressed by some religious people (some Christians included)as they seem happy and at peace with themselves.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Interesting … I read this moments after reading a story on The Guardian about how we are all going to live on Mars to escape the expanding sun three billion years from now. I'll bet some far-sighted real estate agents with powerful telescopes are already dividing up the surface of the Red Planet into sub divisions …

As for H.G. Wells, it seemed to me that he was a man wrestling with the idea of progress as a civil religion, unsure of whether he really believed in it. After all, some of his most famous tales are profoundly dystopian - in the Time Machine, the scientist/inventor travels to the far future only to discover humans have regressed into a state of fickle low intelligence. Depressed, he travels back to 19th century London and is quite happy to be back.

Doesn't an obsessive belief in progress share the characteristics of a destructive addiction? A kind of limitless gorging that will eventually destroy you if not held in check.

Harlan Bjornstad said...

Escape hatch metaphors. Visions of salvation. Sure these will seem less compelling in times of relative prosperity.

The thing is, I'm not sure that most of us on engaged in this conversation (and I certainly include myself here)have looked all that deeply into the sum of suffering and grief experienced daily in many parts of the world, places which often, and probably not coincidentally, see a pretty brisk trade in salvation metaphors and escape hatch thinking.

Now, the sum of human suffering is probably destined to ramp up pretty harshly in the coming years. Everywhere. And I just wonder if it will be so easy to say "life in the natural present is good enough for me, for humankind," when the present we ALL inhabit suddenly features famine and disease and violence and every species of ignorance and what have you. Right here in our neighborhoods, right here in our homes. Archdruid readers too.

I think of Mother Teresa, who apparently struggled all her working life with an almost doomful sense of God's absence, a sort of absolute zero of the theistic soul. Well, why wouldn't she, considering the suffering all around her, which yes she was working to mitigate, but which nevertheless in the universe of Calcutta never sleeps, but is always viscerally near.

I'm not saying such a religious mindset as you describe-one content with being mortal, and with civilization being mortal, and with daily gratefully grasping the wonder of just being so mysteriously, rip-roaringly HERE--isn't possible to maintain in the face of suffering. I'm simply saying that visions of salvation and otherworldly paradise may in fact return with a great deal more potency as circumstances change or prove ultimately more potent than the vision you believe is coming into being.

Isn't it possible that some of the sillier aspects of the religion of progress are in fact a sort of reflexively amped-up response to whispers of things not quite right? Adumbrations of chaos? Tintintambulations of war drums? Intimations of dearth?

Yes most of us reading your work, JMG, are aware that we're on the descent right now, but let's not kid ourselves about what stage in the descent we, especially in the developed world, are in. Things are still pretty good here. Dinner has been served. The flight attendants are tidying up. (Is this your metaphor? Have I read it here?)

What about when the angle of descent suddenly changes? That's when the desperate prayer begins, right?

Richard Larson said...

I like reading Ugo Bardi's short essays as well, most always he is dealing with the here and now...

Will humans live through the current crisis of their own manufacture? Yeah sure. Other creatures maybe not so fortunate.

One phrase I have recently learned is that life itself is anti-entropic. What would an Archdruid think of that?

Well, anyway, I went ahead and pulled my potatoes out of the ground. No use waiting on Captain Kirk's delivery from the KOI 172.02!

wiseman said...

This will be of interest to you

NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration

Apparently NASA is running out of Plutoniam-238 that powers deep space exploration batteries. (The one Voyager I is running on)

From the article
“We’ve got enough to last to the end of this decade. That’s it,” said Steve Johnson, a nuclear chemist at Idaho National Laboratory. And it’s not just the U.S. reserves that are in jeopardy. The entire planet’s stores are nearly depleted.

The country’s scientific stockpile has dwindled to around 36 pounds. To put that in perspective, the battery that powers NASA’s Curiosity rover, which is currently studying the surface of Mars, contains roughly 10 pounds of plutonium, and what’s left has already been spoken for and then some

The last sizable batches of Pu-238 was produced during the cold war era. US now entirely depends on Russia for it's supplies.

Same is true for Helium. Sounds like we are running out of magic ingredients.

Matthew Lindquist said...

Was talking with a friend about this, and said "If the point of existence is to leave the Earth, then why are we here on the Earth?"

I've long felt that there was something... off... about the insistence that we're not supposed to be here. If anything, what kind of omnipotent being misplaces seven billion human souls so egregiously?

Liquid Paradigm said...

Something clicked at the first mention of "this rock." That I do not view myself as fundamentally apart from this living and lively world, however much all the talk and distractions of my culture try to make me feel that way (with varying degrees of success, all too often). I don't always understand the part I have in it, but still I am. Thus, talk about "out there" makes little to no sense to me, from the perspective of my developing mental model of reality.

In what will probably inspire some rancor among friends and acquaintances, I posted elsewhere in response: "I do not understand this often ill-informed obsession with getting 'out there among the stars.' Guess what? We already are."

Captcha: Karansa. Huh, go figure.

Babylon Falls: Salvage and Curios said...

Brings home one of the things I don't understand about a common Wiccan doctrine... how is it that a self designated nature worshiping religion is devoted to spiritual evolution to escape the cycles of rebirth by going somewhere else.

Mud, storms, scraped knees... all part of the natural reality package.

ando said...

Spot on as usual, JMG.

Apropos that you should mention the Zen Masters, again.

When the monks would argue a finer point of Buddhist doctrine, the Zen Master would ask, "Have you weeded the turnip patch, yet?"



DaShui said...

It's always a suprise where u r gonna take us!
I know you or somebody reading this can comment on Native American religions, Polynesians, the Aztec etc, did they have that negativity that runs through Eurasian religions?
I tend to think it comes from when populations got so large everybody was coming into perpetual mass conflict with everyone else.

Yupped said...

Your recent posts have me thinking of Adam and Eve and various other creation myths: humans at peace in the garden, tempted to pursue some unlawful fruit or knowledge, leading to separation from the garden and a lifetime of pain and toil.

The question is what causes us to want to reject the garden (with all its joys, consolations, limits and heartbreaks) in the first place? Are we just a species that can’t say “yes” to a pretty good deal? Are we really stuck with some sort of original sin or karma that governs our lives, and from which we need to escape? Are we programmed habitually to overreact to the fearful aspects of real life? Or maybe we just can’t say “no” to good old-fashioned temptation?

I really don’t know. But it does seem that many humans, at least in the industrial world, have a major deficit in the “allowing” department. Instead of culturing a sensibility of being at peace with life now, and all its ups and downs, we are so disposed to reject the present in favor of some imagined better future. And most of our systems and toys reinforce this in every moment- just try being calm and accepting after a couple of shots of Starbucks and a Danish for breakfast while driving to an office somewhere.

Being at peace in present reality, which means nature, does take some skill. Nature is not an uneventful place: it certainly isn’t static, it isn’t always pleasant and it certainly can’t be controlled or tamed. To a species with brains still built around a fight or flight switch it’s clearly quite bothersome. But acceptance is an acquired skill, which requires judgment: too little and you get into our current dilemma, too much and you don’t survive. I suppose that’s the essence of the serenity prayer. I remember reading someone once saying that most of the world’s problems could be solved if we made regular nature walks and meditation mandatory for school kids from kindergarten on. Might be something to that.

trippticket said...

Just to clarify a few past discussions, when I talk about strategies to improve our condition, such as mob grazing to sequester carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil, I'm not talking about excusing our past behavior or distancing ourselves from our impacts or "fixing things" out of some sense of liberal guilt, I'm talking more about an apology and reconciliation with our Mother, the primary client in these transactions. When you recognize that the damage you've caused to the planet is also damage to yourself, I think it's extremely natural to radically change directions, and perhaps get excited about a technique that offers some real promise (and then get involved in it!). It also makes energy (and soil and water) conservation a lark instead of drudgery.

It's fundamentally different from the environmental protection that employed me as a Florida ecologist years ago.

William Church said...

QUOTE: "To believers in progress, though, long life, stupendous achievements, and a legacy reaching into the far future aren’t enough; there has to be something more..."

There is. And not just for 'believers in progress'. Cultures and peoples have been haunted by the prospect of disappearing for as long as we have recordings of their thoughts. Culture after culture and people after people have been completely extinguished as the stream of humanity marches past. In modern times it has accelerated as world wide communication, trade, and culture are obliterating the old ways.

Different religions handle this differently. You can be 'elected' by god as a permanent people. You can be 'adopted' into god's permanent people. You can choose to cut ties with the physical world and embrace impermanence. Or you can point the spears outward and try to impose your traditional culture onto the rest of the world calling it god's will.

I'll leave it to your imagination as to which way is which religion.

Thing is that the prospect of seeing your heritage, your genetic line, your culture, your language, you history, all of it extinguished? It is a painful thing to most of humanity. MOF when faced with this prospect MANY peoples have chosen to fight it out and go out swinging rather than idly standing by and accepting their fate.

Dealing with this predicament is a cornerstone of most religions I'm aware of. For any religious sensibility to gain prominence I would guess it would have to deal with this as well. I will watch your narrative develop to see how you see this playing out.


GHung said...

JMG: "if I’m right, we’re stuck on this rock—“this rock” meaning, of course, what those of a different sensibility would call the living Earth in all its vastness and wonder, the unimaginably rich and complex whole system of which Homo sapiens is one small and decidedly temporary part."

For some reason, the Peggy Lee song "Is that all there is?" keeps coming to mind. 'All there is' has turned out to be quite remarkable, far more than can be groked in a single lifetime, if ever. Not knowing is a gift. No need to invent an end to all of this... Just keep dancing with the one who brung ya. Emphasis on 'with'.

Unknown said...

I resonate strongly with your suggestion of the emerging religious sensibility; I feel it strongly.
I've just caught up w/ the last few posts, partly because I was involved with the premier of an artistic response to what's happening on the old home planet called The Emergent Universe Oratorio (see This music for chorus (I sang bass) 10 piece orchestra and readers, expresses that sensibility. Some of the words were Blake (To See a World in a Grain of Sand), Rilke (Gravity's Law--"If we surrendered to Earth's intelligence"), Thomas Berry and Wendell Berry (The Peace of Wild Things). It is strongly connected to the film Journey of the Universe, which tells the story of the Universe's 14.7 billion history from an emergent perspective and reminds me of JMG's future vision. The performance took place in the Breeding Barn at Shelburne Farms, an early 20th century expression of wealth and today a non profit farm supporting sustainability. It was a cathedral like space and over 1000 people turned out to hear it. Eugene Friesen who played cello with the Paul Winter Concert opened the program with both Back and a duet with humpback whales. A video should be out by the end of October.
What a helpful provocation your vision provided! Thank you.
ron slabaugh

Greg Belvedere said...

I wonder how much this desire for escape comes from a misunderstanding of the role transcendental experiences play in our lives. I think a lot of people have these experiences and can't figure out how to integrate them into their lives. They then ask why can't we touch this place of bliss all the time and assume that we all will someday soon. I just wanted to throw that out there.

Herr Doktor said...

Mr Greer, thank you for this great piece!

The more I read into the topic, the more fascinating I find it. But I will dare to ask the Archdruid to dig a bit deeper into it and write a bit on the question of the very need for Religion (with capital R).
Why do we humans need religions?
It just a way to re-assure us and make sense of the great unanswerable questions of the human condition?
Does really something “outside the world” exist, that we cannot grasp until we make it into the “last voyage”?
Or are mystic experiences just a trick of the mind, that are converted into belief systems with the pass of time?
Or maybe are religions an elaborate device organically evolved with the aim to protect the human psyche from the stresses of the day-to-day (e.g.: medical studies have shown that people with strong religious beliefs life longer and psychologically sounder).
I don’t know if this would help other readers in framing / giving background to the debate of the old vs new sensibility, but for me at least it surely would. Or maybe the Archdruid could point to some lectures in this theme, if he finds my question too off topic to write about…

Hal said...

"Yet it’s at this point that the new religious sensibility I discussed in last week’s post throws a wild card into the game. It’s been my repeated experience that for those who already feel the new sensibility, the old promises haven’t just lost their plausibility; they’ve lost their emotional appeal."

Hence the "meh," I think, in at least some cases. (BTW, I'm very sorry for bringing in that expression. I should have known it was a pop culture reference, but if I had thought it was from the Simpsons, I would have sliced my wrists first.)

Anyway, I, for one, read the end of your narrative, and the suggestion that it might be consoling, as a bit of Saganesque eloquence on the grandness of our understanding of Life, the Universe, and Everything. I can raise as much of a sense of awe and wonder at the whole thing as anyone, but the choices given were horrify, console, or leave cold, as I recall. None of them really described what I was left with.

Really enjoying your and Bardi's exchange, BTW. Such profound and important ideas being generated!

ganv said...

So many fascinating and innovative connections here.

You and Bardi both agree that your differences are philosophical differences about fundamental presuppositions. But there is an empirical element to the difference as well. Measurements tell us that the story of cosmology is one cycle (Big Bang to heat death), but with many smaller scale oscillations on top (stars form and explode, organisms evolve in cycles of species proliferation and extinction, civilizations rise and fall). The one thing that we have no empirical data to tell us about is the future trajectory of intelligence. We only know of one intelligent species that ever figured out how their universe works. And we have no idea where that knowledge leads. Intelligence might expand across the galaxy. It might disappear never to be seen again. Or it might have an upper bound as in your story which would make many cycles of evolution of intelligence possible. It is an empirical question about the future of intelligence that we simply don't have the ability to answer at the moment.

I love your insight about our inability to comprehend numbers. (Seems to me there is quite a wide diversity among humans in the amount of time they spend with logarithmic scales and their resulting ability to internalize big numbers). We are 1000 generations from the development of agriculture. But we are only 10 or 15 generations from when humans found a reliable way to quantitatively understand the natural world. We know very very little about what happens to intelligence that knows how its universe works.

One other point about the new religious sensibility. It seems possible that embracing nature with delight and wonder may be difficult for people who experience nature threatening their existence on a daily basis. People (who were mostly peasants and slaves) in the Roman empire embraced Christianity because it spoke to their situation. People concerned with environmental destruction with access to computers in the early 21st century find a different religious sensibility attractive. But for that viewpoint to become dominant, something will need to keep hunger and disease from being people's dominant concerns. I think you are onto a major shift in religious sensibilities that is under way. But I would identify a range of possible new candidates, with the deepest divide lying between (1) those that see humans as fully natural and integrated into natural processes and (2) those that see the natural world as something alien because humans have intelligence and emotions that are something beyond nature. There will be some of (1) who try to embrace and celebrate living close to our natural evolutionary heritage (your mermaids) But there will also be many (I think more) of (1) who will continue to see see natural processes without any modifications from intelligence as hostile to human flourishing and who will continue to evolve new ways to try to control nature. I am not arguing that they will necessarily succeed, only that abandoning the notion of being saved by escaping the physical world does not replace the reasons that humans have long wanted to avoid many of the nasty things 'nature' does to us. So I see the shift to the religious sensibility that accepts that we are physical beings as the bigger shift than the shift to embracing nature.

dax said...

Yes, yes and yes. I've always felt quite happy to be where I am, and yet felt like such a fish out of water for being happy where I am. People seem to want you to be dissatisfied.

trippticket said...

Brilliant series of posts, by the way. I'm absolutely enthralled.

JMG et al, I need some help here concerning early education within the new religious sensibility. We just pulled our 5 year old out of public kindergarten because of the mind-numbing daily dose of mediocrity. Run the maze, punch the bar, get some candy, and all that. She was at Montessori before that for a year, but it was too far to drive twice a day for what we felt she was coming home with.

We like some of the Montessori approach - learning by doing, though not calling everything "work" - and we like some of the Waldorf philosophy but don't have that option offline. We're interested in a more classical education in grammar, rhetoric, and logic, the medieval trivivium basically, but definitely from within the foundational framework of the new sensibility.

For those who don't know, we're herbalists and grass-based farmers (pastured poultry, mob-grazed beef, etc), we practice permaculture as an ethical framework for decision making, with an increasing amount of appropriate tech involved.

We also have a very curious and mechanically-inclined 3 year old boy to add to the mix. We live a very integrated life, with little separation between "work," "play," and "life" and want to make schooling as natural and flowing with daily activity as possible. We also don't believe that their future will be much like our past, so feel that we're starting at a background disadvantage.

All of this is meant to ask for any recommendations for online curricula, or print sources, education support groups, etc, that might conform to our sensibilities, and the emergent properties of our time. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

And happy full moon! She was beautiful last night.

trippticket said...

Sorry, misspelled that, trivium it should be, not trivivium...

Andy Brown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this essay of yours. The images of the escape hatch and the un-rescueable merfolk will stick with me. It’s maddening, the habit of putting “the important stuff” off in heaven or the future or an alternate plane or upon an internal landscape of enflightenment. As you note, it is a way of not dealing with the world-as-it-is. I hadn’t really linked it all together as an overriding religious sensibility.

There’s another aspect of this sensibility, which runs like a bright scarlet thread through the fabric you’ve been unwinding. That’s the issue of, for lack of a better word, “justice”. And by that I mean a belief/desire that things ought to come out the way they should. It has obvious explicit moral and mythical dimensions, and it gives Progress its overconfidence about its own teleology. The evolutionary concept of “fitness” as it is usually (mis)understood is another example.

I suspect that even when people are willing to close one escape hatch (as the original communists certainly believed they were doing!) in order to do their good work in the world-as-it-is, they often have difficulty seeing or accepting that the world has no built-in penchant for coming out the way that we think it should. I’ve seen it again and again in people who seem to be achieving a kind of wisdom – as they reject much of the religious sensibility that you decry – yet they cannot fully embrace a universe that is utterly indifferent to humans and their sense of justice.

To me, such a universe is beautiful and right, and its blank indifference is, if anything, liberating. The dance of chaos and order, pattern and entropy is a good story for us to be in. It certainly doesn’t render meaningless my effort to make my own world better.

Mike R said...

Although this New York Times article, from today's paper, is specifically about the stagnation of American wages over the past 25 years, I thought it relevant to link to in this discussion as an example of someone in the mass media questioning his own ideas about perpetual progress.

"It made me wonder what happened to progress" is a direct quote from the article.

Steve Morgan said...

In the words of Jack Nicholson's character from a generation ago, "What if this is as good as it gets?"

Some say, "This can't possibly be it. There must be a heaven/ utopia/ infinitely-metastasizing-walmart-jetpack-culture around here somewhere!"

Others say, "Works for me. Come on in, the water's fine."


Something about this sequence made me think back to my childhood. One morning in Sunday school something clicked during a lesson about heaven. It was explained to us kids that when we died we'd go to heaven and sing praises and worship God all the time. My only experience of that was sitting in a lutheran church with a bunch of suburbanites who sang off key versions of protestant hymns along with a too-loud organ, and I have pretty sensitive hearing. For some reason the idea of going to heaven and doing that forever didn't really appeal to me that much. I'd like to chalk it up to a different religious sensibility, but I can't rule out a healthy fear of perceived suffering or a simple preference for playing in the woods or on the beach.

beneaththesurface said...

In an effort to read something opposite my worldview for a change, a few years ago I read Ray Kurzweil's A Singularity is Near. I'm not going to get into the likelihood of whether his future projections will happen. What puzzled me was why anyone would want the world he envisions, regardless of whether or not it is possible. According to his worldview, death is a problem that must be solved. Honestly, for me, I don't think I would want to live forever even if it was an option. I admit I don't want to die while still young, but the idea that I will someday die doesn't bother me at all as long as I've lived a full life. Kurzweil's life preserver thrown at me is not one I'd accept!

On an unrelated note, I am starting a part-time job soon at the public library in my city, and thus, have been reflecting much on the future of libraries and cultural preservation in a post-petroleum world. It seems that most libraries are going more and more digital (some with 3-D printers even), and focusing less on books. I would like to connect to others who are thinking critically about these issues. Does anyone know of any groups or individuals that are focused on such issues?

Richard Heinberg wrote a thoughtful piece a few years back concerning the responsibility of librarians:

Ben said...

Do you see utopian fantasizing as being in conflict with this new spiritual sensibility you describe? I feel like I get a lot of inspiration from sci-fi imagery despite my understanding that life is cyclical & my love of the Earth. My main problem with utopias is that, as described by others, they frequently sounds dystopic to my ears, but I still find the discussion fascinating & invigorating on an intellectual level. Just curious where you see healthy curiosity about scientific possibilities fitting into this emerging sensibility.

Cascadian Druid said...

For an excellent, non-theistic approach to the new religious sensibility JMG is describing here, try Nature is Enough by Loyal Rue.

I don't actually think that Rue's vision will become as widespread as he would like, but the sensibility that informs it is right on the mark.

Wildwood Chapel said...

One of the things I've noticed about a few of the New Testament writers, especially after studying the scrpitures in the original koine Greek (as well as can be done with an interlinear and lexicon) is that in their zeal to condemn the worst aspects of the "kosmos" of their day, they started to confuce "kosmos" with "gaea" and treat them as though they were the same thing.

If Christianity is going to have any hope of longevity, it's going to have treat as fundamental the maxim "The Kingdom is within you." That "kosmos" becomes crap when we ignore, marginalize, or objectify "gaea", and that the way back is through a reconnection with Her. Thus, salvation, the Kingdom, eternal life, and the new heavans and earth (hypothetical though they may be) are contingent upon a divine view of the earth and an honest assesment of and engagement with it's realities (and limits).

Richard Clyde said...

It has occurred to me in recent weeks, the importance of recognising how often talk of the past or of the future is really talk of The Past and The Future. That is, for Faustian man since the 18th century and its quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, the future and past are the Otherworld, imagined not relationally or spatially but temporally. (Medievals imagined it permeating creation, the early moderns spatially but displaced to the colonised Utopia.) No wonder time travel holds such fascination now.

I then begin to reflect on the significance of the Wheel of the Year, and the wisdom of spiritual practices (such as JMG's druid magic) that make allowance for a temporally imagined Otherworld but locate it within the Wheel.

Very neat. Bit of a pleasant shiver to it, really.

Robert Beckett said...

JMG, besides the obvious example of one thoughtfully following The Archdruid Report, what are the causes of this rise of a new religious sensibility in contemporary Western civilization, in your opinion? Much of our current culture appears to be actively antagonistic to such a possibility, so I would appreciate your thoughts as to what forces are behind such a shift of paradigm. Is it simply that the mainstream theist and civic religions are increasingly perceived as hollow?

Twilight said...

As immature as it may seem, I was started down the road to something like what you describe as a new religious sensibility by the lyrics of the song Dust in the Wind by Kansas. I never found that song to be depressing, rather somehow comforting, and I suspect that is the way in which it was intended to be interpreted. I have never been able to really believe in anything other than that simple description of the natural cycle of life and death, combined with the desire to learn and grow in wisdom between those two points. Anything lasting longer than my life will be due to my actions during life and their impacts on others, and there are limits to how long such impacts can last directly.

If there were anthroposaurs, was their existence diminished because we cannot find any evidence of them?

In that vein I have been struggling with the strong thread of reincarnation as I learn about Druidry. I find the concept both appealing and disquieting, and your posts these last two weeks have helped me to frame that discomfort. It seems to me that the idea of reincarnation is tied to the older sensibility, opening a back door to another realm of existence which is not on this rock, and which one's soul might attain if one advances sufficiently on the cumulative journeys through this temporary existence. It is emotionally appealing to me, but seems out of place.

Erich said...

Thank you! I loved the image of peddling floatation devices to mermaids!

I'm reminded a bit of CS Lewis' lament, 70 years ago, that Christian apologists' first task must be to convince the masses of the reality of hell, in order to properly motivate them to seek salvation.

Phil Harris said...

Given how little we know about the universe and reality, and all that, including how shallow our understanding of evolutionary complexities appears to be (excepting that which we know very broadly from earth and human history, and from the well-tested bits of science like thermodynamics and quantum mechanics), I am very unsure where the intelligence of animals and the communications of plants is going to go.

We already have evidence of human 'takes' on reality that are certainly intriguing and that do not depend crucially on burning large quantities of fossil fuel. Win some, lose some, but I guess there is stuff of the Universe yet to be uncovered or participated in. Who knows that even with our short lifespan and distorted cultural memories, some futures could even be transformative, well beyond current ken or past efforts?

Maybe we will learn to work more with other perceptions than our own? Our obsession with human nature, however understandable or necessary, seems very limiting and almost a method for actually not understanding who we are or might be. An alternative sensibility could include communicating better with most of the life forms we are already surrounded by. I am not personally putting any money on 'aliens', but who knows?



Shining Hector said...

I'm a little bit awed, I'll admit. You may be the only troll I know of who turned the bait into a meaningful didactic. You even spelled out your intentions from the start, and we still fell for it. Well played, in certain circles, I think you'd be entitled to a free Internet, if not several. I hesitated a bit to use the term troll given the typical pejorative connotation, but it actually fits perfectly, and I use it in a respectful sense if that means anything. You've turned the art of trolling to a constructive purpose.

I probably am on the other side of the divide, honestly. None of this sounds as appealing to me as our promised future in the stars. I'm still very curious where you're going.

I guess when I hear people talking about giving up our hostility to nature, what I immediately think of is kids nattering on about how wonderful lions are, when their experience is mostly limited to seeing the Lion King and maybe seeing a few safely behind bars in the zoo. Maybe if they had to tangle with them outside of a controlled environment, or even an unfriendly controlled environment like a Roman colosseum, they'd have a different view of them. People who wax poetic about the beauty of nature while sitting comfortably in more than adequate shelter, in societies where all the major natural predators to humans have been extirpated and/or domesticated, where food is available on demand if their gardening adventures don't pan out, and antibiotics and other medical treatment are readily available when nature throws another kink in things, remind me of that. What exactly am I missing? I assume the new sensibility will not obviate the need for basic unnatural human interventions like shelter, agriculture, sanitation, pest control, etc. What's the mermaid tail we're going to grow that turns nature from well, a force of nature, into your best friend?

Karim said...

Greetings all

Although I did find the last posts really interesting, I did not find the "next ten billion years" post either depressing or infuriating or even exhilarating, I simply found it inevitable.

After all nothing lasts forever, we are all destined to pass away, fade away from stage and be utterly forgotten. And even the world stage is set to fade away! It reminds me of the Buddhist principle of impermanence whereby nothing is really permanent.

It is best and wiser to accept that and get on with whatever we have to do in the here and now. And there is enough wonder right under our very noses to keep us interested for a very long time to come.

However, a few things that I think need addressed: JMG wrote:

"the spread of materialist atheism as the default belief system among most scientists and engineers gave it a dogmatic creed that could be used as a litmus test for loyalty to the faith and a justification for warfare—so far, at least, merely verbal—against an assortment of unbelievers and heretics. "

It seems to me that the faith of materialist atheism has already been used by many people to wage violent warfare against unbelievers, for instance in Soviet Russia, Communist China and under the Khmers Rouges.

Furthermore it is increasingly likely that materialist atheism is on the verge of becoming rabidly violent in western Europe especially against Muslims.

Finally, It seems to me that theist religions are much more suited to turn round and reconcile theology with nature, history and the human condition than any other civil religions.

I tend to believe that because theist religions by definition believe in the existence of a transcendental aspect of the universe that civil religions deny, and somehow when the going gets tough, we tend to turn round and seek that transcendental aspect. And we know that the going is becoming tougher. Hence the advantage of theist religions.

That could launch a religious revival in the West I guess.

Personally my view of things is that I wish 3 things

That humans live in harmony with each other
That humans live in harmony with nature
That humans live a quest for meaning (according to whatever tradition they fancy)

Actually I have been severely criticized by one or two materialist atheists for daring to utter such non sense.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

But didn't the communists believe in Progress too? After all, they were very eager with space travels.

MPL said...

I see this series of posts as, in part, a reflection of the is/ought dichotomy.

One way of illustrating that dichotomy is the difference between "everything is ok" vs. "everything is going to be ok."

Everything is going to be ok is the prescriptive, "ought to be that way" sentiment. Everything is okay is the descriptive, "it is this way" sentiment.

Wanting everything to be ok is a natural reaction to pain. Accepting pain as an essential aspect of "being ok" is difficult, but has its own rewards, more real -- and less damaging to the biosphere and our own psyche -- than the fantasy rewards of wishing things were different than they happen to be.

Glenn said...

Interesting take. I'm marginally on your side of the divide, JMG, but it doesn't give me the obvious warm fuzzy it seems to for you. For me, it's simply the way the universe works; not good not bad, just is. Perhaps I am a true atheist at that.

Religion, civil or theist, seems to fulfill an emotional need in people. I don't perceive that I follow any religion; yet I have normal human emotional needs. I am meeting this one somehow, but I don't see how. I certainly have beliefs, not all of them supported by rational thought from first principles; but they don't fit any structure that I've heard of. They are just mine, based on my experience.

As I retired Coast Guardsman, with quite a few years search and rescue experience I rather enjoyed your final image. I'd definitely rather be the merperson than the fool with the life ring.


Marrowstone Island

George said...

"An earlier post in this sequence pointed out that civil religions like the modern faith in progress are derivative from, even parasitic on, the older theist religions that they replace. "

Do you read Mencius Moldbug? Your criticism of the religon of progress sounds a similar to his own. If you don't read him you may enjoy some of his work.

For example here he argues that Richard Dawkins is an atheist Christian:

"My hypothesis is that Professor Dawkins is not just an atheist. He is a Christian atheist. Or as I prefer to put it, a nontheistic Christian. His "Einsteinian religion" is no more or less than the dominant present-day current of Christianity itself - "M.42," as faré so concisely put it.

If we accept this hypothesis, the conclusion that Professor Dawkins has been pwned strikes me as quite incontrovertible. He thinks he is attacking superstition on behalf of the armies of reason. In fact he is attacking [old Christianity] on behalf of the armies of [new Christianity]. D'oh!

Of course, I'm sure Professor Dawkins is quite sincere in his beliefs. Hosts always are. "

Start here:

A lit of posts here:

John D. Wheeler said...

I think it says a lot about my religious sensibility that what I found satisfying about your future history was the 10-billion year part. I would be perfectly content if humanity never ventured out of it cradle, if the cycle of life will repeat itself again. But the weak anthropic principle haunts me. What if we are the only life in the Universe? What if, once the biosphere is gone, that's it, nothing but the void? I am happy swimming in the sea, I just don't want it to dry up.

Jose Coces said...

JMG, two points: 1) have you seen Babylon 5? I think it is one of thé best depictions of the theology of progress in TV. It even has a holy Trinity! 2) it may have been the case that people, in Roman times, got tired of one century of strife, hardship and civil war, finally realizing that the gods weren't giving them protection anymore in exchange for piety and sacrifices. So they developed an adaptive sensibility, that of longing for a release from the human condition, individually post-mortem and collectively after the Second Coming. This sensibility, as you realized, is no longer adaptive in our times and the foreseeable future.

Jose Coces said...

JMG, two points: 1) have you seen Babylon 5? I think it is one of thé best depictions of the theology of progress in TV. It even has a holy Trinity! 2) it may have been the case that people, in Roman times, got tired of one century of strife, hardship and civil war, finally realizing that the gods weren't giving them protection anymore in exchange for piety and sacrifices. So they developed an adaptive sensibility, that of longing for a release from the human condition, individually post-mortem and collectively after the Second Coming. This sensibility, as you realized, is no longer adaptive in our times and the foreseeable future.

Goldmund said...

This weeks post reminds me of the feelings that arise in me whenever I listen to anyone's vision of a future, "fundamentalist" utopia, heaven or whatever you want to call it, whether it's of the religious or the secular kind. I'm usually horrified, and want to run away from that vision as quickly as possible (my Sunday school teacher once told my class that heaven would be just like going to church for all eternity. I think I became a pagan in that moment. But I also recall listening to a secular humanist state, emphatically and with complete certainty, that Science would one day solve all mysteries. I thought to myself that I wouldn't want to live in a world without mystery any more than Sunday school heaven.) It wasn't until I started befriending Native Americans, misfit artists and other assorted drop outs, punks, hippies, bohemians and beatniks that I began to find my tribe of fellow mermaids. These were generally people who didn't find happiness or meaning in some future world but in the present moment and in this world, with all of its imperfections, noticing the beauty and wonder that surrounds us all the time. When I think back on my happiest moments in life they were always ones where I was completely immersed in the present moment, like sitting around a fire with good friends, telling jokes and stories, laughing together, or floating on my back in a lake, looking up at the sky. So I guess you could say that Progress has lost its emotional appeal for me too and has for quite some time. I would be happy living in a world where everyone declared that what we have is enough, and wealth is measured in friendships, not things.

Carl WL7BDO said...

I maybe a Mermaids but maybe a sick one? Possible from the perch of my materialistic thrown I feel existence is just fine. And while channel surfing on my video devise I stumble on a PBS show about the wonderful color and exotic people of Himalaya's. I watch in wonder at the people living in the high mountains and their living in balance with nature and self reliance on the natural world. Dreaming for such an existence if only I could give up my car, TV, big box store....and live in this heaven. A few more minutes later the film maker is interviewing a elder of the mountains and {crap} did that old self reliant tribal leader just say he was hoping for better cell phone service?!

thrig said...

Ahh, Christianity on a circuit board. The sea, the sea is dead, so to the stars, to the stars! Move along now, nothing to see here–floating trash and some smelly oil slicks, the last I saw of the Sound. The car drivers–I climbed into a vehicle for the first time this year, Tuesday–never responded to an invitation to go swimming in the Duwamish, when I last pried into their individually rational choices. Can't imagine why not.

But history does have a direction! Might not be the desired one, as our society for the creative reenactment of–what happens when you light off a supervolcano or two per year, running just a few orders of magnitude outside the norm? I guess someone will find out. Of course, these sorts of extinction events have happened before, hence, say, the Milankovitchs or punctuated equilibriums of more nuanced views.

The news on engineering is for "more collaboration"–plus, thanks to a new Governor, a few millions for clean energy that they're trying to figure out how to spend–batteries, mayhap? But this world runs on Carbon. Now, not a few engineers are rather not the collaborators one might hope for, so we'll see how those distinct flood threads pooling together pan out. (I suspect it has something to do with CSE getting more of the money than EE, and the thus dieted EE departments looking for a larger share of that pie.)

Of course, Spengler rambling on and on is evidence enough of the quest for infinity, hoof! Which is my cue to stop.

onething said...

As far as this dividing line, I am as usual seeing it from more than one perspective. I can eagerly agree that the split away from embracing the whole of nature and our place within it is an ignorance and that Earth is a stupendous and splendiferous place, our lives a great gift, the entire cosmos most entertaining.
But to simply leave it at that seems like a bit of denial. Why did people begin to wish for escape from the human condition? Could it have had something to do with the rise of civilization and its discontents, the kaleidoscope of one empire after another saying I came I saw I conquered? The arisal of the institution of slavery? And worse, the way that people seem confused and unable to solve their problems?
Here's an example that I find particularly disheartening. History is important, I would say vitally important. Disasters and catastrophes wipe out much of it. There was a battle that Egypt had with another country, and Egypt said they won. Egypt left lots of written stuff, so this became history. Yet recently, the original document of Egypt's surrender was found.

It's enough to get the people to wonder, where are we? Who are we? What is going on here? Is anything going on here? What am I?!
One reason religions and belief systems are so appealing is that their partial truths are soothing enough to lull people into forgetting those stark questions, making them less black. I absolutely think that the human condition is dire, and I do not only mean the current crises we have created. The crises themselves are rather a natural outcome of our dire condition.
Well, back on the first hand, religions may make it worse. Certainly Christianity has, with its distraction from reality called heaven and hell, making a caricature of that hell that is so unrealistic that we fail to notice the hell marks of our own existence – living as we do in a state of existential ignorance, subject to deceptions of all kinds, it says that the answer lies without instead of within. If our situation bears some resemblance to a hell, Christianity has told the ghastly lie, all girded up with various “logical” supporting structures, that we are worthless and helpless, and must rely upon a capricious God to place us in a better reality, the responsibility for which is not ours. And which teaching, by the way, negates free will.
Now, the way I look at it, there is a purpose to all this, which is to have a carnal relationship with free will, aka good and evil, and if there are nefarious entities fooling us into poor choices then they are our worthy adversaries, like obstacles in a racing course.

Some people whine about our situation, others prefer denial or complacency. JMG, I find it hard to respond to your scenario because you have left out any discussion of the deeper reality. In a human lifetime, we gain in wisdom. I would hope that can continue indefinitely, in the context of the deep time cycles of the universe. In World Full of Gods you have not said what these gods might be or what you reverence or worship and why. If we can not get out of Plato's cave, if indeed there is no outside, if all suffering is for naught, I would find that depressing.
I don't see our problems as being intrinsic to this place or to physical manifestation, but I do want to grow in stature and wisdom within it.

Andy Brown said...

S. Hector, I think you're just trolling here, but I thought I'd respond anyway. The idea that our choices are limited to either being "hostile to nature" or accepting death by viruses and lions is a familiarly cartoonish dichotomy. I can't think of anything more unnatural than humans passively acquiescing to death by predators and other "forces of nature".

Actually, humans are part of nature and humans always change their natural environments. That's natural.

There's nothing particularly unnatural about shelter, agriculture, sanitation, or pest control. But we've developed the power to do some of these things "unnaturally" - as when we create environments solely for and by humans - and we stand ripped out of our natural place as active participants within systems that have other non-human stakeholders. Not only is that unnatural - it's often a bad idea - even from a human standpoint.

So there you go -- we can argue about where we want to be on the natural to unnatural spectrum, but we can leave the lions and tigers and trolls out of it.

redoak said...

Here’s a small stone for your well:

The opposite of a religious sensibility is another religious sensibility, which explains why fundamentalists and atheists are metaphysically indistinct. One thing that binds all religious sensibilities: they reveal a deep desire for explanation, for right explanation, and so inevitably also for assent . This is why civil religious sensibilities and religious sensibilities are also metaphysically indistinct, and why, for example, ancient civilizations didn’t bother to separate church and state because there is no relevant difference between them and why we do not identify the religion of progress as such in our own civilization.

Due to the complexity of the human soul our ideas are often forged from a great confusion of various religious sensibilities, but also from perspectives motivated by different desires. For there are alternatives to the desire for explanation, which don’t lend themselves to the above progression and so cannot be considered religious in origin or sensibility. It takes a great deal of personal discipline to sort out these ideas, and to sift for them among the ideas we experience from others.

What you have described as a new religious sensibility seems to me forged from sources incompatible with religion, and for that reason incompatible with righteousness, and incompatible with assent, which is of course, high praise.

The trick to measuring a well with a stones is to get it to the bottom without knocking the walls and stirring up clouds of silt. Plop!

Ozark Chinquapin said...

These last two posts have been probably my favorites of yours. I had never thought in terms of "religious sensibilities" before, but it makes a lot of sense to me now.

I've always held many of the ideas that you associate with the new sensibility, and when I was growing up I learned to mostly keep them to myself as people would either get upset or simply be unable to comprehend why I thought how I did about things. The idea of a world completely controlled by humans and/or human created technology has no emotional appeal at all to me, in fact sounds more depressing than any peak oil descent scenario ever does.

Later on, I have met many others with the new sensibility, expressed in many different ways. However I see that many people, myself included, have struggled with the conflicts between the two in our own selves. Personally, I feel the pull of the new sensibility pretty strongly but have plenty of thought patterns from the old one in my mind from growing up in the culture dominated by the old one.

I also want to touch on the issue that Greg Belvedere has brought up, that transcendent experience is something experienced by people and what to make of that in sensibility that isn't all about escape. I see a lot of potential in the new sensibility to bring positive change over the long term in our relationships with the Earth, but I also see a danger of people taking it in ways that could bring on their own problems. For instance, I've already encountered the idea among a few nature based philosophies that any talk of transcendent experiences or spirituality that deals with anything beyond the physical goes against an eco-philosophy. It would be one thing if they simply didn't believe in them, but I've seen suggestions that even considering the subject is anti-ecological. That strikes me as throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I personally think that many of the ideas and concepts from the old sensibility can fit into the new one just by thinking about them differently. Transcendent experiences can be discussed as part of human experience without being thought of as the most important thing everyone needs to strive for.

I was considering the metaphor used among a number of spiritual traditions of a spiritual path being analogous to climbing a mountain. Looking into that further, the old sensibility interpretation is that the mountaintop is the best place to be, the lowlands around the mountain are inferior places that need to be escaped from, and presumably the journeyer doesn't need to go back down ever after they have reached the top.

The new sensibility could use the same mountain metaphor but look at it in a different way. The same mountain is still there and open to climbing, but everyone doesn't need to climb it. Climbing it leads to a different experience, but one of the most important things to be learned is to look back down to the lands below from a broader perspective. Lastly, although there may be a few who live on the mountain, for most the experience of climbing it is followed by going back down and using what was learned from the new perspective in the world below.

I'm worried that some elements of the new sensibility will swing to the extreme of saying that the mountain is worthless and should be ignored. I think that would lead to a situation just as unbalanced as the old sensibility, and increase the conflict between the two.

Juhana said...

Uh-huh. It is quite rare to read something that opens untreated road ahead you. This writing did the trick for me. Just one question though. Don't you fear that enclosing sacred totally into world of instincts and nature brings with it deeply relativistic attitude towards basic morality..? I mean, mankind seems to have spend most of it's history in low-intensity and endless warfare between different clans and tribes before rise of urban civilizations... There is no more phony invention than noble savage alive in current Western imagination. "Way of the men is the way of the gang" said one underrated contemporary US writer, and I wholeheartedly agree... Nature has bipolar attitude of cruel mistress towards those feeding from it's breasts. It is not those loyal but loyalty itself that eventually survives in Red Queen's race of life.

It truly does not matter if there is God or gods, or if "true" socialism is achievable, or if kingship is actually sacred and divine. Only thing worth asking is: does it work? Does it make us as a group cohesive and strong?

So could it be that the best bet is to trust archaic traditions in their conservative forms, which have sheltered many generations of one's own before..? Why to break this continuity with something new with no field testing?

World is more akin to house of mirrors at carnivals, mostly showing back to us our own distorted images/ideas, than to box of secrets from where those secrets can be revealed. There is no final truth to be revealed, only new questions, diverting endlessly into myriad new questions. There is no sure way to make distinction between our own reflection looking back to us and truth itself. So, in a sense, truth does not exist for us as species, except on most basic Maslow's hierarchy levels.

Hate towards one's enemies, bonds of brotherhood between members of the pack, love between husband and wife, love towards own children... Those are only honestly "true" experiences mankind ever has, and there is good reason why bookish intellectuals, fearing actual life itself, are no mythic heroes in any culture ever recorded on this planet. Truth is in real life, happening now.

All other "great revelations" of mankind are basically just technological gadgets, with top priority given to those made to kill one's enemies faster and from safe distance. We have not evolved at all after last biological changes in human stock appeared.

It is same with the societies. They are totally unable to escape paths laid ahead for them in some kind predestination phase during civilizations' childhood. Western society is no worse or better in that than any other civilization, it just happens to have little more energy and technological resources than others before it.

And if there is any form in life or reality around us, that shape is the circle. I added this video link below; JMG, it is my opinion this video tells more about human condition and unvarying destiny of everybody than long, intelligent books never do... After inevitable conclusion of this condition, same arch of development starts over again in other persons, and same questions with no answers are asked again, same feelings experienced again and again. We fuse with background like drop of water fuses into the ocean, and everything is lost, and it truly does not matter except on subjective scales of other perishable creatures like us.

So why not just continue traditions way older than yourself..?

Unknown said...

@John D. Wheeler:

"But if life even/Had perished utterly, Oh perfect loveliness of earth and heaven."
-Robinson Jeffers

--Mark H

Unknown said...

Mr. Greer:

I've long wondered why the world-renouncing view of things gained such currency in those regions of the world. As you've pointed out, it has not been a universal in time or space; as I can recall from the Sunday School classes of my Lutheran upbringing, the Judaism of the Pentateuch has little to say about otherworldly things, even though it dwells extensively on human suffering; nor do the teachings of Confucius or Hesiod, though the latter especially dwells on the inevitably of this-worldly suffering. And it's not like it was only the slaves and oppressed minorities who yearned for a transcendence of this earth. Plotinus wasn't exactly "underprivileged"!

My first thought had to do with the rather enviable way that Rome took so blastedly LONG to fall; we should all hope for a decline as protracted as Rome's! They showed the same stubbornness in losing the Western Empire that had gained them it in the first place. This then left a multiple-century-long period where the experience of every man was one of decline and fall, and so the ideas and perspectives natural to such a time had the leisure to develop to fruition and sink into the general consciousness at a very deep level.

But I rejected this because, as you also point out, the stirrings and developments of this transcendental worldview begin long before Rome started to fall, and in regions far from the shores of the Mediterranean and the rule of even Trajan. My friend who is a Homeric scholar recommended I read Havelock's "Preface to Plato", wondering himself if the changing technological substrate of culture itself (metrical oral memorization -> general literacy, at least among the elites) might have had some'at to do with it. I'm halfway done, and certainly Havelock's insights about Homeric and classical Greek culture fit in nicely with Spengler's, but the connection between "prose" and "transcendence" seems weaker.

So, I guess I'm wondering if you or anyone else has any answers, or knows of any good scholarship on the subject.

--Mark H

Unknown said...

Sorry to post yet a third time in a row, but in response to people wondering whether or not this new religious sensibility has any staying power when things turn bad:

Working in manual outdoor jobs over the years has brought me in contact with a number of poor Hispanic immigrants, and in discussions with them it is not uncommon to hear them evince a general appreciation of Nature as the source of all good things. And at family gatherings, I hear even my poorest relations talking about how Mother Nature's inevitably going to "get us back" for "f---ing with her", and suchlike articles of faith in the power of the living Earth. Yes, as with all of us in these vulgar latter days of civilization, none of this stops either group from engaging in crass materialism, status-seeking, and improvident choices vis-a-vis the environment. But my point is that, to a certain extent this new religious worldview crosses ethnic, racial, cultural, and economic boundaries. It's not just to be found among coddled SWPL elites

--Mark H

John Michael Greer said...

Ray, the fascinating thing about Schopenhauer is that he all but shows you that he's making his decision to reject life, instead of affirming it, on a purely personal, emotional basis. Reverse that decision and his philosophy turns into a grand affirmation of life and existence; I've considered writing a book about that one of these days, though it would probably sell about six copies.

Alan, I know it's unfashionable these days, but I don't see the point of assigning universal human capacities such as intuition by gender.

Joel, I've had similar experiences -- thus my efforts to find some way to talk about the difference between the religious sensibility I feel and that of the salvationist faiths.

Tom, and yet there have been huge cities and mighty empires at times when religion didn't focus on salvation from the human condition at all.

Thijs, a broad general tendency toward increased cephalization is no more a direction for history than is, for example, the increased heat of the sun, or the gradual buildup of more and more remains of intelligent societies in the future Earth's rock strata. The direction imagined by the folk mythology of progress is always purposeful -- it always heads somewhere.

Leo, exactly! I try to offend both sides about equally -- I figure that keeps me on course.

Derv, it fascinates me that I can repeatedly deny that religion is nothing but a social response, and yet religious people keep on insisting that I'm claiming that religion is just a social response. Of course it isn't -- but every religion is inevitably influenced by the social setting in which it exists. As for salvation, there we disagree; I'd agree that many people (though not all, as you'll find if you ask them!) feel a need for connection with that ground of being that we may as well call divine, but whether or not they see that connection as a matter of being saved from something -- that's a different matter.

Sanyi, well, most of the peoples of Eastern Europe have good reason to see themselves as stomped on by history, and you may be right that in some cases, that feeds into this. As for Quinn, I read his books some time ago and didn't find them useful; even so, it wouldn't surprise me if he was tapping into some of this as well.

Unknown, of course there are plenty of Christians who are happy and at peace with themselves; some of them are comfortable in the old religious sensibility, some of them have adapted Christianity to the new one. Please note, again, that a religious sensibility is not the same thing as a religion -- it's the foundation of emotions and preconceptions to which religions appeal.

Jason, I need to reread Wells' last book, which is a despairing nonfiction work on the failure of reason. He was a strange and, yes, rather an addicted man.

Harlan, maybe so, but a lot of the people I know who cling most tightly to the old sensibility are those who are very comfortable in every material sense, and a lot of those who have embraced the new one most enthusiastically are relatively poor and get by without many of the usual comforts of an American lifestyle. For that matter, there have been plenty of societies living in desperate times in which religions of salvation didn't flourish.

Richard, life isn't anti-entropic, it's a classic example of the way the Prigogine equations work: energy flow through an open system tends to increase the complexity of that system, as a function of the flow of energy from higher to lower concentration. I really do need to do a post sorting out sense from nonsense about entropy, as the term's misused spectacularly these days!

Nestorian said...

Once again, affirmation of the here-and-now on its own terms, such as is associated with a new religious sensibility in this week's post, is not at all alien to a genuine Christian sensibility (and I think I speak for traditional Judaism in this regard also).

For Christians, the key to joy in the here-and-now is the cultivation of an attitude of gratitude. Such an attitude of gratitude extends to all things - the good as well as the bad - and it is to be carefully cultivated as an abiding disposition.

In classical Christian spirituality, the cultivation of such an attitude of abiding gratitude is considered synonymous with the acquisition of humility, the principal Christian virtue, and the foundation for all the others.

Such an attitude is rationally warranted, in the proper Christian understanding of things, because of God's Providential ordering of all circumstances and events in the cosmos, including those originating in creaturely freedom. Both theologically and psychologically, such a sensibility, one that encompasses, yet goes beyond an acceptance of the here-and-now, exists comfortably alongside the promise of salvation in the world-to-come that Christianity also offers.

Gavin Harris said...

It seems to me that the vast majority of the current crop of religions seem to exist to answer that childish wail "Why is this happening to me/us?". To whit, the fact that the universe is random and some times bad things will happen to good people, and that all of us come into being with an expiration timer built in. I think that any religious sensibility that encourages us to accept our mortality and doesn't seek to place us "in charge" of the world can only be a healthier one, at least psychologically.

I consider myself to be an atheist in the sense that I cannot find room in my soul for the need of a god or gods. Though I do find myself captured at a spiritual level by spectacular moments in the world, I neither feel the need to worship them or assign them a creator beyond the peculiar tickings of the universe as it trundles along. I also find myself innately objecting to the concept that Life Must Have a Purpose(tm) which is clearly another label for progress. However, I must confess that the romantic in me is a little depressed that we won't be able to out into the universe and experience all the unknown glories that it no doubt possesses.

Ray Wharton said...

One of the classes I took in college that actually feels like a reasonable use of time was a Schopenhauer and Nietzsche Seminar. I took the perspective that much of Nietzsche's philosophy, especially his metaphysical under pinnings, owed a great deal to Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, but with that one value judgment you mention reversed. Your post reminded me of the conversations I had after those classes. It occurred to me that the difference, in terms of attitude toward the Wilt, between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche follows a fault line very similar to the one you have been mapping in the last few posts.

neal said...

There may be a common goal being fixing temporal and spatial narratives, with invitation. Life really does not get one at the expense of the other.

What to do? Repair Time, in Space, not the way things are trying to happen, in this place. It seems like a War, stuff, and whole events, are trying to be up in some air. Nothing has to go, or be undone, or come back around, unless that is what you want. That is not consensus, or suicide, that is sacrifice.

John Michael Greer said...

Wiseman, that's the thing about the limits to growth -- it's not just one nonrenewable resource that's guaranteed to run short sooner or later, it's all of them.

Matthew, good.

Liquid, brilliant! We'll be talking about that next week.

Babylon, I don't know -- you'll have to ask a Wiccan. Druidry and Wicca have about as much in common as Catholicism and Christian Science.

Ando, that's one of the things I admire most about Zen.

DaShui, different continents and subcontinents tend to have different religious sensibilities. I don't know that it's fair to label one or another as "negative" -- it's not a good vs. evil thing, simply a matter of difference.

Yupped, if we did that, the kids who don't share that sensibility would be as miserable as many of the rest of us were in Sunday school.

Trippticket, understood. There's a world of difference between buying an indulgence and actually changing your life.

Will, there are many different options available within any given sensibility, and standing and fighting is almost always one of them.

GHung, funny!

Unknown Ron, glad to hear it.

Greg, every religious tradition I know of has some way of thinking about transcendent experience that makes sense of it in terms of the theory of the religion, and also in terms of everyday life. The notion that one ought to want to remain in such states all the time isn't actually that common, and I think has more to do with the sensibility with which a religion is approached than with anything else.

Repent said...

Speaking of mermaids- Animal planet recently ran a sci-fi report about scientists finding the remains of mermaid's. Their subsequent analysis proving the existence of mermaids was an obvious hoax. (Thoroughly debunked here):

The debunker received non-stop hate mail by people stating- 'Didn't you see the program?- they proved mermaids were real' Clearly a lot of us can't distinguish reality from fiction anymore.

This is precisely my problem. I often wonder 'What is really real?'. We are surrounded by so many fictions, and half-truths, that what is real can be hard to decipher? I was raised in a secular non-religious family. Both of my parents are atheists and I had only marginal indoctrination as a Christian. Later in my life I find myself searching through near-death testimonials, the writings of Neal Donald Walsh, and his Conversations with God new age program, and trying to figure it all out myself, with little success.

I'm a victim of the progress myth as much as anyone else in society. I'd like to buy a small house but I can't fathom an 18 year mortgage, because I don't believe the economy will last anywhere near that long in its present form. My boss gave me a 10% raise this week, for my continuous efforts to improve and grow the company. Yet I don't believe in the growth paradigm; should I have refused the 10% raise? I can envision my life proceeding in much the same way as I've lived for the last 40+ years forward, but at the same time I believe rapid change is imminent.

My question to you is simple: What is really real?

latheChuck said...

I haven't had time to read all comments yet, but I hope this is original... is it plausible that one's view of cosmology reflects one's own personal life story? For the first 20 or 30 years of my life, it was all about growth, in size, strength, and knowledge. Every year was different. But for the last 20 years, I've been contentedly married to a wonderful woman, and we go round and round our little star. We celebrate Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and the ordinary time after Pentecost, year after year. We sow; we reap. The trees get a little taller around the house. The grass gets mowed as needed (or a little less). Our universe is cyclical.

That's not quite true. We have two sons, who have grown over the years, and may some day produce grandchildren with their own linear cosmologies, but that's not happening yet, and may never.

trippticket said...

@Greg Belvedere:

"I think a lot of people have these experiences and can't figure out how to integrate them into their lives. They then ask why can't we touch this place of bliss all the time and assume that we all will someday soon."

That was my fatal mistake after I had my a-ha moment nearly 5 years ago. It was so incredibly breath-taking, so new, so energizing, that I wanted everyone I cared about to feel it. In the process I guess I really showed my ass. I've since learned to be a lot more patient, to take the narrow in-roads when and where they appear.

The Celts refer to this contact with bliss as a brush with "the world beyond the veil," and they say that it would make you mad to live there full time. I wonder if that's not simply because so few do. Sort of like being paranoid when you're high because, well, pot is illegal, and you could get in a lot of trouble for smoking it. If pot were legal would it continue to cause paranoia? Similarly, if a critical mass of us are heading in the direction of a new religious sensibility, will it not be a more comfortable place to abide? Maybe that's a bad analogy but I enjoy it. (You know, now and then...)

I've spent the last 4 1/2 or so years trying to sort out that experience back in January '09, and thankfully, despite a few false starts and my obvious inability to clearly express my thoughts, I've found a great teacher to hang out with.

John Michael Greer said...

Herr Doktor, my take here is decidedly unpopular, but there it is. Human beings have religions because a fairly large fraction of human beings have what we might as well call religious experiences: that is, they have the experience of encountering disembodied beings who appear to correspond to the gods, spirits, etc. of religious tradition. Lacking such experiences -- which, according to a variety of surveys, happen to anything up to a third of the population -- I seriously doubt there would be any religions at all.

Hal, what sort of feeling were you left with, then?

Ganv, hmm. I'd point out that there have been many societies, and many religious sensibilities, that experienced the rough edge of nature very often, and still saw no gap between humanity and nature. The fact that there are some things in the natural world that are unwelcome doesn't justify, or for that matter explain, lumping everything other than humanity together in a single camp and labeling it "the enemy of Man, whom Man must conquer." More on this as we proceed.

Dax, satisfied people don't keep on buying products!

Trippticket, that's a subject about which I know very little, never having had to tackle it myself. Does anyone else have any suggestions? BTW, "trivivium" is great -- it sounds like "that which fosters a threefold life."

Andy, precisely. Justice in terms of everyday fairness in dealing with other people? That's a valid goal to strive for. Justice in terms of "the universe ought to measure up to my notion of what I deserve"? Not so much. The habit of coming up with an abstract and arbitrary ideal, and condemning the world because it doesn't live up to that ideal, has been central to the rhetoric of the old sensibility for a long time now.

Mike, thank you for the link! If people are starting to take a hard look at the promises of perpetual progress, we may be in for some explosions...

Steve, among those of my friends who grew up Christian and left that faith in childhood, the idea of heaven as a perpetual Sunday service generally played a very large role. That's relevant in a broader sense, too -- I'll get to that next week.

Beneath, I don't know of any such groups, but it's a crucial issue. If I ever get really wealthy, I'm going to leave a bunch of money to found a private library to collect and preserve printed books for the future.

Ben, it depends on whether you expect your utopias to become real. It's quite possible to imagine things that will never be, and use them to bounce helpful questions about the things that are; if you expect to move into your castles in the air, though, that's a different matter.

Cascadian, thanks for the suggestion. Rue's earlier book Amythia was thought-provoking for me, though not in the way that he intended -- he's one of the voices insisting that we don't have myths any more, a point of view I've challenged repeatedly.

Wildwood, "kosmos" literally means "ordered arrangement," and it might well be taken to mean the world as we understand it -- as distinct from the world as it is. You're right that the tendency to confuse these two is a major problem.

patriciaormsby said...

I've been following and enjoying your blog, but too busy to join in the conversation. If I'm not careful, this will be an enormous essay, so just a brief self-intro. I am a Shinto priestess living by Mt. Fuji.
What you write about civil religions has been most enlightening to me. I call myself "electrosensitive" (ES), by which I mean I became aware of serious health consequences from exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from typical household sources. I'd been living with these effects all my life, but unaware of any particular cause or solution. My health dramatically improved. At 55 I am in better shape than at 20.
You would be amazed at the condescending sort of sympathy I receive when I describe this to most people. They cannot imagine life without their cell phone. I try to reach out because many others might be helped by knowledge of EMF bioeffects, but what a wall I hit!
Progressives, who are usually sympathetic to victims of corporate greed and environmental damage, turn me away, saying EMF bioeffects have been discredited, and they don't care by whom. Three years ago, I wrote an article about ES, titled "The Canary in the Gold Mine" targeting a progressive audience. I still cannot find a venue for publication. These are intelligent people. They usually follow the money.
First, I blamed myself for not being persuasive. Then I blamed corporate power and trolling, and that is a factor, but Joseph Goebbels is quoted as saying, "Propaganda is not meant to fool the intelligencia, it is merely meant to provide them an excuse to avoid seeing ugly realities they'd sooner not believe." This is clearly what's happening. Then I blamed addiction, to cell phones in particular, both mental and physical, which was elucidated by at least one report from Ukrainian researchers. I'm certain it is a huge factor. But it still does not match the degree of resistance I meet, nor account for the constant need among the ES to explain they are not "Luddites." What you are saying really explains the phenomenon, with several exclamation points. And I admire you for facing people's emotional reactions so objectively. I think you've hit on a profound truth.
My new challenge, now that I am aware that I am up against religious dogma, will be how to use that knowledge to help other ES avoid being more hurt than they already are. Regarding determined ignorance, it appears these people are swimming just fine in a sea of their own choice ("mermaid tails" is just classic!), and indeed many may die clutching their beloved cell phone. I suppose they should have a right to that.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Babylon Falls--could you cite a source for what you are calling a common Wiccan doctrine?

Rebirth is a central doctrine of Wicca, believed in by a great many witches though certainly not all. A Wiccan tradition says that when witches die, they spend a period resting and then are reborn to live in the company of people they have loved in previous lives.

The Craft does not impose doctrinal uniformity on either individuals or organized groups. There might be Wiccan traditions that teach release from materiality or "spiritual evolution" as an ultimate goal. I don't believe it's a mainstream Wiccan belief, whether you are using Wicca in the narrow sense (traditions directly descended from Gerald Gardner) or the broad sense (ethical neopagan witchcraft of all sorts).

John Michael Greer said...

Richard, excellent! You get today's gold star for catching a classic bit of surreptitious mythology in our society's allegedly myth-free thinking.

Robert, heck of a good question. I don't know that anybody knows for sure what governs the rise of one sensibility and the decline of another.

Twilight, that song was a favorite of mine back in the day, too, and I had much the same response! As for reincarnation, that's not necessarily a way of getting to the escape hatch -- but that's a subject for a different forum, really.

Erich, the fact that Lewis felt the need to bully people with threats of a divine boot in the face forever shows just how far the old sensibility had already slipped by his time. If you read diaries and writings from the 17th and 18th centuries, the sense of eternal damnation didn't need to be cultivated -- it was intensely present in the minds of many.

Phil, well, since we're human, paying close attention to human nature -- that is to say, the part of nature that expresses itself through human beings -- is certainly understandable. Still, you're no doubt right that a wider perspective also has its place.

Hector, yes, you're definitely on the other side of the divide -- and I appreciate your willingness to keep following along, as you've been an unfailing source of clear, cogent, heartfelt expressions of the standard view from the faith-in-progress side of the fault line. This latest is a good example. Notice how your sense of nature assumes that the only two options are "nature as the enemy of man" and "nature as the friend of man."

Now of course it would be possible to challenge your argument from within that division -- if you want to put lions, pathogenic bacteria, et al. on one side, you would arguably need to put the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, the evolutionary process that brought you into being in the first place, and a great deal more on the other side, which leaves the lions and bacteria looking distinctly overmatched. Still, it's precisely the notion that humanity can be seen as separate from nature in the first place that's the core issue here. From within your sensibility, it seems obvious that humanity stands apart from nature; from within mine, that's simply absurd, because the very intelligence with which you come up with such ideas is the product of evolution, and wholly a part of nature. Nature isn't my best friend; it's the whole of which I am a part. Does that clarify things a little more?

Karim, I'm sorry to say that you may be right about the atheists.

Oyvind, that became increasingly popular among Russian Communists as faith in Marx dwindled. It's tolerably common for one civil religion to replace another!

MPL, good. I suppose that one way to say what I'm trying to say is that what I call "yotta language" -- "you ought to do this, you ought to do that" -- is meaningless when applied to nature.

Glenn, well, as I commented in last week's post, sensibilities aren't monolithic or universal, and different people relate to them differently.

George, I've read a couple of his posts, but not that one. I'd argue that Dawkins is not an atheist but an a-Christian, or perhaps an a-Abrahamist. His arguments only apply to monotheist religions of Middle Eastern origin, but he suffers from the delusion that all religions can be described in those same terms.

John, I don't think that's something that you or I have to worry about, any more than it's our job to deal with the heat death of the universe!

John Michael Greer said...

Jose, first, no, I don't watch television; second, there had been plenty of centuries of war and violence before Roman times! Exactly what drives the emergence of a new religious sensibility may be too subtle and complex to do more than guess at.

Goldmund, good -- we'll be talking about that next week, too.

Carl, well, as I said, a religious sensibility is anything but monolithic...

Thrig, heh. Spengler was positively curt compared to Toynbee.

Onething, there again, people had plenty of civilizations and plenty of discontents before escape from the human condition became the standard goal of religious activity. Nor does the new sensibility I'm discussing deny the possibility, or the importance, of growth in wisdom!

Redoak, well, we'll see. Many of the people I'd point to first in terms of early adopters of the new sensibility are, and would call themselves, religious people.

Ozark, granted, transcendent experiences happen, and every religious sensibility I've ever heard of found some way to make sense of them. My view, for what it's worth, is that there isn't just one mountain -- there's a whole range of them, with different paths leading up different peaks and revealing different views!

Juhana, that's one approach, one that a lot of people will adopt. I'd point out, though, that for many of us who live in the US, the values of the Enlightenment are our oldest cultural inheritance. That's our primordial tradition!

Unknown Mark, that's a heck of a question, to which all answers must necessarily be speculative. Which is to say: I don't know. As for the new sensibility existing outside elites, exactly -- it's been my experience, in fact, that it's more common outside the privileged classes than in them.

Nestorian, no argument there -- and indeed that's something I've pointed out more than once. Again, a religious sensibility is not the same thing as a religion, and it's fairly common for a sufficiently long-lived religion to make the transition from one sensibility to another at least once. My guess, if Christianity makes it, is that you'll see a lot more stress on the Incarnation, on the cultivation of gratitude toward God, and on participation in the church as the body of Christ, than on some of the issues that have been more central to religious thinking over the last two millennia or so; but of course that's just a guess.

Gavin, take a magnifying lens and spend half an hour with it face down in the grass. You'll see marvels as enchanting as anything out there among the stars.

Ray, I'd agree with you, and of course Nietzsche was quite the Schopenhauerian in his youth.

Neal, er, I'm still scratching my head trying to parse your comment.

patriciaormsby said...

Responding to Joel Caris,
I had a similar experience last year. Oriental thought is by no means monolithic. In Shugendo, which I practice, there is a broad spectrum of devotion to nature, from almost strictly Buddhist to almost strictly Shinto, and it is generally a gallimaufry of Oriental philosophies--Taoism and Confucianism among others, and even some messianic thought, all completely different from each other.
I became keenly aware of this last year. I lean toward the Shinto end of the spectrum, which is shamanistic, more similar to native American religions than to Buddhism. I embarked on a spiritual trek with a group that was about 95% Buddhist in terms of rituals. (During the Meiji period about 100 years ago, Shugendo was banned in Japan and practitioners required to declare themselves either Buddhist or Shinto.) The 5% Shinto bit included misogi, in which everyone just piled on into the river, leaving me on the shore alone expressing my abbreviated gratitude toward the river. Far from enjoying nature, the group took an adversarial attitude toward it, focusing strictly on proper form and proper distance from the person in front. While I appreciate the intrinsic value of what they were doing, creating a Buddhist narrative out of the hardships involved in crossing a rugged mountain range on foot, I found a polite way to take leave the next day, and for the first time became aware that we had in fact climbed quite high the day before.

John Michael Greer said...

Repent, I haven't the least idea. All we can know are mental models that more or less reproduce the more predictable phenomena we perceive.

LatheChuck, that makes a certain amount of sense -- but how to apply it to whole societies, full of people of many different ages, who get caught up in one or another vision of the shape of time?

Patricia, welcome to the list! Yes, that's one of the things that comes out of the worship of progress -- since progress is defined as "good," it can't hurt people, and if it does, well, it's their fault, or can't be helped, or what have you. That's one of the things I want to talk about as we proceed with the discussion, since a very strong case can be made that progress is the cause of a great many of our problems, and yet people insist that it has to be the solution...

Glenn said...


"Glenn, well, as I commented in last week's post, sensibilities aren't monolithic or universal, and different people relate to them differently."

"Human beings have religions because a fairly large fraction of human beings have what we might as well call religious experiences: that is, they have the experience of encountering disembodied beings who appear to correspond to the gods, spirits, etc. of religious tradition. Lacking such experiences -- which, according to a variety of surveys, happen to anything up to a third of the population -- I seriously doubt there would be any religions at all."

I would appear to be in the group that has _never_ had a religious experience.
which means that while I may or may not agree with you about the nature of the world or the universe, it doesn't have the emotional aspect that it does for you, or anyone else who has had a religious experience.

One effect of this is that when I learn something new, which invalidates a previously held belief of mine, it is not so painful to let go of the former belief. Of course, like those who have never been in love, I perceive that I may be missing a powerful, and possibly enjoyable experience. C'est la vie.


Marrowstone Island

Derv said...


I don't think I explained myself very well. I didn't mean to insinuate that you see religion through that lens alone - obviously you don't, as you're an Archdruid - only that there's a danger in drawing broad connections that can sometimes miss the details or causal factors that create/sustain religious traditions. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, or St. Therese of Lisieux, could be a perfect expression of an individual straddling these two mindsets, and are universally admired, yet he's set firmly into the "current" group.

I absolutely agree that there's something to what you're saying here; I suppose more than anything, I was cautioning you against a line of thinking that I hoped you wouldn't make (specifically that certain religious traditions will invalidate themselves or die because they don't mesh with this new sentiment, even though the reality is much more complex). But after thinking on it, it's unlikely that you'd pursue that line of thinking anyway.

Anyway, no offense meant, and I look forward to your next essay. I'm also enjoying Star's Reach this last week, I might add. :)

John Roth said...

@Robert Beckett

A long time ago, when I was going to astrological conferences, I wandered into a session by Robert Hand titled "The Cardinal Axes through the constellations," where he absolutely nailed a significant and symbolically appropriate historical event for each of the stars in Pisces as it went to 0 degrees 0 minutes by precession. Part of the presentation followed Carl Jung's exegesis on Pisces, including the North Fish representing the transcendent impulse to leave the plane of the zodiac, and the west fish being the move out of Europe westward.

For icing on the cake, the first and last contact with the summer solstice with Gemini was Julius Caeser's power grab, and the sudden exit of the last four holders of the title of Caeser in Europe around 1918.

Now whether this really had anything to do with the rise of a salvationist religious sensibility and its manifestation in actual religions is a question that's probably very far off topic, and in any case I don't have a dog in that hunt.

trippticket said...

@Ozark Chinquapin:

"Climbing it {the mountain} leads to a different experience, but one of the most important things to be learned is to look back down to the lands below from a broader perspective."

Gosh darn it, man, I keep trying to shut up and listen, but people keep bringing up such intricately shared thoughts!

FROM THE MOUNTAIN PEAK, by David Holmgren:

When we picture the energy climax as a spectacular but dangerous mountain peak that we (humanity) have succeeded in climbing, the idea of descent to safety is a sensible and attractive proposition. The climb involved heroic effort, great sacrifice, but also exhilaration and new views and possibilities at every step. There are several false peaks, but when we see the whole world laid out around us we know we are at the top. Some argue that there are higher peaks in the mists, but the weather is threatening.

The view from the top reconnects us with the wonder and majesty of the world and how it all fits together, but we cannot dally for long. We must take advantage of the view to chart our way down while we have favourable weather and daylight. The descent will be more hazardous than the climb, and we may have to camp on a series of plateaus to rest and sit out storms. Having been on the mountain so long, we can barely remember the home in a far-off valley that we fled as it was progressively destroyed by forces we did not understand. But we know that each step brings us closer to a sheltered valley where we can make a new home.

Justin G said...

@ Richard (and JMG)

The confusion between thermodynamic entropy and "informational entropy" is as widespread as it is frustrating. It is common to see people who should know better spouting this misconception.

To be honest though, John MIchael, you probably don't need to do a full post on the subject, as Dr. Murphy already did a fantastic job clearing up the subject.

Grebulocities said...

I went to the post that was referred to in the previous post's comments, in which someone denounces JMG, going so far as to call him "a vest pocket version of Sauron" among other creative insults. Apparently JMG's spell "there is no brighter future ahead" was so deeply heretical that it sent him into a tirade that ended with the first video from the Youtube series "Symphony of Science."

I followed the video link to Symphony of Science, and I found it to be one of the best audiovisual presentations of the religion of Progress that I've encountered. Here's the link, for anyone who wants to watch:

Warning: Contains bad autotuning. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sackerson said...

JMG - this is brilliant. May I republish on Broad Oak Magazine?


Mike Dillon said...

Speaking of the religion of progress, this article in the Guardian and its responses in the comments are apropos:

flute said...

If you want to sort out what entropy really is, you should read what Tom Murphy wrote about it on "Do the Math":
Maybe just redirecting people there is good enough.

Øyvind said...

But where does Russia aim today? I know Vladimir Putin is a fan of Alexander Dugin and his idea of multipolarity: (in Norwegian, use Google translate)

In Putin's vision of multipolarity the Russian ortodox church Plays a Central role.

At the same time you have a Rich florishing of nature communities in Russia, inspired by The Ringing Cedars, of Vladimir Megré:

Even in Norway we have a Group working hard establishing a network of nature communities, inspired by the Ringing Cedars:

As I see it this movement is close to your new religious sensibility.

Can the Russian orthodox church merge with this new movement? Or will there be a lasting Battle between them?

Ángel said...

JMG, I can easily see why people is disappointed with the escape hatch offered by religion of Progress but I'm not so sure about theist religions.

Don't you think that harshness of the Long Descent could make people turn to super-natural beliefs?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to your next posts on this series.

Andy Brown said...

@ Justin G, regarding the misuse of the term entropy.

I had a glance at Dr. Murphy's defense fo the term for a specialized usage, but not being a physicist I'm much more interested in having a term to describe more mundane insights. For example, how do we refer to the idea that higher concentrations of particular orders and structures and energy take effort to maintain else they will tend naturally toward lower concentrations. Or are you and JMG saying that that is not a valid rule of thumb? I don't particularly care that calling it entropy is not correct technical usage of the thermodynamic term, and I understand that it gets applied across different kinds of systems where it's applicability may be more or less appropriate - but I'm certainly still tempted to use it. So perhaps the Archdruid will be driven to write his takedown . . .

Juhana said...

@JMG: Just for the record, I was not advocating return to tribal wars of mankind's dawn. I just insisted that checks and balances put place by monotheist religions about two millennia ago were put there for a good reason. Two thousand years campaign of domestication and docility against humanity's inner instincts has lead to situation where many people believe basic moral framework indoctrinated into us by for example Christianity is somehow inborn quality.

It is not.

Animist worldview is probably most NATURAL way to perceive world for human being as an animal species among animal species. It really comes very naturally, when you scratch away thin layer of civilization. And oh boy that layer is thinner than most of us want to believe.

Collected material and historical evidence about humanity during early, animist days shows quite clearly wide-spread practices shunned today as pure evil by most so-called advocates of animism in industrial countries.

Researchers tend to use shy terms like "sudden replacement of population" when they actually mean low-intensity wars of conquest and extremination.

Death or slavery for subjugated males, domestic and sexual servitude for conquered females. Can you honestly say that is not the MOST common story in history of mankind between two hostile formations of humanity? First time that pattern started to somewhat break down was after rise of so-called salvation religions.

Oldest documented cases about baboon massacres and chronic cannibalism in Africa by Homo Erectus, those ancestors of us who used first time red earth for their ritual practices... This was some 300 000 years ago. Terra Amata and other sites like that give us glimpse to truly original way of life. Then we leap to Cro-Magnon and disappearance of Homo Neanderthalis from Europe. Maybe they all just decided not to reproduce anymore..? We can end evidence collection tour to early Miletos, where Greek adventurers massacred the men and forcibly married the women. My point is, we just don't compare as species to some nice and well-behaving son-in-law canditate standing on doorstep.

Our current "high" morality is actually totally unnatural state of things.

Many monotheist branches of religiosity, especially inside Christianity, seem to be spend forces right now. But the question is not from what we are freeing yourself, but into what we are heading after that?

Is this right time to make experiments with foundations of ethical framework of civilization, as still mounting population is hitting the wall of resource depletion? We need to re-evaluate our relation to the nature big time, but that direction also hides many dangers, if carried on too enthusiastically.

Charismatic demagogues willing to spill some innocent blood for the Cause don't always raise from the ranks of "evil corporate capitalists", you know...

Ian said...

I wish I had more time to spend reading through all these comments...

Anyway: ever read John Gray's Straw Dogs? Your comment on Schopenhauer puts me very much in mind of it (in part because he puts me very much in mind of Schopenhauer)--he does a wonderful job of taking to task the illusion of modern and evolving humanity.

That book is stylish after a 19th century fashion and seems to have a good bit of the mermaid sensibility, though I doubt his fusty British cynicism would choose that word ;-).

It is folks like Gray that make me think the mermaid sensibility extends well beyond its manifestation in obviously religious forms and I've even mused if the religious expression is an odd hybrid of the old sensibility with the new.

While a lot of Dawkins-style atheists are rabid when anything religious shows up (to the extent that I often wonder if some personal or collective trauma lies at its root), I have found more than a few of them to be mermaids when it comes to their love for the complexity of nature and the diverse forms of human engagement.

I am often a bit sad that they can't seem to consider religion as part of that engagement; it feels like one of those barriers that doesn't have to be there and needlessly divides us one from the other.

redoak said...

Then I will allow myself some small hope that this new sensibility is more than a sailor’s tale. I’ve so long been in opposition to salvation I’m not quite sure how to conceive of religion in any other way. Perhaps you are correct that the modern irreligious have unfairly stereotyped religions, though I’m sure you will forgive our impatience: they do give me the willies!

The sensibility you describe seems capable of a tolerance to philosophy that would traditionally exclude it from religious categorization. As you know, there are good reasons to be cautious about these things, especially considering the hurly-burly times ahead. So I wonder if you see that tolerance as well, and is it genuine? Also, this sensibility seems poorly suited to an ascendant aggressive civilization, is it well suited to one in descent?

One last question, have you considered what this sensibilities’ characteristic political excess(es) might be?

Anna said...

I'm with Bill Pulliam :) Brilliant and funny response.

I actually like the idea of the cycle, because it doesn't posit an end-to-all-things. The end of the world as we know it, as Sharon Astyk and many others have pointed out, is *not* the same as the end of the world!

Hal said...

"Hal, what sort of feeling were you left with, then?"

That question left me to some deeper soul-searching than you might think, and I'm no doubt not done with it. I'll try not to parade my psychodrama before the assembled brethren, but I do owe you a response.

I guess at the end of the day, it's still pretty neutral, which is to say, not much feeling at all. If that's what you meant by "leave cold," I guess that's it.

Now, my inability to have an emotion over it is of great interest and concern to me, but, as I said, I won't inflict that on you and everyone else. What I come here for, though, is the really brilliant and unique insights you provide every week on the major epoch-altering events of our time. The time that concerns me is our time, my time, and the time of my children and those I feel some connection to. That last category extends far enough that I generally want to do my part to help all of those who come after us to have the best transition through the upcoming bottlenecks as possible. Right now, that means trying to learn to farm sustainably in the Mississippi Delta.

At 60, I have become reconciled to missing all of the really interesting parts, but I can still raise some genuine concern for 10, 100 and maybe even 1000 years out. Beyond that, though, it's just a neat story. It gave me a deeper insight into my place in life, for sure, and that's a good example of the other thing I also appreciate about your blog

I have been introduced to so many very interesting insights and ideas from the long reach of mostly western thought that I would not have encountered otherwise. I am struggling through Spengler now, making slow headway. Not sure what will come out of it, but I'm glad for the challenge.

Where this leaves me in terms of religious sensibility, I haven't a clue. I don't know if I ever really bought the whole concept of salvation. Why would the God I was taught put me in a world I need to be saved from? And while I was firmly in the Progressive camp for many years, probably even believed in the inevitability of positive change, it's been quite a few years since I really bought that.

Neither of those keeps me from attending church or working for positive change. Maybe it's just a default by now.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Greetings to you JMG, and to all--

JMG, it seems significant to me that you are writing this series of posts at this time of year (for us in the northern hemisphere). On one level the theme is that of descent, quiescence and regeneration (material, cultural, religious): most appropriate for the autumn equinox, that brief period of equipoise and reflection, of harvest and seasonal downshifting in the face of declining light and increasing cold. Yet we save our seeds, ready ourselves for winter and know that perennial plants are only going dormant.

The yearly cycle of the seasons carries on, yet each period in the cycle is different from the analogous period in previous and future cycles. Wheels within wheels at multiple scales on multiple time-frames, the wheels not actually shaped like wheels, since there are so many connections, flows, feedbacks, etc. operating across and within our multidimensional cosmos.

I have long meditated on that old, nearly cliche saying: "at the beginning of the journey towards enlightenment, a tree is a tree and a mountain just a mountain; along the journey, the tree becomes more than a tree, the mountain more than a mountain; with enlightenment, the tree is a tree and the mountain a mountain." (Perhaps I've mentioned this before.) It seems to me that this new religious sensibility partakes of that progression, getting beyond the idea of transcendence and embracing the tree and mountain in all their tree-ness and mountain-ness--which after all reintegrates and reincorporates the spiritual back into the nature of things. Speaking as a religious person.

Also, it's interesting to read these posts in light of "World Full of Gods."

Moshe Braner said...

After reading this week's posting, I now I think that the reason that I scratched my head over the religious imagery in the movies 2001 and 2010, wondering what in the world the fuss (or the movie as a whole) is about, is that by the time I saw those movies my sensibilities have already abandoned those "common to Eurasia in the last 2000 years", and thus I reacted to those symbolisms sort of like the mermaid that rejects the offered life-preserver.

Rose Weaver said...

JMG, a dear friend of mine turned me on to this post and, in turn, to your blog. Oh, what I've been missing!

In a word, brilliance.

And, what Goldmund said... yeah. I'm down with that.

@Repent: What is really real? That truly is an interesting question, isn't it.

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, well, that puts you in the majority these days. Most of the practices taught by religious traditions are ways of evoking such experiences, precisely because only a minority of people have them spontaneously.

Derv, thanks for the clarification. It's entirely possible that some religious institutions won't survive the shift between sensibilities, but that's not written in stone by any means. You may have noticed, speaking of Star's Reach, that there are still Christians around in the imaginary 25th century America in which that story's set; they aren't in the majority by any means, and most people think of them as weird, but the Old Believers are still part of the social fabric.

Justin, I'm a major fan of Murphy's blog; even so, it may be useful to approach the issue from a different perspective, or simply to repeat the point so that it has a better chance of sinking in!

Grebulocities, all I can say is "wow." All they need now is a line of monks in white lab coats chanting lines out of Newton's Principia Mathematica, and whacking themselves in the face with boards at intervals...

Sackerson, thanks for asking. Yes, all my posts may be reprinted on other internet venues, so long as my name and a link back to this blog are included.

Mike, thanks for the link! The blank incomprehension of the comments is as telling as the essay itself.

Flute, see my comment to Justin above. Glad to see both of you are reading that very good blog!

Oyvind, interesting -- I'm not familiar with Megre's work. As for the future relations between that movement and the Orthodox Church, that'll likely depend on subtle factors that can't be predicted in advance.

Angel, not all supernatural beliefs include an escape hatch from the human condition -- you might have a look at Greek Pagan religion, for example. I don't doubt that we'll see quite a bit of supernaturalism as we move into what Spengler called the Second Religiosity, but if I'm right about the emergence of a new religious sensibility, that won't stress the escape-hatch business because people won't be interested in that. More on this next week.

Juhana, to begin with, civilized Christian human beings have engaged in atrocities equalling any of those you've attributed to animism, so the change from one to another may not be that big a deal. Still, the deeper issue is that you're forcing all this into the procrustean bed of faith in progress -- you've got "primitive animism" giving way to "civilization," and so on, with the assumption that any reconciliation with nature involved "going backwards" -- the sin against the holy spirit of Progress, for which there is no forgiveness. What if reconciliation with nature is a matter of going forwards -- or if that linear metaphor doesn't apply to the situation at all?

rakesprogress said...

Could a facet of this alternative sensibility be related to the concept of mindfulness? I have practiced a smattering of Zen at times in my life, and that concept has always resonated with me. As if the eastern sages knew that the garden of eden wasn't lost, but is hidden in plain sight. Utopia? Yep, got that right here.

I don't mean to imply that the matter is one of simple realization. The rigorous discipline practiced by eastern monks would be a tactic for resisting the predominant sensibility that so deeply denies the bliss under our noses, and in which our culture is so thoroughly steeped.

Perhaps nirvana is nothing more than their dream of when those tactics will no longer be necessary.

In this context, the buddha isn't something you meet on the street, hence the koan, "if you meet the buddha on the street, kill him" is really saying if that happens we're looking for the wrong thing.

John Michael Greer said...

Ian, I haven't, and I'll definitely add that one to the reading list.

Redoak, the interesting thing is that intolerance for dissenting beliefs is almost entirely a feature of religions of salvation; compare the religious history of other parts of the world to that of the post-Pagan west, and you'll find a great deal of tolerance toward philosophy and disagreement even among the devoutly religious. It's among my hopes that future religious traditions will find their way back to that useful habit. As for the potential excesses, political and otherwise, of the new sensibility I've sketched out, that's a complex issue and probably deserves a post of its own.

Anna, it's a common sentiment!

Hal, default habits are often the most useful. Many thanks for a thoughtful response to my question!

Adrian, good! Yes, the cosmology and the philosophy of religion I sketched out in A World Full of Gods underlies this discussion -- or perhaps more accurately, the sensibility I'm talking about now was the not-yet-well-explored foundation for the ideas I was trying to sort out in that book.

Moshe, I had the same reaction -- and I'll probably be talking about 2001, curiously enough, in next week's post.

Rose, thank you and welcome to the blog!

Ruben said...

JMG, I found your closing thoughts to resonate.

"It’s been my..experience that for those who...feel the new sensibility, the old promises haven’t just lost their plausibility; they’ve lost their emotional appeal.

It’s one thing to proclaim salvation from nature, history, and the human condition to those who want that salvation...It’s quite people who no longer want the salvation you’re offering"

This describes the change in my life over the past several years, and is a key part of my work in sustainability. It expresses itself very clearly in contrast to the modern world in the area of death.

My family has been very moved by the work of Stephen Jenkinson, who managed palliative care for a couple of decades. There is an NFB film about him called Griefwalker, which is worth watching, though his speaking is even better. He says our Western culture has lost a healthy relationship to death.

So, trying to reconnect with the world inevitably means reconnecting with death, and pain.

Yesterday, a friend and I went hunting. We came home with a grouse, a deer and 20 pounds of chantrelle mushrooms. Food tastes so much better when it is spiced with meaning.

But, it hurt to watch the pain, fear and shock of the deer as he died. It was not pleasant to gut and skin him, and cut out the ruined organs and traumatized flesh.

I don't find this easy. There is great joy, and also great difficulty. But I am uninterested in salvation from it.

valekeeperx said...


Some random items:

1) Perhaps otters will emerge in the future as an intelligent species, somewhere in there among the raccoons and corvids, etc.

2) In your response to Richard Larson, you indicated that you sense the need to do a post on entropy. I wholeheartedly endorse this prospect. Since reading Asimov’s The Last Question in my teens (in the 70s), I have, off and on over the years, attempted to clarify my understanding of this rather elusive concept. I have my own current understanding and look forward to reading that post.

3) Interesting bit of synchronicity this week. A Facebook comment by my teenage niece on Sept 14:

“If mermaids exist I hope they stay hidden because we’re just gonna end up killing them like we do everything else.”

And my response (likewise on Sept 14):

“It's okay. Merfolk have special filters for the ickies we put in the water and are extra smart for dealing with all the fishing strategies.”

As a merfolk, I thank you for your help filtering out the ickies and developing useful and effective responses for dealing with fishing strategies.


simon.dc3 said...


Great post, and your comments after elucidate even more. Can't wait for your post(s) on Entropy.

I've been thinking that it could be statistically shown that people with this new religious sensibility tend to:

1) have a more-than-superficial understanding of the limitations and bounds of existing within a finite system (be it through personal experience of land husbandry and attempting to live within limits, or through visceral understanding of what the Laws of Thermodynamics and Entropy actually mean to all organisms in a finite system.)
2) are less likely to be of the Take-While-There-Is-For-Taking (TWTIFT) sociopath variety that tend to plague the current paradigm.

Am thinking of the dychotomy presented by the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition to people of this new sensibility.

After all, right at the beginning, in their creation myths they have, "Be fruitful, multiply, and fill (or, subdue) the earth..." in all three, and all their variants.

To anyone who glimpses those limits that command must read like a curse, given said finitude.

Having said that, any thoughts on what type of "extremists" are likely to feel perfectly as ease in this new sensibility?
Seeing the TWTIFT-socipath-variety plaguing free-marketeers, I would think there are bound to be some new/other types in the new sensibility you describe though I can't put my finger on what exactly they could be...fatalists of some unhelpful kind maybe?

And, will the new sensibility be capable and willing to visit such violence on the dying paradigm as is likely to be visited on it for not adhering to Progress like most everyone else?

I say that by seeing the violent transition --from the old to the currently dominant one-- that took place and given that most transitions occur that way.

Juhana said...

@JMG: Your answer was hard piece for me to swallow. Maybe I have detected some instinctive patterns of thinking in me. If so, thank you for that experience. It is going to take some time to chew this down, though.

I am deeply aware of problems and hypocritical behavior inside my own framework communities. I just have always thought that there is no other option available to us than falling back to traditions, communities and governments of pre-industrial era, because systemic failure build into current version of industrial system is so blatantly obvious. It is system with no cooling system build in, and shall explode anyway from overheating, it is just question when not if. To think that there is some new way, that comes not from past nor present, is new thing to me.

Christine4 said...

I am interested in the dating of these shifts in religious sensibility. The frame of reference I am studying is Western astrology, specifically the cyclical orbits of the outer planets. Note that I don't suggest planets cause changes, just that they correlate - like the clock doesn't make time happen.

Neptune and Pluto line up (conjunct)every 495-or-so years. Here are the dates of the cycle of Neptune Pluto conjunctions:

1071 b.c. decline of ancient civilisations: New Kingdom Egypt, Shang China, Mycenaean Greece, Assyria, Babylonia.
579 b.c. - all three outer planets Neptune, Pluto and Uranus line up. Start of a new 3940 year cycle. As JMG said, this was an astonishing time in the history of religion/spirituality - Buddha, Socrates and Pythagoras, Lao Tsu, Confucius, Isaiah, Mahavira, Zoroaster. Also new civilisations emerge worldwide - Olmecs, African Meroe Kush, Persian, Roman Republic, Classical Greece, Nigerian Nok, Japan, Paracus Peru.
85-84 b.c. Essenes and Rise of Christianity. Roman Empire.
411-412 c.e. sack of Rome. Dark Ages. Rise of popes, Bible into Latin, Buddhist texts into Chinese. Spread of Islam
904-905 c.e. Rise of monasteries - medieval Europe. Chinese empire collapse.
1398 - half way through the cycle, so another significant shift in religious sensibility. Earliest stirrings of renaissance thought and spirituality in Italy. Fall of Constantinople to Islam. World navigation (Columbus etc.)
1891 - Peak of colonialism. Freud published, Wounded Knee massacre, Dreyfus affair and Zionism, H.G. Wells, Van Gough popular, Labour/Unions, Fin de Siecle, Theosophy, Steiner, The Golden Bough, Vedanta Society, popularisation of Eastern religion in the West. 'Plantesamfund' and rise of ecology.

The 1890s do seem to be a pivotal time in the most recent history of religion or spirituality, and our view of man's place in the scheme of things. I would be very interested in anyone's thoughts on this idea.

The next conjunction is 2385

Bill Pulliam said...

Babylon -- I've been around a lot of wiccans in my time, and I don't recall ever coming across beliefs like that. Most seem to believe in a standard American mish-mass belief in sequential one-for-one reincarnation. No particular end to the cycle, no higher form of being to ascend to (since most view humans already as just one friendly increment below the gods, and don't seem to believe that human souls can ascend to godhood).

But individual covens can incorporate just about any beliefs, so it might be a function of which particular groups you have been in contact with, and where.

onething said...


I have no practical advice, but I applaud your decision. I know a few families around here that are home schooling, and the kids are just lovely and unspoiled. My opinion of the public schools is that they are no places for developing minds.

Patricia Ormsby,

Recently, the local Sunday paper ran an article essentially asking the populace to harass their congresspersons about cell phones and other wifi type devices as they are causing cancer. Recently, my employer decided to make us carry cell phones. I have a pocket on my leg that I use, but it is sad that many of the women put the phones near their breast. I have told a few of them not to. I think you might be right about the addiction.


Your conscious awareness is real. All else is conjecture.

JMG, I'm thinking about Juhanna's post and your reply, and it reminds of something I have wondered about for some time. We tend to think of "primitive man" as monolithic, as in What were the native Americans like?"
Or some other aboriginal group. As if everyone in that particular society had a similar level of development, whereas we know that in our society people come in all gradations. Why would that not be so in those societies as well? To be sure, they did not have available to them the large array of ideas and did belong to cultures in which everyone belonged. But wouldn't it be the same with them as with us "real" humans, that some people are thoughtful, some impulsive and violent, some have worked their way to an elevated sense of ethics? Some engaged in adultery and others didn't, just as with us. And so on. From what I can gather, this was true of native Americans, both individually and as differing tribes, many of their leaders were great orators and certainly theirs was a nature loving spirituality. I read a book of their speeches and sayings, and was surprised to find that a number of them referred to something called the Great Mystery, without ever elaborating. One stated that sometimes a man would just ride his horse out into the wilderness alone and contemplate the Great Mystery.
I love that they didn't need to elaborate or define what they meant by this.

Steve in Colorado said...

I know you're not a big fan of ecovillages. I've been to a few and seen a lot of potential which was very often wasted for various reasons. But I have often wondered if those ecovillages which successfully pass through the crucible of the times to come might emerge on the other side as a monastic tradition within the new sensibility.

John Michael Greer said...

Ruben, I suspect my take on things has been shaped powerfully by my own contact with the dead and dying -- aside from relatives, of whom there have been a few, I used to work in the nursing home industry before I first got into print, and there's nothing that makes mortality real like taking vital signs on a favorite patient while those signs drop inexorably toward zero. That said, agreed -- that life isn't easy doesn't inspire me to try to run away from it.

Valekeeperx, good! May your niece sprout a mermaid's tail...

Simon, those are excellent questions, to which I don't presently have answers. Everything human has its potentials for extremism, but exactly what kinds of extremism the new sensibility might have are hard to guess, and may not even be determined yet -- there's a lot of crystallization still to come. As for violence, the same principle applies.

Juhana, thanks for a thoughtful response! I agree, as you know, that the industrial system is not long for this world, and it's quite possible that at least some cultures and communities will try to go back to some earlier system -- though "going back" is more difficult than it looks, and the result may well be completely new. Still, there are many more options than business as usual and some older system; I'll try to point out some of the possibilities as we proceed.

Christine4, it's an interesting question. You might try, as a control, the experiment of choosing an interval and starting place at random, and doing your level best to find correlations; the human mind is very good at finding patterns, and there's almost always something going on in history!

Onething, that's an excellent point, and it can be applied even more broadly, because different First Nations had wildly differing traditions -- as far apart as Christianity is from Confucianism or Vodoun is from Druidry. There were upwards of 500 nations here before the European invasion. The same was no doubt true of "primitive man" -- that is to say, the wildly diverse cultures of people who lived in the hundreds of millennia before the invention of agriculture.

Steve, I'll talk about that a bit further. The short form is that an ecovillage that wants to do that is going to have to scrap nearly everything that middle class Americans want in an ecovillage, starting with material comfort; what makes monasticism work is the deliberate embrace of extreme poverty, which frees up resources for other uses. Celibacy also helps, since raising children is a resource-intensive activity. More on this as we proceed.

KL Cooke said...

"...the idea that I will someday die doesn't bother me at all as long as I've lived a full life."

I remember reading somewhere that nobody minds dying someday. It's dying right now that's hard to accept.

Somewhatstunned said...

A little off-topic for this weeks post, but very on-topic for the strand of which it is a part, so do forgive me.

Ian mentioned John Gray and I note that he has been mentioned in the comments a few times before. Therefore, for the sake of completeness I feel ought to mention the British philosopher Mary Midgley.

She 'got to me' well before JMG on the broad issues around 'progress-as-religion'. She's now in her late eighties and she used as her main case-studies the mid-20th-C precursors to our Kurzweilies such as JD Bernal. Midgley has particularly influenced my in thinking as regards the use of metaphor and the way it points at underlying assumptions. (She also invented the useful term 'philosophical plumbing' for an assumed world-view - like plumbing we only become aware of it when it starts to go wrong).

Oh, and perhaps pre-empting JMGs future post on non-corunucopian fiction, nobody has mentioned Ursula le Guins' the lathe of heaven a terrific fantasy exploration of why 'making the world a (continuously) better place' might not work.

Cherokee Organics said...


Quote: "somehow deserved something better than the world we know".

Fair enough. Perhaps this may be a source of the shooting for the stars kind of thinking?

I'm going straight to hell for this one...

Anyway, since you mentioned in your last essay "unpaid day job", I've been wondering about salvation. Wondering for me means churning it over in my head (meditating on the concept), whilst supervising the activities of the chooks in the orchard. They can be exceptionally naughty and start scratching up the driveway when my back is turned and I also have to be around or they will be eaten by something.

The truth is, I just don't understand what is meant by this term, "salvation". It is an alien concept to me.

My take on the world is that without experience, a person cannot earn accumulated wisdom. Without asceticism, a person cannot earn enlightenment. You can and should have a mix of the two though with the pendulum falling towards the wisdom (as it is of greater value).

I had a good example of this recently in my own life. The people that I discuss all manner of renewable energy systems with, advised me against a wind turbine at this location. I dismissed their hard earned wisdom out of hand and experimented with a wind turbine and found that for all of the reasons they advised me, they were 100% correct and I was humbly wrong and afterwards freely admitted it. Out of experience though, I had learned wisdom!

The thing is, it is really hard to communicate wisdom.

So, I've been meditating on your "unpaid day job" comment in the previous essay and thought that perhaps a religion offering a way to avoid the whole messy getting of wisdom process and/or asceticism is offering a panacea of hope dressed up as an easy way out.

Plus chuck in the element of forgiveness without rectification or sacrifice then you are onto a true winner.

Why would this be the case then?

Well, historically 90% of the population was involved in agriculture. To get into the 10% would have been a very hard ask.

At about the point in time in history that you mentioned that this concept took off, the agricultural processes would have been drawing down on their reserves of top soil through new farming techniques. This would not have been understood at the time though.

It seems obvious, that if a group wanted to subsist off the 10% surplus, then they had to provide a product / service that people wanted (or were forced) to buy.

What better way to go than offer an easy path out of the earlier historical religious narratives than salvation.

It is an appealing concept, but the easy way is most often the hardest way given a very nice image. It doesn't change the fact that it is a harder way to go though.

I can almost see that the ancient Druid’s may have preached an incompatible message to this one.

Sniff, sniff, do I smell brimstone?

PS: I read in an article called: "Twitter takes flight and joins the share-market" in The Age newspaper on 14 Sep.

My favourite quote: "The float provides a way for employees and the company's venture capital shareholders to easily sell some of their shares."

I'd love to say I'm making this stuff up, but didn't we have this almost same dialogue just before another large float of Internet stock?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi trippticket,

Ahh, so you are an American, once in Florida?

Here goes:

Goanna - Solid Rock



Cherokee Organics said...


The other thing is, why would anyone in their right minds want to achieve Godhead anyway?

Seems like too much responsibility to me and without wisdom, how would any person be able to assess the competing claims?



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Hal,

Not to stress, the term "Meh" has great historical usage amongst the Italians for much the same reasons. You're in good company.


Phil Knight said...

Speaking of Dawkins, I'm most impressed at how Charles Darwin himself has become an iconic figure for the Neo-Darwinist apostles of Progress. And then I see that famous picture of him, all wise and kindly with his long, flowing white beard, and I realise that he looks very much like how Christians imagine God.

Karl Marx looked very wise, beardy and godly too, come to think of it.

trippticket said...

Thanks for the support! It adds considerably to our daily to-do list, and we were plenty busy already, but I couldn't agree more that public school is no place for a developing mind. Pretty sad considering that's the only reason they exist.

@JMG, cc:Simon:

I woke up with a few thoughts this morning along similar lines to Simon's comment above, wondering if there's a correlation between people who dwell in the new sensibility and philosophies that eschew biocides in general.

I don't want to stir the vaccination pot again, but I'm thinking here of eating and growing organic (biocide-free) food; a general distrust of vaccination, instead preferring the age-old dance with both benign and pathogenic microbes alike; being generally out-of-sync with the concept of "invasive" species, and the herbicide profiteering that is generated by that hate. Et cetera, and so forth, and so on.

Any thoughts?

onething said...

"It’s one thing to proclaim salvation from nature, history, and the human condition to those who want that salvation...It’s quite people who no longer want the salvation you’re offering"

That's what hell is for! Now you really DO need to be saved, eh?

trippticket said...

Heavy post done, now for something completely different...


Considering the season, I hope everyone is enjoying some of the wild fruit of late summer. With 100% chance of rain last night here in lower Appalachia (and currently raining) I scrambled yesterday afternoon to collect as many sumac "bobs" as I could for making sumac lemonade, most of which I then ferment to mead and champagne.

Any of the dark red sumacs are edible/drinkable, although some are better than others. Poison sumac isn't a true sumac and has dangling white axial berries instead of apical clusters of crimson drupes. It only lives deep in mucky swamps, as opposed to true sumacs which thrive in full sun and dry soil. It's very distinct, a cousin of poison ivy/oak, not at all like true sumacs. Don't be scared of the sometimes hoary appearance of true sumacs; they're all edible, and mostly delicious.

To make "Rhus juice," or sumac-ade, take 6-8 fruit clusters per gallon, at least half the volume of your container in my experience, and soak in cool water for several hours, smashing up the clusters a bit with a potato masher or similar to get it all started. Strain the seeds and hairs out, sweeten if you like, and enjoy. Convert the ade to mead, wine, or champagne in the usual ways.

Tip: when collecting sumac bobs taste them before picking to find the snappy, sour clusters. If they don't make you pucker don't bother. You'll soon get a "feel" for what you're after. The flavor comes from malic acid, which is what gives apples and grapes a lot of their characteristic appeal. It also makes the mead made from Rhus juice taste rather apple cider-ish. Look for sticky white coatings on the clusters - that's pure sumac essence. And make sure you lick your fingers clean after collecting...

Hal said...

Actually I found Grebulocities' links more moving than anything I've seen in a long time. Though, he's right, the sound is terrible.

Dang it, John Michael, I want my awe and wonder in the universe that has been revealed to us, as imperfect as I know it is, through science! When they get to the "going to the stars" part, I can pretty much do the same thing I do when we get to the part in the Nicene Creed: "True God from True God, Begotten, not made, Of one being with the Father..." Yeah, right, whatever. That's not what I'm there for.

You have made it clear that science and the religion of progress are not one and the same, though the former may provide most of the priesthood. But just as you say some of the old theistic religions may adapt to the new religious sensibility, might not at least a big chunk of the science culture (not just talking about preserving the scientific method here) also make the shift? I think they are in many ways predisposed to have a lot of the deep appreciation of just what is, as it is, right now that seems to be part of the new sensibility.

I've long had a foot in the worlds of Dawkins and, oh, Rob Bell. Now I have to find a third foot!

Joeln said...

Good stuff these days.
Ten billion years was unsettling, but in hindsight, very good. I was saddened by the level to which Brin fell in my estimation.
Homecoming; yes I see this but I'm not sure I'm there yet. Give it time.
Mermaids; I like the image! Perhaps this can help me overcome my discomfort with reality. We all move at our own pace.
I liked Green Wizardry very much and just wrote a positive review at amazon. I fall very much in the retrofit category. It's clear to me that my present home even though it's built to very high efficiency standard for 1996 is not that well suited to retrofit.

Thanks John!

Robert said...

Here's a poem I've just discovered by a good Christian that might help sustain people through the Long Descent

Choruses from "The Rock" by T.S. Eliot

"Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of GOD,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity they will decry it."

Enrique said...

JMG – “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.”

Could you elaborate a little more on this earlier sensibility that preceded the temple cults, and perhaps list some sources on this sensibility and how the transition between the two occurred?

trippticket said...

"Goanna" is Australian for iguana? Not bad...

trippticket said...

"instead preferring the age-old dance with both benign and pathogenic microbes alike"

Wait! Just both? Can't forget the beneficials! They're the ones that make the dance with the others possible in the first place!

John Roth said...


Back when I was doing the more theoretical aspects of astrology, I saw that a few times, and eventually decided it wasn't going to answer the questions I had. I was looking for long term prognostication, and those major transits just seem to be kicking the ball in a random direction every once in a while.

The context is missing. I could, for example, open my ephemeris and look at the configuration on Election Day, 2064, which assumes there is a US to hold elections on that day, and write up something about the Sun - Saturn square and the way Venus, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are in the end of their respective signs, but without the context it means exactly nothing.

I could say something about the Robert Hand lecture I mentioned. Once we've identified the configuration as the upward-pushing religious and then western-pushing temporal expansion of Western civilization, we can speculate on the single contact that's left before it leaves Pisces behind (I think there's still one, but its been a long time), and then speculate on the symbolism of Aquarius and what it would mean.

However, I seem to remember someone saying that, before Pisces was the two fish, it was the sign of the hired servant, or some such. There was a change of consciousness just before the vernal equinox hit that section of sky. Who's going to say that, a few hundred years in the future, our descendents are going to look at the patch of stars currently occupied by Aquarius and see the same things in it we do?

And, of course, we may just be seeing patterns there that aren't there in reality.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

This afternoon I attended a local demonstration against the Keystone XL pipeline, organized by 350 Marin (they plan to have their website up on Wednesday.) It happened to be two blocks from where I live. A lot of people there, considering it's the suburbs, and drivers honking their horns in support ;-)

When I got home, I checked out the musical Sagan You Tube clip that Grebulocities mentioned. I rather liked it.

I had guessed "meh" to be Yiddish, even though I didn't hear it growing up, because of its quality of summing up a full sentence and an attitude in one syllable. "Meh" reminds me of "Nu?", which is Yiddish and nearly untranslatable.

Enrique said...

John Michael,

Vladimir Megre is the author of the Anastasia (AKA Ringing Cedars) books, which have been referenced a few times before in the comments section of this blog. He is a rather controversial figure even in Russia, but he seems to have acquired a sizeable following. There have also been groups based on his writings formed in many other countries as well, including the United States:

Oswald Spengler observed in “The Decline of the West” that there was a tremendous profusion of sects, cults, charismatic religious figures and new religions in Russia during the centuries prior to the Revolution of 1917. He argued that this phenomenon is something that has not seen since the rise of the Magian Culture 2000 years ago. In fact, he openly wondered if there are any peoples who are capable of religious genius who don’t speak Aramaic or Russian.

Since the USSR fell apart, this trend seems to have resumed. The Ringing Cedars movement is only the best known example of this in the West. There are a number of religious movements in Russia that do seem to be combining what you described as the new religious sensibility with earlier Christian and other religious traditions. One of the ones that I have run across is the Eco-Psychology movement founded by Vladimir Antonov, which combines elements of Orthodox Christianity, Eastern traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, nature spirituality and modern sciences like ecology, psychology and systems theory.

Spengler, along Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, Edgar Cayce and a number of other thinkers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, believed that the next great spiritual movement would come out of Russia, in part because Russia has historically been a bridge between East and West and so has been cross-fertilized by the different spiritual, cultural and intellectual currents flowing through.

Shaun Bartone said...

I can't let you brush all Buddhist religions, or even all Mahayana traditions, with a single brush and sum it up as a 'salvation' religion. First of all, there is no god in Buddhism. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said there is not god that's going to rescue you--you're on your own. Second I practice the Tantric version of Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, which has a shamanistic and earth-honoring tradition that is not new, but goes back thousands of years. In the mature stage of Tantric Tibetan Buddhism (which includes Mahayana doctrine), one awakens to the realization of 'Sacred World'--that all of life is sacred, that the sacredness of life is 'ordinary magic' (CTR again). Some of the greatest ecologists and systems theorists were Buddhists or influenced by Buddhism, including Francesco Varella, Fritjoff Kapra, and Joanna Macy. I practice an earth-honoring Buddhism that stems not from a new sensibility, but a very ancient one, combined with the new science of ecology that is new to Western minds.

Babylon Falls: Salvage and Curios said...

@ (Deborah Bender)
I was initiated 2nd degree in 95 and have maintained friendships with Wiccans for decades. The notion of spiritual evolution is, from my observations, quite common.

If you’re asking if I can cite a source, how difficult would it be to find a book or website or a number of each, to demonstrate what I said. Not very difficult, or productive. There are so many books, websites, covens, solitaries, etc. around these days, even core doctrines get dropped on occasion. And any number of mixtures with other religions, including neoDruid/Wicca and Asatru/Wicca fusions. Any doctrine claimed by one can be, and probably has been, refuted by another. Strictly Gardnerian doctrine it might not be…

It’s simply a very common doctrine that I’ve observed and found baffling; not ubiquitous or even core. No biggie.

Personally, nowadays, I mostly like to study earlier European religions, North America and Canada’s First Nation beliefs, Shinto, animism, neoDruid perspectives, science, etc. with a view to developing a religious framework that I’d feel comfortable carrying into the future.

Best wishes :)

latheChuck said...

Re: my earlier speculation on personal cosmologies. "How can it apply to whole societies?" Well, right now we're living with, I'm told, the dominance of "The Baby Boomers". They aren't "everyone", but there are enough of them, with a coherent vision of prosperity and entitlement, to shove the rest around. Societies do go through crises (warfare, plague, etc.) that leave the survivors non-uniformly distributed.

I admit, though, that it's hard to see how personal cosmology could influence a society, over a time span greater than a human lifetime, in a consistent trajectory.

latheChuck said...

simon.dc3: What sorts of sociopaths might arise?

A recent issue of Discover magazine contained an essay by E. O. Wilson on the historical (and pre-historical) prevalence of warfare. I think that I can fit just about every conflict into a battle for resources. Suppose I desire to appropriate some of my neighbor's land to produce food for my growing family. If he resists, he's likely to enlist an ally of any plausible sort: family, faith, ethnicity, ... whatever, doesn't really matter. The point is to have any marker to decide who belongs to the "us" and who to the "them". In a world where resources are scarce, there's no future in trying to be isolated and neutral; if you've got a desired resource, you're just volunteering to be annihilated without a fight.

So, if/when push comes to shove, there will probably be no shortage of "sustainable warfare". Collapse now, while we can do it gracefully.

Joy said...

To trippticket and others looking into alternative forms of teaching/learning: Check into the unschooling movement, and read some of the books by John Taylor Gatto. I have no children of my own, but have heard of this movement and it sounds promising. A simple search turned up these links (among many more).

Chris G said...

Not so directly applicable to this post... but that people, particularly, I think, through humor, are seeing that industrialism, and all of its "benefits" - the idea of complete power and control; or that we now, even the poor in America, in material ways, are wealthier than the Pharaohs whose eye is depicted at the top of our dollar bill's pyramid: it's just not all its cracked up to be. It was hubris, and destructive, our appetites greater than our wisdom. It was a departure from nature, and not such a grave loss, for the cars and TVs, cell phones and fast food burgers, to go extinct like all failed experiments in life. Louis C.K. is a very popular comic. And there is something about humor: a way of stepping outside deceptions, of self or others; a way of reclaiming psychic control by making light of hubris when humanity is so out of balance; humor, which in its etymology meant bodily fluids, is to regain some fluidity when the world is frozen like the statue of Ozymandias.

the Louis C.K. video clip is worth a viewing. It's a comic's humorous take on being natural in an unnatural world:

Errata said...


I've been reading your blog for about 2 years now, and reading it regularly for about a year. I just purchased "The Ecotechnic Future" today and I've been devouring it.

Giving myself over to this book today, watching the sun go down I kept thinking about Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo":

"...for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life."

Recognizing the reality of the time and place I'm in right now, I have such a long way to go. I'm 37 years old, work in IT sales in San Francisco, haven't planted anything in the ground since I grew watermelons and zucchini in the family garden when I was 12. I haven't made anything with my hands since shop class in high school. But I'm ready to start - ready to take action. There's an arts collective in Oakland called The Crucible that teaches all sorts of craft skills, including blacksmithing, woodworking, stone carving, glass blowing and more. It's also crazy expensive and caters to the Burning Man trustafarian crowd, but looking into what they had on offer has gotten me curious about how I might get started with woodworking in a more economically feasible way. I'm also starting to think more seriously about leaving The City and moving back home (Kent County, Delaware).

I don't want to ramble here. Just wanted to let you know that your writing has affected me. And thanks.

davedann said...

I've watched fascinated over the last few months and weeks as this thread unfolds. It's remarkable how it has sometimes managed to clearly put into words my own unspoken thoughts.
I'd like to take the subject matter and ask a question that is relevant to me. Suppose that you feel you understand the folly of assuming infinite 'progress' on a finite plant. Now suppose that you look around to see whether people agree with you. This is what I've done. However when you meet those people, and particularly when you meet them as part of a green organisation, they are obsessed with the idea of 'salvation', though the word isn't used. They claim that their activities are 'for the good of humanity' or 'for the good of the planet'. I attended a training weekend for such an organisation. When I said that I would not claim either of those two reasons for attending I seemed to really upset some people and mystify others. The reaction from some I thought was very antagonistic, almost aggressive/defensive.
My actions are not for the 'good of the planet', because in the long-run the planet can look after itself and they are not for 'the good of humanity' because I think that in the long-run humanity will get what it deserves. My actions are an to attempt to conserve what I consider to be beautiful (in the widest sense). They are selfish.
Additionally I've long noticed that people in general are vulnerable to a certain sort of self-corruption of their motives. Once someone starts to claim that they are being altruistic or working entirely on behalf of other people or some wonderful cause they notice that they get respect and attention from others. Then they realise that they can justify almost anything by reference to the 'cause'. They begin to build careers and hierarchical organisations. They gather followers, particularly those who will easily give up the notion of independent thought or who are keen to join an organisation. The outcome is unpredictable.
Essentially I'm asking how the belief in 'salvation' affects the way that a person behaves, particularly in groups and specifically in 'green' groups.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Babylon Falls--I don't think we disagree very much.

If one were describing the beliefs of Christians in the second century, one would need to specify Jerusalem church, Paulines, Gnostics, etc. and it's the same with Wicca in its current state of development.

I agree that it is contradictory for a religion both to define itself as a "nature religion" and to seek spiritual evolution toward a disembodied state as a major goal.

However, not all Wiccans regard Wicca as (primarily) a nature religion. For those that do, "nature" can mean anything from the agricultural cycle to dancing in animal masks to the abstractions of Neoplatonic theurgy.

The Craft traditions I've been most involved with (over several decades) seem to be mainly interested in helping people experience connection with a greater whole, achieve balance in life, and make the most of whatever one has, without any implication of defectiveness or a need to progress.
Of course YMMV.

StarSquawk said...

Hi, I'm glad I found your articles, they're very thought provoking. It really speaks to how life is perceived and lived.

As for myself, I might fall into a tangent of the progress view. Although, rather than technological progress I think of spiritual progress more. So something more along the lines of Arthur C. Clarke's works.

Specifically, I like to think that there is a conscious existence beyond this one that we can work to become more in touch with here, where consciousness seems limited. Many have said that the world is like a dream, a theatrical play, or a virtual reality. I tend to think of it as like an MMO, artificial reality, or a small part of all existence with excessive physical rules and laws. Anyways, I've thought maybe the point of being "here" is to reconnect with the greater part of existence and consciousness, and to fully understand our place in the cosmos.

Then again, whether or not any of that is true, perhaps that's just thinking too much and we should just KISS (keep it simple stupid) in this world. But since when have humans kept things simple?

There will always be the great questions of who we are, why are we here, what lies beyond the mortal coil. But perhaps we've lost sight of the fact that we are here. And the time we have here is very short and very precious. There are so many wonderful things to experience, nature, people, places, and emotions. Especially in a time full of massive changes like right now.

Whether or not there is a greater conscious existence, the possibility of some kind of technological immortality, or existence with no need for progress, perhaps what should be most precious while we live, should be life itself.

Well those are my (long winded) thoughts on the matter. Thanks for writing such insightful articles.

peacegarden said...

Hope all of you have an amazing equinox…we just finished bottling our first batch of Mellissa (Lemon Balm) beer! Delicious! Used a recipe from Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Sacred Herbal Beers.

Going to have a small bonfire out in the herb garden in a little while.

@Tripticket…the sumac mead sounds like a good project for this week! I have used it to make fermented “soda” along with hibiscus flowers…may try fermenting that combo as well.

Enjoying the post and all the outstanding commentary. I feel blessed to have found this place. Thank you all.



John said...

This week's Time magazine headline..."Google Can Solve Death". Enough said!

greenhorn said...

I’ve been a long-time reader, but this is my first time commenting, so I’d like to start by thanking you for taking the time to write and share your insights each week and for establishing a forum in which you respond to individual comments. The Archdruid Report is a true gem among online communities!

Today I found myself leafing through The Universe Story, by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, and I wanted to recommend it to individuals here who may not yet have encountered it. Many of the themes you’ve addressed in your last few posts resonate throughout the book, and I was wondering if the new religious sensibility you’ve alluded to is akin to what Swimme and Berry outlined for what they call the Ecozoic Era?

Your family might appreciate the Enki Education homeschooling approach.

Christine4 said...

@ John Roth

I take your point about the difficulty of prognostication or prediction, and how events are so dependent on the context in the future.
However, I am not thinking of prognosis, so much as setting THIS time in a bigger picture. If there is anything in the astrological cycle I cited (and I fully take JMG's suggestion that it may all be the pattern-making capability of our brains)then what does it say about where we are now? It says that we are over 100 years into the current phase.
People have a tendency to want to see this decade, or this lifetime, as a crucial period in history. We talk of massively important events happening now, without defining what length of 'now' we mean, so our thoughts put ourselves at the centre.
People can find it somewhat disappointing or an anti-climax if you say that actually, this decade and this generation is not that significant, that nothing much is happening right now.

Jeffrey said...

I was a passenger in a car driving in Florida recently. There is this beetle they call love bugs that fly while mating and bloom in such numbers that motorists need to run their windshield wipers to clean off the smashed bodies of these mating bugs from their windshields. This might be totally off topic but cars smashing mating bugs at this moment in time when overpopulated humans are about to be smashed by our irresponsible use of fossil fuels seemed oddly prophetic. It was just an image that haunted me for days afterwards live some Gaia spirit whispering in my ear telling me.... "this will soon be the fate of you and your fellow humans" This thought was not sad but rather joyful.

trippticket said...

Thanks, Joy, and Dave (off-list), for the education advice. Most helpful. It's great to be part of such a wise "community."

trippticket said...

Following on the sumac theme, I made Middle Eastern-inspired braised lamb shanks Saturday night as a special Equinox dinner. Lamb from a friend's nearby farm, chicken stock and minty mead from the cellar, sweet pepper marmalade, and some dried fruit, including a handful of sumac drupes. Served over mashed potatoes, topped with the very tasty gravy that developed and a bit of fresh spearmint crushed in olive oil drizzled over the top.

Tres magnifique! Here's to the color and waning light of fall!

Phil Harris said...

Are people beginning to notice?
Your themes have seemed to me these last years well-founded on the facts of life within USA. This commentator in UK Guardian agrees many of the facts and wonders also about those who have looked to America.


Doctor Westchester said...

Wow! One of my generation is finally being honest. Kind of late in the day though.

Hal said...

Just noticed Cumberland, MD is featured in the most recent issue of Mother Earth News as one of "9 great places you've (maybe) never heard of."

Alice Y. said...

If I may: Enrique, you asked about the older sensibility in the Bible -- here's a talk by christian theologian Ched Myers in 2007 at the UK christian arts festival, Greenbelt: Abraham under the 'teaching oak'. Chock full of examples of it.

Kelly said...

This is my first post, though I've been a reader/fan for a long time. I'm greatly enjoying this discussion of religious sensibility--very timely for me since I've been actively exploring my own (awakening) understanding of spirituality.

I was wondering if you could tell me how contact trippticket, the parents who would like to connect with other homeschoolers using a classical curriculum. For the first time this year I'm going the classical route with my son and might have some ideas for them for how to get started. Oh, by the way, it's through reading your blog that I switched to classical education this year. Many thanks!


Roger said...

Here's an opinion for what it's worth, one partly based on religious practice as I've seen it. It seems to me that while changes in religious sensibilities happen over time, at the micro level, at the level of the family and farm, maybe not so much. Why do I think so? I saw beliefs and rituals in the home that I doubt were sanctioned by the church. Though they did have the veneer of Christianity ie invoking the Virgin Mary, Jesus, one saint or other, if I was a betting man I would bet on origins deep in prehistory, handed down mother to daughter through the centuries, originally using long forgotten names of deities that had nothing to do with Christianity.

What did I see? No scary black magic type stuff nor any high falutin' mysticism but rather most of it "practical", like a primitive technology, intended for day-to-day type stuff such as sickness, misfortune and, you guessed it, protection against the Evil Eye. The Evil Eye? Don't laugh, I'm serious. There were village rivalries that made the crossing from the old world to the new. Some of it pretty nasty. Like I said, age old stuff.

Seems to me that peasants and their ways are exceedingly stubborn things. The harder you hit the nail the deeper it goes. Tell a peasant to do something and he'll do it. But the minute the boss-man turns his back the peasant reverts to his old customs. And why? Mistrust of authority? Spite? Yes, all that. Authority is feared but also hated. That goes double for the clergy.

But maybe also because "authority" in its opulent church or hilltop fort is way up there. The peasant is way down here with his own concerns, like planting and the harvest and the rains and pests and disease. These are not trifling matters. The family's lives are at stake. How can the priest and his Holy Book help with these? The priest talks about judgement and salvation and resurrection and eternity and the hereafter. And all that's fine. But, in the peasant's view, it's not just about the hereafter and eternity, which are all inevitable, and are all (hopefully) much later on. In the meantime, there's kids to raise and marry-off, mouths to feed. A bad harvest and it's famine. An infection that fails to heal and it could well be lights out. There's unseen forces at work behind the obscuring fog of the hurly-burly that the peasant has to placate.

I think that while maybe there was "trickle-down" religion, imposed by elites and their big thinkers, there was also "trickle-up" beliefs, imposed by the populace through sheer weight of their numbers and their innate conservatism. So what about this newfangled monotheism? They try to foist this idea of One God. One God? Nonsense, the peasants have had their pantheon since time immemorial and they want their pantheon.

So what comes of it? How about a supreme deity but also lesser spirits? And even then, the supreme god ends up being Three. Supposedly a Trinity. Never mind the justifications of the churchmen, the peasant knows better. There's Three, one Supreme and two underlings. And even then, you don't just pray to God the Father or the two underlings. There's your guardian angel plus saints and archangels. Maybe the older gods' names are no longer heard but the peasant wants his pantheon and so he gets his pantheon.

Roger said...

JMG begging your indulgence to finish off my comment:

So what comes of it? How about a supreme deity but also lesser spirits? And even then, the supreme god ends up being Three. Supposedly a Trinity. Never mind the justifications of the churchmen, the peasant knows better. There's Three, one Supreme and two underlings. And even then, you don't just pray to God the Father or the two underlings. There's your guardian angel plus saints and archangels. Maybe the older gods' names are no longer heard but the peasant wants his pantheon and so he gets his pantheon.

But, oh no, we're not done. Those mulish peasants want their goddesses too. No more Diana or Venus but instead the Virgin Mary (which in certain parts of Europe is the centre of a cult). And not only her but there's female saints. People visit shrines to these lesser beings, female and male, all the time in the country-side. And let the "educated" urbanites with their shiny shoes snicker, who cares, what do they know. Besides, in times of trouble or illness, even the city slickers come to the shrines. Once again, if I was a betting man I would bet that there have been markers in those same locations since the days of the first farmers and maybe even in the days of the hunters. In any event, the peasants get their way.

Customs change but not without a fight. At least that's how it looks to me. So we'll see how people's religious views change as we move to a lower energy, lower tech future, more rural, more agricultural, more dependant on vagaries of the weather and environment. And probably threadbare, hungrier, thinner, sicker. Maybe the old ways are still there lurking in the background. Like prayers and an ablution for baby's cough involving water and oil and corn kernels. And if it doesn't get better we go see the Healer who cures people with Signs of the Cross. And do you know when Granny died in her chair her mouth was gaping open. And when Auntie heard the news she came running over and she said there was a big black cat with a really long tail on the roof. And the cat's mouth was open and its tongue was hanging out. She thinks it was a devil. So what does one say to that? Am I going to call Auntie a liar? If she says she saw it, then she saw it.

John Michael Greer said...

KL. well, yes -- but there are a lot of things like that. How many people who believe in the abstract that people ought to support their government via taxes enjoy filling out the check?

Stunned, thanks for the tip! I'll definitely check out Midgley's work.

Cherokee, we have no idea at all what the ancient Druids preached, if they preached at all -- the modern movement isn't descended from them, either, so it's not actually that important! Modern Druidry descends from a bunch of British eccentrics in the 18th century who used the example of the ancient Druids as a source of inspiration for their own distinctly idiosyncratic take on religion; somehow it worked, and is still very much around. No, they didn't think much of the concept of salvation, either. ;-)

Phil K., you're quite right, of course. Fascinating.

Trippticket, hmm. I'll want to think about that. Thanks for the sumac suggestion!

Onething, that's simply the normal tactic of the schoolyard bully -- "If you don't do what I want, my Father is going to beat you up for the rest of eternity," and all that. If that's the best argument a religion can make for its beliefs, it's in trouble.

Hal, good. One of my major projects is finding ways to keep as much of science as possible intact and functioning through the converging crises of the decades ahead, and finding ways to make science appealing to the new sensibility is a major part of that. Who says mermaids can't wear lab coats?

Joel, thank you! As far as retrofit goes, it's always a compromise, no question.

Robert, good. I'd encourage my readers to replace the references to "the church" to whatever they believe in most strongly, and apply the result.

Enrique, that would take a post of its own, and wouldn't necessarily be useful. You might consider reading the earlier chapters of Walter Burkert's Greek Religion and noticing the differences between Minoan religion and later Greek paganism, for starters.

Unknown Deborah, how many people who attended that demonstration drove home alone in their SUVs?

Enrique, thanks for the details! Spengler was either misinformed or exaggerating for effect; there have been equivalent explosions elsewhere -- Japan between 1868 and around 1970 had what commentators at the time called Kamigami no rasshu-awa, literally "the rush hour of the gods," an amazing explosion of new religious movements of the most wildly diverse kinds. It tends to happen when a society's basic presuppositions come, of course, happened in the formerly Soviet former Union.

John Michael Greer said...

Shaun, given that I didn't do that, I don't know that your efforts to stop me are that well placed. Still, let me ask you this. Do you hope that all beings will eventually achieve the state of total enlightenment of which the Buddha spoke? If so, that's the escape from the human condition I'm talking about.

latheChuck, a personal cosmology can influence a whole society if the person whose cosmology it is communicates that cosmology in an appealing way to others, and enough people embrace it to change the basic presuppositions of the society. That happens all the time in history.

Chris, true enough -- and that dissatisfaction with the benefits of the existing order is a potent force, one I'll be discussing as we proceed.

Errata, glad to hear it! Thank you.

Davedann, that's a hugely complex issue, and one that probably needs a post of its own.

Squawk, well, if that's your theology, that's your theology. To me, "spiritual progress" is just another variety of progress, and thus not of interest -- but of course your mileage may vary.

Gail, and a happy equinox to you as well!

John, I wonder if the person who wrote that headline has ever encountered the word "hubris."

Greenhorn, I haven't read the book, so can't respond to it. I'll see if the local library can scare me up a copy -- thanks for the tip!

Jeffrey, that's the sort of reaction the new sensibility makes easy. Now imagine how David Brin would have responded if you'd told him the same thing!

Phil H., if that spreads -- if people in America really do stop believing in the erstwhile American Dream -- we are going to see drastic change here. For good, for ill? Heck of a good question.

Doctor W., good to hear. If the boomers get a collective epitaph, it will probably be something like, "We inherited so much; we left so little."

Hal, oog. I hope it doesn't bring a flood of yuppies.

Kelly, I don't have access to anybody's email address. If you and trippticket both want to put in a comment marked "not for posting" with your emails, I'll send each of you the other's.

Roger, no argument -- I studied old-fashioned Southern conjure magic for several years, and there's plenty of the approach you've described woven into that. The sort of sensibility I've been discussing in this and last week's posts, though, is a subtler thing, and it does generally penetrate into folk consciousness -- though the old magical techniques generally do pass from one sensibility to another unharmed.

Hal said...

Hah! Well, 40 years ago, Mother Earth News would have just brought in nekkid hippies.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@JMG--I didn't join the group at the assembly spot, a Safeway parking lot, so I don't know. The half dozen I spoke to were all from places beyond walking distance, and the only public transportation currently available is the bus, so I imagine most arrived in cars of some kind.

OTOH, several of the people I conversed with are strong supporters, as I am, of a regional planning proposal to build moderately high density housing locally in town centers and near the soon to be built commuter rail line. This would provide low paid service workers who currently must drive long distances daily some local housing they can afford, and make it affordable to improve the bus service.

This proposal is hotly opposed by Not In My Back Yard suburbanites who appear to believe that if some five story apartment buildings are built, they are going to be forced to live in them or to rub shoulders with the people who ring up their groceries, clean their houses and look after their toddlers. They attempted to recall a county supervisor who backed it, and the controversy is affecting other local elections. I asked one of the politically involved demonstrators if he thought the resistance was coming from old time Marin residents or the new money. He didn't know.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Greenhorn and JMG--there is some connection between Brian Swimme's cosmological views and Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality. Swimme and Fox were both on the faculty of the (former) Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names University in Oakland, California at which I took a class on Christian mystics. (I gave the wrong school name when I mentioned this earlier).

What Is Creation Spirituality

I haven't read either man's books, so I'll leave it to you whether they represent the emerging religious sensibility, but I think that is what they are aiming for.

captcha 1001 ymaging

Enrique said...

Thanks for the reference to Burkert. I’ll have to check it out. I am very much interested in history, including the history of ideas and religion.

Regarding your comment about the tendency of new religions to proliferate as a society’s basic assumptions come unglued, it’s very likely that we will see something similar to the “Rush Hour of the Gods” in the United States and perhaps some of the other Western countries as the Religion of Progress is discredited and the existing order starts falling apart. I think we can already see early signs of it.

As for Spengler, I am reminded of a great quote from John J. Reilly about Spengler, who frequently exaggerated for effect as a means of making a point, and was often criticized by the more stuffy academics of his time for his tendency to do so: “You have to remember that Spengler was a high school teacher by trade. He knew how to jazz up a lecture to catch the attention of the slackers sitting in the back of the room”.