Topics below: Why go after apocalyptic? (responding to “religious fear”); Mythical pathology and mass-death outcomes; Bad theology incites bad behavior; more on ‘The destructive outcomes of apocalyptic’; More on the Jesus/Paul contradiction; Discussion group posts; Float like a butterfly- Independent or Classic Liberalism; More discussion posts; Environmentalism, environmental concern; Climate debate- alarmists versus skeptics/deniers; The anti-humanism at the heart of environmentalism; In problem-solving go after the real monster; Human story and monsters- Joseph Campbell’s story outline; Primitive religious themes in contemporary environmental alarmism; Point form summary.
Further topics: Links/relationships/historical lines of descent- apocalyptic continues to dominate contemporary “secular” minds; A new take on the offensive “hard saying” of historical Jesus- the scandal of an unconditional God; Collectivism versus individual freedom- what really advances the greater good; Summarized template of apocalyptic ideas; Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas; Religion and God- the pairing of profound opposites; Historical descent of bad ideas- from mythology to religion to ideology and even to science.
More on the profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul/Christianity. The God of Jesus (his “stunning new theology”) rejected apocalyptic mythology (“no more eye for eye… instead, love your enemy”). And to the contrary, Paul’s entirely opposite God affirmed primitive apocalyptic mythology (“vengeance is mine, I will repay”). Paul’s God became the God of Christianity which has shaped Western consciousness, including Islam, Marxism, Nazism, and Environmentalism. Historical sources listed in comment below.
The scandal in this contradiction is that one of the greatest discoveries ever was buried in Christianity (Jefferson and Tolstoy’s point). Christianity was created as another conditional religion that made it impossible to see the true nature of deity as absolutely no conditions Love. The central discovery of Historical Jesus (“his most important contribution to the history of ideas”- Robinson)- that God was no conditions reality- was buried by Paul and other New Testament writers. Consequently, the greatest potential liberation ever- that of mind and spirit- was short-circuited before it could get started.
This site traces the relationships between belief systems across human history- noting that common themes continue from mythology, to religion, to contemporary ideology and philosophy. I note, in particular, the persistence of “bad ideas” and their harmful outcomes, especially the apocalyptic template of ideas with its core theme of a threatening, punishing God. I probe the most effective responses to these bad ideas. This is where the Jesus/Paul contradiction is useful because it illustrates the core themes on the opposite sides of this contradiction. Where Jesus advocated non-retaliation and no apocalypse, Paul advocated retaliation and apocalypse. Fundamentally, this is about the larger human story of leaving our animal past to become truly human. It is about what belief system we will use to define ourselves as truly human.
Does the above theology really matter? Bob Brinsmead: “You become just like the God that you believe in”. Bad ideas incite and validate bad behavior. Theology is critical to understanding the history of religious violence and the devastating outcomes of apocalyptic alarmism, notably from the environmental alarmism of today.
Environmental alarmists continue to terrorize public consciousness by exaggerating problems in the natural world. Remember climate alarmist James Hansen hysterically claiming in 2008, “Its all over in five years”. There are many things to be concerned about in the natural world- real problems. But alarmism exaggerates such problems to apocalyptic scale and thereby distorts the true state of things. Alarmism then frightens people into embracing policy responses that harm humanity and life. The DDT alarm is one example with its death toll in the tens of millions, many children.
We effectively counter the pathology of alarmism with good evidence on the true state of the natural world. Julian Simon has done this in his Ultimate Resource, as have many others: i.e. Greg Easterbrook in A Moment On The Earth, Bjorn Lomborg in Skeptical Environmentalist, Matt Ridley in Rational Optimist, Indur Goklany in The Improving State of the World, Ronald Bailey in The End of Doom, and more. The evidence shows that while there are still problems everywhere, humanity has done well in correcting past mistakes and life overall is improving. Nature is not declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending.
These researchers look carefully at all the main elements of life, taking evidence from the best data sources. And they engage the best science by including the complete big picture and the longest-term trends related to any element of nature. That prevents distortion from focusing only on short-term reversals to trends, or focusing only on localized or anecdotal situations. The complete evidence approach (including skeptical science) helps to protect against the distortion of “confirmation bias”, where people just look at evidence that affirms their views, while denying contrary evidence.
But then, having done basic science, we also need to tackle those deeply embedded fears of humanity that prompt people to keep responding to the endless series of alarms over life (“the end is nigh”…. again, and again, and again….). What beliefs do we hold that prompt us to instinctively embrace apocalyptic alarms? What “Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas” (see below) still shape our worldviews? This is deeply embedded stuff, even subconscious stuff, that works in concert with our inherited animal impulses to shape human consciousness, emotion, and response.
Science alone, despite its immense benefit to life, will never answer the most profound human questions and concerns- things having to do with our primal impulse for meaning and purpose, and our deepest fears. There will always be the need for a “spiritual” component in human worldviews. Note the research that 85% of humanity affiliates with some religion, and many in the remaining 15% also hold “spiritual but not religious” views. Some form of the spiritual (or Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence) will always be fundamental to any TOE (Theory of Everything). This is where the “single greatest discovery ever” enables us to get the very root of human fear to properly and thoroughly solve our deepest concerns about life on this planet.
Further insert: Why go after apocalyptic? Respond to “spiritual” fears with spiritual insights.
We respond to fear over problems in the natural world with natural evidence. Many good scientists are involved in this project of discovering and presenting evidence on the problems in life and the true state of nature.
But we have inherited something else that contributes to human alarm over life- the deeply embedded fear of greater realities, such as religious gods that threaten to punish people through the natural world and its problems. These ‘bad religious ideas’ have always been fundamental in shaping human outlook.
We need to respond to fear at this religious level with relevant “spiritual insight” that applies to this level of fear. I have done this with material such as the Jesus/Paul contradiction. That contradiction illustrates the larger history of belief in apocalyptic mythology and the stunning new theological discovery that rejected the apocalyptic pathology.
You can engage problem-solving at the natural level alone but the mythological/religious element will continue to influence people and will continue to incite alarmism over life, despite good natural evidence to the contrary. It is much like the problem of religious violence. Many have noted that you can eliminate ISIS and Al Qaeda but other similar organizations will continue to emerge and take their place because you are not dealing with the foundational beliefs that incite such movements. You are not engaging and correcting the “bad religious ideas” at the very foundation of the worldviews of billions of people.
Apocalyptic mythology is fundamental to the two great Western religions of Christianity and Islam. It is also found in Hinduism (great cycles of decline and catastrophic ending), Buddhism (decreasing life-spans), and elsewhere.
And the religious influence does not stop with religious believers. Christianity shaped 19th Century Declinism, which became the dominant ideology of the modern era. Declinism then shaped environmentalism, arguably one of the most widespread ideologies of our world today, influencing the minds of most people on the planet.
The widespread embrace of apocalyptic also explains the spectacle of many self-termed secularists, even atheists, walking around and still mouthing the basic themes of primitive apocalyptic mythology.
Note also the continuing prominence of apocalyptic mythology in modern story-telling (movies, TV). Even contemporary literature embraces the sub-genre of “post-apocalyptic” which assumes that an apocalypse will occur so let’s now focus on the post-apocalyptic world.
Apocalyptic mythology darkens human consciousness. It is a primitive mentality that undermines hope and infects minds with unnecessary fear. It profoundly distorts the true history of life- claiming that life is declining toward catastrophe. Good evidence affirms that the great trajectory of life has actually been improving, not declining.
Apocalyptic enslaves the human spirit with despair, fatalism, and resignation in the face of solvable problems. It has always promoted fearful responses that are immensely damaging to people and to nature. Compare Paul Erhlich’s pessimistic resignation and anti-human proposals (“let India go down the drain”) with Norman Borlaug’s creative response to the very same problem of potential mass starvation (i.e. developing new high-yield grains).
Site Projects: The ultimate human liberation- that of mind and spirit.
One of the central projects on this site is to confront the foundational pathologies that infect human consciousness and society for the worse- specifically, ideas or beliefs that act as a drag on human progress, and that influence people- out of fear- to choose policy responses that have been severely damaging to humanity and life.
This site is about the full liberation of consciousness and the human spirit from pathologies like Ultimate Threat/Ultimate Harm (i.e. angry, punishing, destroying gods that threaten apocalypse). The outcomes of threatening apocalyptic mythology have been immensely destructive, and we are seeing this today from environmental alarmism.
Note the continuing presence of apocalyptic in myths like the “revenge of Gaia”, angry planet, karma, and the endless threats of looming catastrophic environmental collapse. These alarmist threats have provoked fear-based policy responses that have devastated the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Rachel Carson’s DDT alarmism cost 50 million lives, many children, in the decades from 1970-2000. Anti-Genetically Modified food activism cost the lives of 8 million children over a recent decade. They were denied Vitamin A in Golden Rice. The list of devastation goes on. See below. Environmental alarmism is not just irresponsible. It is highly immoral. The death totals now exceed the mass-death movements of the past century. See Foss’s “Beyond Environmentalism”, Zubrin’s “Merchants of Despair”, among others.
The basic framework of themes is the same in all the diverse expressions of apocalyptic mythology, whether mythological, religious, ideological, or in contemporary environmentalism. The themes include: the myth of a better past (original paradise), corrupt humans have ruined the paradise, life is now declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending (God or Gaia will punish and destroy humanity), and so to ‘save the world’ we must purge the corrupting force or system (i.e. industrial civilization) so that the lost paradise can be restored, or a new utopia/millennial paradise be installed. Note the core anti-human feature in this mythology, and the core Threat theology (angry gods punishing bad people). It is always the same old primitive alarm mentality with the same old outcomes. Bad ideas like apocalyptic have always produced bad outcomes.
This site explores the potent response to apocalyptic alarmism- the discovery of an unconditional, non-threatening core Reality- a discovery that we have had for two millennia. Unfortunately, this discovery has been buried by the religious tradition that has dominated Western consciousness and society for the past two millennia. The discovery of an unconditional core Reality goes to the very foundation of the apocalyptic pathology to correct things thoroughly and properly for the long term future. It potently counters the myth of some great Threat of punishment. This myth has been at the core of mythologies and religions across history, and is now still a core theme in the ideologies of the modern era (e.g. Declinism, environmentalism).
The discovery of a core unconditional Love provides the foundational theme for a new liberating narrative of life.
(Note: a clear distinction needs to be made between the environmental concern that we all share and “Environmentalism” as an ideology.)
(Further note: There is enough to rightly fear in life. We do not need the added psychic burden of some great metaphysical Threat behind life, as expressed by the Japanese woman after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”)
Also new comment in ‘Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas’ on the danger of placing some objective or value above humanity, something that takes precedence before humanity (i.e. some God, law, institution, religion, ideology, or principle). Environmentalism has done this in placing the environment as the supreme value that takes precedence over people. The outcomes of this have been devastating to real people.
The impact of theological belief (two profoundly opposite views of God).
Consider these two entirely opposing theologies just below. This contradiction points to the great scandal of Christianity and the Christian influence on Western consciousness and society. See Tabor quotes further down in this opening section.
Anthropology notes that people try to validate their behavior with related beliefs. They try to base their behavior and lives on a belief system that affirms the way that they live. People have done this across history. Clifford Geertz, for example, outlines this behavior/belief pattern in the villages of Bali, Indonesia. People like to think that they are following some divine model, plan, will, word, or law. (The early Hebrews did the same. They built their temple according to what they believed to be the divine plan or model. They also ordered the details of their lives according to the word or will of their God, down to the details of what food they could eat, what clothes they could wear, and even the proper protocols for defecation.)
Then consider Bob Brinsmead’s statement, “You become just like the God that you believe in”.
And note the profound contradiction between Jesus’ view of God and Paul’s entirely opposite view of God. And carefully consider the historical outcomes of these contrary views.
First, the God of the wisdom sage, Historical Jesus (a person and message entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus):
He presented his “stunning new view of God” in his argument against retaliation. He said, “There should be no more ‘eye for eye’ retaliation (getting even, payback). Do not just love those who love you in return, but instead, love your enemies because God does not engage eye for eye justice. God does not retaliate against “bad people” but loves God’s enemies. God gives the good gifts of life- sun and rain- without discrimination or exclusion to all alike, both good and bad. God showers love and generosity on all without distinction. So follow this new divine model or ideal of unconditional love. Be unconditionally merciful just as God is unconditionally merciful”, Matthew 5:38-48, or the better version in Luke 6:27-36.
Then, note the entirely contradictory God of Paul (the God of Christianity). Paul quotes the Old Testament to express his theology: “Leave room for God’s wrath for it is written- ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’”, Romans 12:19. There are similar statements of divine threat and destruction throughout the New Testament.
Get the huge scandal here. Paul/Christianity rejected the “stunning new unconditional theology” of Jesus and retreated to primitive retaliatory, punishing views of deity. As Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy noted, Christianity buried the “diamond/pearl” of Jesus in the “dung, slime, muck, garbage” of the rest of the New Testament with its primitive views of retributive, punitive deity, the foundational theme of Christianity.
Consider the outcomes of this Christian retaliation theology over the past two millennia (the behavior/belief relationship again). You see the outcomes in the violence that flowed from the early Councils, in the mass slaughter of the Crusades, in the multiple centuries of punishment and killing of heretics, in the Inquisition, in the European religious wars that slaughtered millions, and in the appeal to Christian belief to promote the mass-death movements of the Twentieth Century (e.g. see Richard Landes’ Heaven On Earth for historical detail). People were acting just like the violent, retaliating God that they believed in. Their beliefs validated their behavior.
Fortunately, the more humane teaching of Jesus helped to alleviate that Christian brutality across the centuries and it eventually led to today’s more moderate Christianity (with help from the humanizing influence of the Enlightenment and modern science).
If you take Jesus seriously- i.e. that God is absolutely no conditions love- then you cannot use deity to validate retaliation, exclusion, punishment, or the violent destruction of others.
Further, the no conditions God of Jesus has nothing to do with any kind of salvation religion, with any kind of demand to meet the condition of a sacrifice to appease divine anger. In his original teaching (the Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel) Jesus said nothing about his coming as a savior to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin.
On the other hand, the entirely contrary message of Christianity is about a God that demands a supreme condition be met first before he will forgive. There must be a supreme payment/punishment of sin in a blood sacrifice. And there is the further condition that you must believe this conditional salvation (have faith in it) or face the wrath of God and Hell, the severest form of ‘eye for eye’ justice. Paul sets forth these salvation conditions in Romans 1-5 and other places. These core beliefs have shaped Christian thought and behavior for 2 millennia. Paul is clear that people must meet the condition of believing his gospel, or else (i.e. Romans 3:25-26, “atonement through faith in his blood… justifies the man who has faith in Jesus”). Those who taught a contrary gospel were cursed (Galatians 1:8). And even lukewarm Christians were in danger of hellfire (Revelation 3:16). Matthew also set forth the condition of receiving the Christian gospel or being cast into outer darkness (Matthew 11:20-24).
Jesus had rejected primitive retaliation, punishment theology with its conditions. But his central theme of an unconditional God was then buried by the emerging Christian movement in their New Testament (Jefferson and Tolstoy’s point). We then got Christ-ianity (Paul’s highly conditional Christ theme), not Jesus-ianity (the unconditional message of Jesus).
Atheism is not the greatest threat to Christianity. Jesus is the real threat to the Christian religion. His no conditions theology spells the end of all conditional religion and the conditional treatment of others. It spells the end of all Threat/punishment theology and Salvationism.
With an unconditional God there is no need to believe in some conditional salvation scheme or join some religion, or fear nasty consequences. There is no condemnation, exclusion of anyone, judgment, punishment, or destruction/Hell in the theology of Historical Jesus. And there certainly is no validation to treat others inhumanely, as outsiders or enemies.
Now how do you think Jesus’ stunning theology of unconditional love might impact human behavior?
Same old, same old (probing what influences alarmism and its destructive outcomes in human society)
Environmental alarmism with its mass-death outcomes (yes, “mass-death outcomes” is the correct term, see detail below)… environmental alarmism is driven by the same core themes of apocalyptic that drove the mass-death outcomes of Marxism and Nazism, and other movements across history (see Richard Landes’ Heaven On Earth and Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline). Those core apocalyptic themes also drive Islamic terrorism just as they drove much Christian brutality across the past 2 millennia (see, for example, David Cook’s Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature).
Paul took up the primitive mythology of apocalyptic and tried to reframe it as something nice with the great human ideals of love, grace, mercy, and hope. But it was a lipstick-on-a-pig project. The dark dehumanizing core of apocalyptic cannot be humanized. It’s essential message is that there is an angry God threatening to punish and destroy ‘evil’ humanity and the world in a great final conflagration, before sending most of humanity down into the fires of Hell. Apocalyptic is about the base themes of punishing payback, retaliation, and violent destruction.
(Just a note regarding the Christian endeavor to defend apocalyptic as about “hope”. Hope that is based on the destruction of one’s enemies in a fiery conflagration is a profoundly inhumane hope. How does one reconcile hope in such destruction with Jesus’ central advocacy to “love your enemies”?)
Historical Jesus tried to slay this monstrosity of apocalyptic mythology with his teaching on non-retaliation (i.e. no more eye for eye). He stated that we should not retaliate because God does not retaliate but is merciful and generous to all (i.e. sun and rain given to all alike, to both good and bad). Get the reasoning here. God does not retaliate. And to the contrary, apocalyptic is a grand retaliation. But if God does not retaliate against the bad (no more eye for eye but love your enemy) then God does not engage apocalyptic retaliation. There will be no apocalypse from the non-retaliatory God of Jesus. A huge “Duh” hangs over this.
The non-retaliation insight of Jesus is as foundational as you can get if you want to counter the pathology of apocalyptic mythology (i.e. “win the battle of ideas”). It goes to the ultimate root of the pathology of divine Threat and contradicts it entirely, fully correcting the core of the problem. Again, the non-retaliating God of Jesus does not threaten humanity with apocalyptic retaliation. The God of Jesus unconditionally includes and loves God’s enemies.
For two millennia Christianity has buried the “stunning new theology” of Jesus (a non-retaliating, unconditionally loving God) in its primitive retaliation theology. Contradicting the theology of Jesus, Paul stated in Romans 12:19 that his Christian God would engage eye for eye retaliation- “Leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Paul outright rejected the teaching of Jesus that God would not engage vengeance, that God would not retaliate or repay God’s enemies but would love them instead.
Paul gave this apocalyptic pathology new expression in his Christian religion, especially in his Christ myth. Here is a sample of Paul’s apocalyptic threat via his Christ (from his Thessalonians letters: “The wrath of God has come upon them at last… The Lord himself will come down… destruction will come on them suddenly… They will not escape… they will suffer wrath… God will pay back trouble for those who trouble you…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire…He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord… doomed to destruction… the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy… they will perish…”.
The ‘Lord Jesus’ that Paul speaks about- his “Jesus Christ”- has absolutely nothing to do with the actual Historical Jesus.
Christianity then brought this pathology of apocalyptic down into the Western tradition and world to continue its destructive fear-generating impact on humanity and society.
It’s time to take Historical Jesus seriously. It’s time to set aside the apocalyptic Christ of Paul and listen to what Jesus actually said. Paul ignored and outright denied what Jesus had taught. He buried the non-apocalyptic, non-retaliation teaching of Jesus with his apocalyptic, retaliation religion.
Historical Jesus spells the end of all this endless apocalyptic hysteria and destructiveness.
Jesus and Paul (more on the great contradiction)
What do Paul and Jesus have to do with all this, especially with contemporary environmentalism?
Their contradiction illustrates the great contradiction of all human history, including today. The Paul and Jesus contradiction epitomizes the contradiction between our animal inheritance i.e. (retaliation, small band opposition and exclusion, alpha domination, or destruction of the competing outsider/enemy) and our struggle to be more human (non-retaliation, forgiveness and inclusion of all, equal treatment of all, non-violent cooperation). What direction do we want life to take and what ideals influence either direction?
In the Jesus/Paul contradiction we see, on Paul’s side, the “bad religious ideas” (i.e. divine retaliation, exclusion, destruction by apocalypse) that have infected human consciousness and influenced human behavior for the worse. And then on Jesus’ side, we find the authentically humane alternatives (non-retaliation, inclusion, no apocalyptic destruction) that influence consciousness and life for the better. And we know the historical outcomes of both for humanity in terms of violence or non-violence.
(Note: My reference to Jesus is to the Historical Jesus, someone entirely opposite to Christian Jesus. The Jesus Seminar does some good research on this distinction.)
And if you think this Christian tradition has nothing to do with you personally, then note James Tabor’s comments below on Paul’s dominant and widespread influence on Western consciousness and society. Note also Arthur Herman’s work (The Idea of Decline) on how Christianity influenced 19th Century Declinism, which has became the dominant ideology of our modern era. And note Richard Landes’ history (Heaven On Earth) revealing how Christian apocalyptic millennialism shaped the mass-death movements of last century, notably Marxism and Nazism.
(Tabor quote: “Paul is the most influential person in human history… and he has shaped practically all we think about everything… from our assumptions about reality, to our societal and personal ethics… The foundations of Western civilization… rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul… In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure… has been largely lost to our culture…the message of Paul, which created Christianity… and the message of the Historical Jesus… were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another with little in common… Paul operated with a strongly apocalyptic perspective that influenced all he said and did… the ‘Jesus’ who most influenced history was the ‘Jesus Christ’ of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus” (Paul and Jesus, Preface and p.15,21).
I am drawing the link between these prominent systems of thought that have shaped human thinking and behavior across the millennia, right down into our present world. Environmental alarmism has inherited the core themes of the Christian belief system (apocalyptic) and continues to experience the destructive outcomes of that mythology.
Arthur Herman said that Declinism had “become arguably the single most dominant and influential theme in culture and politics in the twentieth century” (The Idea of Decline, p.7). So also Jeffrey Foss said, “Environmentalism is one of the dominant ideologies of our day… (it) flourishes in all parts of the world… Its appeal cuts across other systems of belief, making it the most widespread of convictions and giving it the potential to become the dominant ideology of the new millennium” (Beyond Environmentalism, p.50-51). See similar comment by Michael Hart in Hubris.
The Paul/Jesus issue relates intensely to environmental alarmism today with its apocalyptic obsession (i.e. endless hysteria over looming catastrophic collapse and ending). Paul advocated for apocalyptic and made that the basic framework of Christianity. Jesus rejected apocalyptic.
The death totals from apocalyptic alarmism have been devastatingly huge, fueled by the same core ideas that infect all apocalyptic hysteria. You can trace the direct line of apocalyptic ideas down from past mythology/religion to Declinism and people like Malthus, and then to Marxism, to Nazism, and directly into the environmental alarmism of today. It is always the same old, same old. Terms of expression change from belief system to belief system but the core themes remain the same.
I have repeatedly offered this simplified summary of where apocalyptic originated in history and how it has descended down into our world to continue its destructiveness.
1.The origin of apocalyptic myth in primitive thinking- i.e. Sumerian Flood myth and related ideas (i.e. the past was better- paradise of Dilmun, corrupt people ruined that paradise- Enki eats the 8 original forbidden plants, the god Enlil plans to destroy all humanity in a flood).
2. Apocalyptic continues in religious traditions- Zoroaster speaks of an original perfection, but corrupt humans ruined paradise, Zoroaster then prophesied an apocalypse by fiery molten metal, to purge the world so that paradise can be restored. Zoroastrian ideas shaped Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
3. Christianity, more than any other system of belief, has shaped Western consciousness and society. Christianity teaches an original paradise (Eden), fallen people have ruined paradise, all life is now heading toward some catastrophic ending where an apocalypse will purge the world so a new paradise can be installed.
Christianity then shaped 19th Century Declinism, again, arguably the dominant ideology of the modern era. Declinism also affirms a better past, the belief that corrupt humans in industrial society have ruined the original paradise, and now life is declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. The corrupt society of fallen humanity must be purged so that the lost paradise can be restored.
4. Declinism then shaped contemporary environmental alarmism, now one of the most prominent ideologies across the world. Environmentalism affirms a better past (wilderness world), humans in industrial society have ruined the paradise, and all is now declining toward catastrophic collapse and ending. Again, the world must be purged of the corrupting system so that the lost paradise can be restored.
The outcomes of this apocalyptic mythology and history have been devastating. Whether in Marxism, Stalinism, Nazism, or through environmentalism- i.e. Carson’s 50 million dead from being denied anti-malaria protection, anti-GM food activism preventing the use of Golden Rice and the millions of dead children from that (8 million deaths over a recent decade), fossil fuel alarmism and the suffering from that, and other forms of apocalyptic alarmism.
There is more- “Primary rainforest replaced by palm-oil plantations for bio-fuels; upland landscapes ravaged and millions of birds and bats killed by wind turbines; birds frazzled by solar arrays…. food shortages and poverty caused by the diversion of agricultural land to bio-fuels; lower living standards created by the forced rejection of cheap fossil fuels in favor of ‘renewable’ energy’; fuel poverty deaths caused by artificially inflated ‘clean’ energy prices” (James Delingpole in the Spectator, Feb.25, 2017).
All alarmist movements have been profoundly anti-human movements, viewing humanity as the curse, the virus or cancer that must be removed from the Earth in order to restore the lost paradise. The death totals from these very similar movements are now in the hundreds of millions (see Robert Zubrin’s totals in Merchants of Despair).
Again, note carefully- Christianity has been the main historical influence behind this ongoing apocalyptic orientation in Western consciousness and society. Understanding the contradiction between Jesus and Paul is therefore critical to solving and halting the destruction from apocalyptic hysteria and madness. Historical Jesus presented the way out of this apocalyptic mess. He rejected the apocalyptic mythology of retaliation for a stunning new theology of non-retaliation (no more eye for eye).
One more: We have this confounding spectacle today of modern secularists- denying any religious affiliation- yet walking around mouthing the very themes of primitive mythology. Example: apocalyptic prophet James Hansen hysterically exaggerating in 2008 that “It’s all over in five years”.
Discussion Group Posts:
Bob, taking off from your previous comment that environmentalism is more destructive than terrorism. Reading Foss, Hart, Landes, Herman and so many others, the point comes through that we are witnessing once again the same horrific outcomes from the same basic set of bad ideas that have caused so much damage across history.
Zubrin again in Merchants of Despair is giving more history on how a “secular” version of the same old religious ideas has contributed to mass-death. He notes that Malthus and his anti-human crusade influenced the way the British treated the Irish famine and the Indian famines of the 1800s, and that British callousness cost millions of people their lives. Then again Malthus had a significant influence on 1900s mass-death movements of Marxism and Nazism (i.e. eugenics).
Landes, Herman and others have also shown us how those same basic ideas contributed to mass-death (i.e. Christian ‘apocalyptic millennialism’ influencing Marxism and Nazism).
And now that mass-death outcome is happening again in environmentalism. Whether the tens of millions that died in the wake of Carson’s anti-DDT alarmism, or the 8 million children that died in a recent decade from anti-GM activism (see Lomborg article), or the tens of millions of poor people suffering from higher food prices due to bio-fuels development (the result of fossil fuel alarmism), or the more general anti-fossil fuel activism and how that impacts the poor. Alarmists have been blocking the use of the very energy that fuels industrialization, and that lifts billions out of poverty and improves the human condition.
So this same body of bad ideas finds ever new expression- often “secular” or even so-called scientific expression.
And my point- Zubrin talks of the good people in Germany that became caught up in the death camps. They actually believed that they were doing good, helping to save their country from looming disaster. By purging the apocalyptic threat of the destructive Jew. Landes, as the Netflix documentary also showed, noted that Hitler believed that he was a savior to save Germany from looming catastrophe. Germany was very much a Christian nation. Hitler employed Christian themes to appeal to that Christian mentality in the nation. Malthus’ ideas- looming catastrophe, the dangerous threat from fallen humanity- also fit that Christian mentality well.
Ah, to get a hold of this body of bad ideas and understand the impact on otherwise good people.
I am continuing to pull this together to make these points, using all these good histories. Showing the relationships between systems of thought/belief and the outcomes.
My Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas expresses this best.
Another discussion post:
I am trying to put down something coherent and brief about the stunning death totals from these anti-human ideologies. The linkages between similar things are just too obvious. Zubrin (Merchants of Despair) shows how Malthus and Darwin impacted various mass-death movements in the denial of aid to the poor during famines, in their advocacy to let nature have its way and weed out the weak and infirm so the strong could continue.
Then you add Carson’s anti-DDT totals. 50 million, many children. You probe what drove her. A well-intentioned lady, concerned about the environment but given to exaggeration, anecdotal evidence, outright fraudulent statements, and a dreary apocalyptic narrative. And then the hysterical over-reaction that denied so many the benefit of protection from malaria. So you try to understand her alarmist outlook and use of apocalyptic narrative.
And you look at Malthus and his belief in looming catastrophe, and the scourge that was humanity. And so he counsels specific ways to ensure that the poor die. Combined with Darwin’s similar comments that drove eugenics and shaped Nazi thinking. And Zubrin misses something that Landes got at- the Christian influence on Hitler and Germany in general. But Zubrin asks why so many otherwise good German people could get involved in the creation of death camps and actually feel that they were engaged in doing something good. Zubrin approaches it from his particular line of interest.
So you list all these ideas that drove these people- the anti-human element. Anti-industrial society. The belief in a great looming catastrophe- apocalypse- brought on by careless, destructive humanity, by the polluting Jewish enemy, and so on. These ideas inspired good people to do things that caused such horrific harm to so many others.
And you add the anti-fossil fuel nuttiness of today and the death totals from this. For instance, the GWPF report of long ago said that one million extra people had died in Britain over a 20 year period due to the cold, from fossil-fuel poverty.
Add the bio-fuels fiasco.
All this traces back to a mother set of ideas- apocalyptic.
Float like a butterfly, take nectar wherever you find it
I’ve made some comment below on economics. I come at that subject from my position as a fierce independent. Not Conservative or Liberal/Progressive. Just floating like a butterfly between all sorts of things.
There is one fundamental issue when evaluating any area of life- freedom. Freedom for human individuals. You cannot disconnect freedom from the greatest human ideal of love. Where there is no individual freedom there is no love. Individual freedom is an irreplaceable feature of authentic human existence.
Contemporary Libertarianism gets close to understanding and promoting such freedom, but it sometimes takes on an excessive ideological quality. I prefer Classic Liberalism as best representing the freedom that I am describing. Those British Classic Liberals got to the heart of the matter in protecting individual citizens from Monarchal intervention and seizure of private property, in protecting individual freedom and rights through parliamentary, representative government. The king and lords were to be subject to the same law (protections, rights, freedoms) as everyone else.
But do not confuse that Classic Liberalism with today’s Liberals or Progressives. Today’s Liberals are another species altogether and have become quite intolerant of plurality, diversity of opinion, and open, free debate. Note their endeavor to shut down free debate and disagreement in science, such as in climate science, even going so far as to try to criminalize skeptical science (e.g. the US Attorney General and state AGs planning to prosecute skeptics in 2015-16). There is an unsettling totalitarian impulse repeatedly emerging in contemporary Liberalism, that makes it something quite illiberal.
Why is this totalitarian impulse emerging again in Liberalism or Progressivism? Because modern Liberalism/Progressivism is collectivist in orientation. It, like all forms of Communalism or Socialism, places some “greater or common good” as the supreme value over individuals, and to which individuals must be subject and serve. Individual freedom must be subservient to the interests of the collective. For the good of individuals, of course. For the public or general good. Individuals on their own are too ‘selfish’, ‘corrupt’, or ‘greedy’ to be trusted with too much freedom. So enlightened Progressive elites must use state power to coerce obedience to some greater good as defined by them and run by them. They employ coercive state power via regulation, taxation, and government-run programs to centrally control populations.
Progressives feel that their orientation to collectivism (some greater good) grants them moral superiority over other “selfish”- and hence inherently corrupt- forms of social organization, such as free markets.
What are the outcomes of this modern movement to central control through governments and agencies like the UN? For one, it stifles the creativity that flourishes in freedom. It poses one of the greatest threats to freedom in our era.
Discussion Group posts:
Something I have been wrestling with, Herb, in relation to your article on economic history and such issues in general, is that core orientation of the differing systems. The central point of failure or success. The great Western tradition of Classic Liberalism made its breakthrough on individual freedom, protecting individual rights and property. That unleashed human creativity as never before. It protected the human motivation to improve oneself (self interest) and one’s family. We saw the breakthrough take off around 1820 with GDP starting to rise after millennia of no rise.
The system opposing Classic Liberalism- Socialism- has always been oriented to some collective, what they call the greater good, the public good or interest. Collectivists hold a core anti-humanism, the belief that individuals are essentially selfish, corrupt, greedy and they must be restrained and controlled in the interest of the greater good of all. Central control. We see this in Owen’s communalism, in socialist projects, and now in Progressivism and environmentalism.
Believing that one operates for the greater good gives a sense of moral superiority, of a righteous cause to protect against the harmful outcomes of from greedy, selfish individualism.
Herman in The Cave and The Light gives the long term view of this dualism.
But I am trying to nail down the core orientations of these opposing systems- collectivism versus the individual as free. Muravchik helped me see this central issue of collectivism at the heart of all forms of socialism. And that explains the totalitarian impulse in all collectivist movements. The belief of the “enlightened elite” that they know what is right for all and will coerce all to follow that greater good, the collective good. And as Muravchik said, someone has to run the collective, hence the totalitarianism outcomes. Muravchik shows that all such movements are about collectivism.
And then Naomi Klien recently said, “Collectivism is just people getting together to do good”. Oh my God. Save us from such greater good.
And yes to Noel’s concerns about greed and corruption in the system (in capitalism). Just as there was in the socialist projects. The difference was that there was little to check the socialist greed and corruption without a free press, as in a more open system.
But the point remains- what is the core operating principle behind the system, and I recognize the diversity today of mixed systems (e.g. social democracy). But what principle dominates and what are the historical outcomes?
In the Classic Liberal system it was individual freedom and that is now best expressed in free market systems. And that has contributed immensely to the greater good of all humanity and to the good of the environment as, again, Environmental Transition research shows.
When people tried to centrally direct resource use, we got environmental destruction from distorting control by bureaucrats. Free individual choice, responding to market price signals (i.e. that pencil thing- a product resulting from the unplanned contribution of many different people) but that free individual choice did much better in determining resource use and protecting the environment. Beckerman and Simon both detail this process: Rising prices from scarcity signal just that- scarcity. So new resources are sought or alternatives produced. And today, environmental protection is built into all this.
Environmentalism, Environmental concern
I make a basic distinction between common concern for the environment and “environmentalism”. We are all environmentalists in the sense that almost all of us are concerned for clean water, clean air, healthy preserved wild spaces, abundant species, and more. And humanity has learned to engage nature in a manner that accomplishes these concerns.
But there has emerged (post-WW2) an extremist movement- Environmentalism- that claims to speak for the environment but engages endless apocalyptic exaggeration about the true state of the environment. It has come to be known by terms like ‘Green’ religion. This movement has abandoned good science and endlessly exaggerates the problems of the world to apocalyptic scale and thereby distorts the true state of life on the planet.
Environmentalism has been profoundly anti-human as all apocalyptic has been. It views humanity as fallen, sinful, corrupt, and a virus or cancer on nature. Something to be restrained, controlled, culled, and even purged from the planet.
Not to be denied- environmentalists are often good, well-intentioned people. But their embrace of apocalyptic exaggeration too often leaves them looking foolish. Apocalyptic has always made fools of the brightest minds. Remember Chicken Little and her falling sky.
But more of concern- the outcomes of apocalyptic environmentalism have been devastating to the most vulnerable people on Earth- the poor. The devastation from environmental alarmism now compares to, and even surpasses, the mass-death movements of the Twentieth Century. Environmentalism shares the same dehumanizing ideas of those movements. The mythology of apocalyptic millennialism.
Note Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic exaggeration and the subsequent ban on DDT that resulted in tens of millions of deaths in the following decades. Look at the deaths of 8 million children denied Vitamin A in Golden Rice due to anti-GM hysteria. Look at the damage from anti-fossil fuel activism that wants to deny the poor access to cheap fossil fuels.
The great lie of apocalyptic- that we face some looming catastrophic end of life- needs to be exposed more. James Hansen claimed back in 2008, “It’s all over in 5 years”. Chicken Little all over again. And again, and again.
Climate debate: alarmists versus skeptics/deniers
The climate debate breaks down into basically two opposing sides- the alarmist side, and the skeptical or “deniers” side. Denier is a term that is wrongly applied to skeptics and that misuse of the term exposes a profound ignorance of what the debate has always been about- i.e. the actual proven extent of the human influence on climate and the appropriate public policies to respond to climate change (adaptation versus mitigation). People on the skeptical side have never denied that climate change is taking place. They have never denied that CO2 has a warming influence. If any warming has occurred then CO2 has contributed to the warming. That is basic climate physics. And skeptics have never denied a human role in CO2 emissions.
But first, and most obvious, climate change is taking place. There is a huge ‘Duh’ hanging over this. Climate is not static (unchanging). It does not remain in stasis at some imagined optimum state. It always changes, always has, and climate change has often been far more sudden and severe in the past. See Ian Plimer’s outline of the massive changes during the last glacial period (his graph of the past 50,000 years, in Heaven and Earth, p.33). Since this interglacial began some 20,000 years ago climate changes have been much less severe.
The real denial has been on the alarmist side of this debate. Is this a case of psychological projection? Projecting your own faults out onto others? The skeptics argue that masses of good evidence now show that natural elements overwhelm the CO2 influence, and the natural influences show stronger correlations to the climate changes that we have seen over the past few centuries, just as natural influences have long explained paleo-climate changes.
Long-term paleo-climate research shows the actual relationship of CO2 to climate- i.e. that climate first warms and then atmospheric CO2 rises. The Vostok ice cores show this. Climate first warms and then oceans warm in response and release CO2 which then rises in the atmosphere. Alarmists deny this now incontrovertible evidence.
Media have failed to fact-check and fulfill their truth-telling role on this climate issue. Most media have unquestioningly sided with the alarmist hysteria over naturally changing climate. David Althiede (Creating Fear: News and the manufacture of crisis) states that media are not truth-tellers but entertainers competing with the rest of the entertainment industry and its obsession with apocalyptic exaggeration and hysteria.
Note for example, how many in media continue to repeat the nonsense about a “scientific consensus” and even refer to that completely fraudulent 97% number. It media were actually doing their fact-checking and fulfilling any basic role as truth-tellers they would know just how that number was concocted to mislead the public. Shame, shame.
The anti-humanism at the heart of environmentalism
The environmental movement embraces a profound anti-human element in its alarmist message. It devalues humanity a “cancer on the planet”, a “virus or pathogen in nature”. It states that we are a foreign species, a destroyer that does not belong on the planet. The consequence of this pathological anti-humanism has been ideologies and polices to prevent the birth of more people, to reduce and cull the human population, and even to commit atrocity to end human life.
I have noted the statements of Thomas Malthus that led the British to promote policies that resulted in the deaths of millions of poor people during the Irish and Indian famines of the late 1800s. I have repeatedly noted the devastating outcome of Rachel Carson’s anti-human alarmism that resulted in 50 million unnecessary deaths from 1970-2000. Anti-GM alarmism (i.e. activism against genetically modified foods) resulted in the deaths of some 8 million children over a recent decade. We are seeing everywhere across the world environmental anti-humanism expressed in activism to prevent the use of fossil fuels, the very energy that sustains our industrial civilization and enables the production of the benefits that we all value, including freedom. Again, this modern anti-humanism impacts the poorest people the most, with devastating impact.
Where does this anti-human fanaticism come from? It was already present in the earliest human mythology. The Sumerians were already demeaning people as fallen, bad, and deserving of punishment and destruction. Early people were disobedient (e.g. Adam), they had committed some original error or sin, and were even partly demonic (Eliade notes this in History of Religious Ideas). People were bad to the bone and they deserved to be punished and destroyed. They had to be purged from the world so that the original paradise that they had ruined could be restored. Utopia- a world without humans. Thus began the endless demeaning of humanity. That distorting mythology missed entirely the wonder of being human and the emergence of a humane consciousness that would become evident in love and the improvement of life across subsequent history.
That dark, primitive anti-human pathology has continued right down into the present. It descended through the great world religions, into 19th Century Declinism, and then emerged in modern environmentalism.
Humanity as fallen, corrupt, and destructive has always been a great lie, a distortion of the true state of humanity and history. The actual narrative of life shows that we have emerged out of a brutal animal past to become human, to become more humane in human civilization. We have endlessly become something better than we were before. The long-term trends affirm our improvement over our history. The mass of evidence affirms our endless rise toward something better. The true story of life is the wonder of conscious humanity creating an ever-better world.
Noting the primary feature of our ongoing improvement, James Payne in History of Force shows that we have become less violent over the millennia. Julian Simon in Ultimate Resource shows that we have learned to solve problems, to creatively improve our condition and life overall. For example, we now preserve species as nature has never done before. We have extended the human lifespan three-fold in just the past century. We have drastically reduced infant mortality across the world. With industrial, technological society we have freed humanity from slavery to the basic need to survive. True freedom has emerged with our creation of industrial society.
We have created societies that honor basic human freedoms and rights for all. Julian Simon, for example, has detailed our creative potential, stating that in net terms we have been more creators than destroyers. With good evidence, he has set forth the wonder of being human.
Go after the real monster
Thorough problem-solving requires that we embrace all the elements involved in any problem. When you look, for instance, at the problem of environmental alarmism you need to consider the basic physical science. Many are engaging problem solving at that level. You also need to include the political element as Hart does in Hubris, understanding the ideology that influences many to only consider some evidence and to dismiss, downplay, or prohibit consideration of other contrary evidence (“confirmation bias”). You also need to consider economic elements, and social elements.
But there is also one other foundational element in alarmism that is too often ignored- the mythical/religious element. Many have noted that environmental alarmism today expresses an “apocalyptic” theme. It is too often apocalyptic in nature, they say. OK, but just what is behind this element of apocalyptic exaggeration? What incites the apocalyptic hysteria that all sorts of twitches (changes) in nature portend the looming collapse and ending of all?
Where does this apocalyptic feature come from and why does this element persist in human worldviews, and now even in so-called “secular” ideologies? The outcomes of this alarmist exaggeration have been devastatingly harmful to humanity. We see it also inciting religious violence across history and still today (e.g. David Cook in Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature).
This site traces the origins and historical descent of the apocalyptic pathology. My point? To properly and fully resolve problems for the long-term future, we must resolve all of the foundational issues behind problems. We need to confront those deeply-rooted background things that continue to plague consciousness. We need to go after the real monster, the pathological themes that have been deeply embedded in human worldviews and subconscious and continue to incite excessive alarmism over life. And remember, one of the greatest fears over history has been the fear of some Ultimate Harm, that some great Force or Spirit would punish and destroy us. The destruction of humanity has often been imagined as coming through nature.
Many have avoided this mythical/religious element because it has long been lodged in our great religious traditions and those traditions are considered sacred, divine, not open to questioning, challenge or change. Therefore, few people get to the real root of problems that involve pathological theology (ideas of God) to deal properly with alarmism at that level- i.e. Threat theology and the related apocalyptic mythology. Threat theology and apocalyptic mythology comprise one of the foundational issues behind alarmism across history, perhaps the most deeply rooted and influential element of all.
I would suggest that when you deal with this deeply rooted religious feature behind alarmism then you have engaged the greatest potential liberation of all. Ultimate liberation comes when you slay the real monster behind alarmism, the monster that has so long darkened human consciousness and enslaved the human spirit with unnecessary fear, anxiety, depression and despair.
Human story and monsters
Joseph Campbell on human story: Campbell says that we go out into life as the hero of our own story. We face monsters/problems, we struggle to conquer and slay our monster, and we learn lessons from our struggle. We gain insights that we bring back as a “boon” or blessing to benefit others. Campbell adds that a “wise man” gives the hero a sword to slay the monster.
Using Campbell’s basic outline of human story, I sometimes frame my argument this way. Threat theology- the apocalyptic myth of an angry deity that threatens to punish and destroy humanity- has been the greatest monster in the history of humanity. Greatest monster? Yes, trace all the related versions of this myth from belief system to belief system, across the world and across history, and carefully note the harmful outcomes. They are detailed on this site.
The monster of threatening deity is expressed through a full set of related ideas, the apocalyptic template of ideas. See summaries throughout site.
This pathological body of apocalyptic ideas (Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas below) has fueled endless alarmism in humanity, generating fear, anxiety, depression and despair over life with its imperfections and problems. But an ancient wise man gave us the sword to slay the monster and to bring a boon to humanity, to liberate humanity from the monster.
The monster has long been embedded in the major world religions and has now found new expression in ideologies like environmental alarmism with its “revenge of Gaia”, “angry planet”, upset Mother Earth, or karma. Even self-identified secularists and atheists continue to mouth the basic themes of apocalyptic mythology and that reveals the fact that they also believe in some monster.
A wise man- (note carefully) the Historical Jesus, not Christian Jesus- developed the most potent response to the monstrous Threat theology and apocalyptic mythology of all historical religion. He presented his central theme of love as unconditional- that God was unconditional Love of the most liberating kind. But his own followers were not ready to embrace that stunning new insight. They were scandalized by it because it did not satiate their deeply-rooted lust for vengeance against their enemies, to see the “bad” people punished, to see “fair justice” or payback justice upheld.
So his followers rejected the sword of the wise man and retreated to embrace the old Monster of primitive Threat theology, apocalyptic punishment mythology, and belief in monstrosities like Hell. They retreated back into slavery to the monster. Christianity then gave the monster new life and expression in Paul’s Christ myth.
Examples of Threat theology and apocalyptic mythology in Paul’s earliest writing, his letters to the Thessalonians: “Jesus… who rescues us from the coming wrath… the wrath of God has come upon them… the Lord will punish men for all such sins… destruction will come on them suddenly… they will not escape… (they) will suffer wrath… He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel… They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord… doomed to destruction… whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming… so all will be condemned who have not believed the truth…”.
This is exactly what the early Sumerians had long before heard from their priests about the wrath of the monster god Enlil. The only difference was that the Sumerian version spoke of apocalyptic destruction by water, not by fire. Zoroaster changed the apocalypse to fire and the subsequent Western religions embraced his version.
Finally- do you want to be a hero that fights evil and makes life better, that slays a monster and brings a benefit to humanity? Then go after this greatest monster ever- the vengeful God that punishes and destroys people in an apocalypse- and all the related bad ideas that support the ongoing existence of this violent monster. This is the real Master Terrorist that has long been behind movements of mass murder and anti-humanism across history.
Primitive religious themes in contemporary environmental alarmism. Yes, apocalyptic is a primitive and subhuman mentality. It degrades and makes fools of otherwise bright people. Remember Chicken Little and her falling sky.
Environmental alarmism is the latest historical expression of the apocalyptic mind and spirit. As with all previous versions of apocalyptic, environmental alarmism causes immense harm to humanity. It stubbornly persists in traumatizing public consciousness with new looming catastrophes, repeating the unscientific claim, for instance, that every twitch in climate portends the apocalypse. While there are legitimate things to fear in life, alarmism exaggerates problems to apocalyptic scale and thereby distorts the actual state of things. To win the “battle of ideas” with this mythology, you have to confront the deeply embedded themes at the very foundation of human worldviews.
Immense harm to humanity? Yes, apocalyptic alarm, in general, plays a significant role in things like religious violence. See, for example, David Cook’s “Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature”. But more to my point- environmental apocalyptic incites anti-human, anti-industrial civilization activism, and pushes anti-human salvation schemes (to “save the world”) that try to shut down economic growth and development. The outcomes of this alarmism have been devastating to tens of millions of the most vulnerable people.
You have to counter the curse of environmental alarmism with good scientific evidence as credible scientists are doing today across the world in varied forums. But to fully and thoroughly solve the problem of alarmism for the long term future you must also recognize other deeply embedded causal elements, such as the ancient mythical themes that have long shaped human minds and worldviews. And remember, most people on the planet are still religious in orientation. I am making some basic connections here between related things.
This site probes the mythical/religious/spiritual background of environmental alarmism, arguably one of the most prominent ideologies across the planet today (see Tabor, Foss and Hart quotes). In the following comment below, I have done some “reverse engineering” (i.e. tracing the history of ideas backwards) to expose the persistent religious element behind alarmism. A huge “Duh” hangs all over this.
I am using a notable proxy in my argument- the common presence of religious belief. Surveys have shown that most of humanity embraces some form of religion- about 85% of the human family are affiliated with one of the major world religions. And many of the remaining 15% claim to be “spiritual but not religious”, meaning they also hold some form of religious or spiritual beliefs (e.g. Gaia, Mother Earth, Universe, karma).
Now, if you are religious then you most certainly hold some form of belief in apocalyptic mythology because apocalyptic is the foundational structure of the great Western religions. It is “the mother of all religion”. Zoroastrian apocalypse shaped the Western traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Apocalyptic-like mythology is also present in Eastern traditions (i.e. the great rising and then declining cycles of Hinduism, with their disastrous endings, or the ever-decreasing life spans of Buddhism). Apocalyptic has always been one of the most prominent mythological strains in human thought and belief. Note also the continuing prominence of apocalyptic themes in popular story-telling, in TV and movies. Many non-religious or “secular” people also mouth the core themes of apocalyptic mythology, those of the environmental version.
To solve the pathology of alarmism, you have to properly counter the most foundational feature of all historical alarmism- the primitive myth of apocalyptic, and Threat theology in general.
And because of the fundamental religious and apocalyptic element in all human consciousness, environmental alarmism resonates with most people. Jeffrey Foss is correct when he states that environmental alarmism has been embraced by most people across the world, people of all faiths and political systems. Today’s environmental alarmism affirms the same core apocalyptic themes that have dominated human thought across history- that there was an original paradise (the past was better), corrupt humans have ruined paradise (i.e. industrial civilization has destroyed pristine nature), and all is now declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending, where humanity will be punished. This anti-human element is central to all apocalyptic thinking.
Alarmed people then feel inescapably trapped and obligated to support the salvation schemes of the alarmists in order to “save the world”. Governments across the world have caved to alarmist proposals, and that has caused humanity immense harm. We experience this harm in the outcomes from the “war on carbon” (Richard Branson), and the assault on CO2. Imagine- a war on the basic food of all life. Branson is really calling for a war on life itself, because all life is carbon based. Did he ever do Grade One science?
And the war on CO2 is a war on the most basic food of life, atmospheric CO2. Most plant food is from CO2 in the atmosphere and CO2 levels have been at historically dangerous lows for the past few million years. Plant life has been stressed by pre-industrial levels in the 200-300 ppm range. Plants thrive when CO2 levels are in the more optimal and healthy 1000-1500 ppm range. And these higher levels will not cause ‘catastrophic climate change’. See Ian PLimer’s Heaven and Earth for paleo-climate evidence.
But in the war on CO2, alarmists have found a potent way to fight their great enemy- capitalist industrial civilization- by attacking the fossil fuel basis of our civilization. In attacking the very energy that fuels modern civilization, alarmists believe they have found the answer to shut down, or to radically re-order the world system toward the collectivist central control that is necessary to install their Green utopia. Their solutions are presented in their version of apocalyptic millennial mythology.
Alarmist Greens have been successful in slowing world economies by endless blockage of economic growth through strangulating regulation and excessive taxation to finance things like subsidies for renewables. This has led to rising energy prices that impact the poorest people the most. Alarmists also engage outright blocking of economic development projects like fossil fuel pipelines.
(Insert note: Renewables may have a role in the future but are not currently viable, producing less than 1% of the world’s energy needs.)
The alarmist endeavor to slow and halt economic growth has harmed the poorest people the most, as well as harmed the environment. Poverty has always been correlated with environmental damage while the creation of wealth has led to environmental improvement. For detail on this see the Environmental Transition research by Indur Goklany in “The Improving State of the World”. Environmental alarmists have this relationship all backwards in their argument that economic growth destroys the environment. To the contrary, good evidence shows that industrial, technological society has saved humanity and the world.
Environmental alarmism also creates fear over a warmer world. This is further abandonment of good evidence. Paleo-climatologist Professor Ian Plimer presents evidence showing that life always flourishes with warmer climate and higher CO2 levels. They have even discovered the stumps of tropical trees in the Arctic. That was once a much warmer area. Our planet is presently in an abnormally cold and low CO2 era, an ice age era with destructive glaciations, and life has suffered under these sub-optimal conditions. See also “Celebrating CO2” (Youtube video) by Patrick Moore, former co-founder of Greenpeace.
The alarmist drive for central control of humanity via organizations such as the UN is a direct assault on human freedom. Alarmists hold the fraudulent myth that humanity is corrupt and destructive and so must be restrained and controlled. Hence they push for central control of humanity by “enlightened elites” via organizations like the UN. And they seek control over the details of life- i.e. what light-bulbs people can use, what cars they can drive, what food they should eat (local versus imported), and even how many children they should have. Again, such control is exercised through coercive state regulation and taxation (e.g. carbon taxes).
The environmental alarmist push for central control exposes something that many have noted- that with the collapse of Communism in the last century, old Reds migrated over to become Greens and joined the environmental movement. Michael Hart traces the history and ideological agenda behind environmental alarmism in his book “Hubris: The troubling science, economics, and politics of climate change”. This totalitarian impulse for central control is a direct assault on human freedom.
And there are the damaging outcomes from alarmist apocalyptic- notably the past century’s mass death movements that were influenced by religious apocalyptic. Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth) has detailed this influence, noting that Christian apocalyptic millennialism influenced Marxism and Nazism, as well as environmentalism. Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline) covers similar historical evidence. Add here the mass death from Rachel Carson’s exaggerated chemical alarmism and the ban on DDT (50 million deaths over the subsequent decades from 1970 to 2000). And the millions of children blinded or dying from anti-GM activism (denying children access to Vitamin A in Golden Rice). Or the harm to the poorest from the bio-fuels fiasco and rising food prices, as well as the cutting of more rainforest for palm oil plantations. Apocalyptic alarmism in its varied forms has been immensely harmful to humanity and to nature. It is more than just irresponsible. It is outright immoral.
This alarmist narrative that humanity is destructive and needs to be restrained and controlled, is completely backwards and it needs to be thrown out. We must counter this core alarmist myth of “humanity as destroyer” with the “wonder of being human” as Julian Simon has shown with good evidence in Ultimate Resource. Humanity has unlimited creative potential that has repeatedly solved problems and improved life and nature, especially over the past few centuries of unprecedented wealth creation. We are seeing this creative potential unleashed everywhere as we have learned to protect individual freedom across the world in free economies.
And this explains why I am re-posting Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas below. You must confront and change your foundational themes if you are to fully and properly solve the root causes of historical alarmism.
Another: Why go after this most dominant ideology of today? One of the real dangers from this excessive alarmism is that it has a “self-fulfilling prophecy” element. Simon noted that environmental alarmism (“doom and gloom”) caused resignation and fatalism in populations. Much like Paul Ehrlich in the last century urging the world to “let India go down the drain” and just suffer hundreds of millions of starvation deaths. But Norman Borlaug refused to accept the lie of apocalyptic and worked to create his new strains of wheat and rice that averted famine with the true “Green revolution”.
Point form summary of the descent of primitive apocalyptic into present.
What initially sparked apocalyptic mythology? It was an early error in logic. Our ancestors believed that natural disasters (storm, flood, earthquake, tsunami) were evidence that the gods were angry and were punishing them for their sin. They believed the gods planned to destroy humanity, to purge humanity from the world. Apocalyptic then became deeply lodged in early human consciousness and it has defined human outlook ever since, re-emerging in ever new versions, whether religious or secular. Apocalyptic states that humanity ruined the original paradise, life is now in decline toward some catastrophic collapse and ending, where humanity will be punished in the apocalypse.
The basic links:
Apocalyptic was present in the earliest writing- i.e. the Sumerian Flood myth (to destroy humanity), circa 3000 BCE.
The Egyptian Destruction of Mankind and “return to chaos” myths appeared around the same time.
Around 1500 BCE we get Zoroastrian apocalypse by fiery molten metal to end history and purge the world. Zoroastrian apocalypse then shaped Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Apocalyptic themes also appeared in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Greek mythology.
Christianity shapes Western consciousness more than any other belief system. Christianity shaped 19th Century Declinism that became the dominant ideology of our era. Declinism states that corrupt humanity in industrial civilization has ruined the original paradise of pristine nature and so must be purged from the world in order that paradise can be restored (utopia can be achieved).
Declinism shapes environmental alarmism, the most widespread ideology of today’s world. This ideology preaches endless looming collapse and ending. It pushes harmful salvation schemes to slow and halt economic growth.
Links/relationships, historical lines of descent, deeply rooted causal factors. This material elaborates further on the comment above.
What’s religion got to do with it? Religious mythology continues to powerfully influence today’s worldviews and ideologies. The point? To further promote human liberation and progress, we need to confront and purge those deeply embedded things that continue to block the full liberation of human consciousness and the human spirit.
To make this clear and relevant, let me tug a bit at your wallet.
Your income, your level of prosperity, is far below what it should be at this point in history. Some “reverse engineering” will show you what I mean. I will trace back the relationships to some of the unexpected root causes of your diminished prosperity, your ‘thinner-than-it-should-be’ wallet.
Am I stretching correlations? See for yourself.
Rupert Murdoch noted last year (2016) that the sluggish world economy was due to excess regulation, mainly environmental regulation. Two US economists have also shown that excess regulation since WW2 has made Americans much poorer than they should be. Average US incomes are around only $55,000 today instead of the $330,000 they should be. Americans are six times poorer than they should be. (Detail in sections below- see Ronald Bailey article, Federal Regulations have made you 75% poorer)
Remember this correlation- today’s lower income and less wealth is due to excess regulation, and much of it is environmental regulation.
Still with me? Let’s trace this back further to the deeper root correlations or causes. Over the past few decades the environmental movement has pushed a massive campaign to slow and halt commerce, to restrain economic growth, to turn back industrial civilization, to regulate it to death. In recent decades, they have done this mainly by attacking CO2 or fossil fuels, the very energy that drives industrial society. Environmentalists have persistently and hysterically alarmed the world with the claim that industrial society is destroying nature, that nature “is in crisis”, and we must act immediately to radically change the industrial world system in order to “save the world”. A world that, according to them, faces looming collapse and ending. In other words- the apocalypse is nigh.
James Hansen, who started the modern climate alarm, intimated along with Evangelical pastor Harold Camping, that it would all end in 2013. He stated in 2008 that “It’s all over in 5 years”. What’s with the number 13? Peak oil alarmists also focused on 2013 as the end of days.
Keep probing deeper. What beliefs have influenced and shaped contemporary environmental alarmism? Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth), Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline), Michael Hart (Hubris), Jeffrey Foss (Beyond Environmentalism), and Alston Chase (In A Dark Wood), among others, all point to some of the basic themes that have fueled environmental alarmism, such as apocalyptic mythology. I would emphasize here that ‘19th Century Declinism’ was the main ideology that brought apocalyptic mythology into today’s environmentalism, as well as into general public consciousness.
To further probe the connections backward, we next ask what shaped 19th Century Declinism? Arthur Herman points to several fundamental Christian beliefs here. He says that Declinism embraces the Christian myth of an original paradise that has been lost. And it affirms the Christian belief in a future violent purging of the corrupt world so that the lost paradise may be restored. I have noted throughout this site that other Christian beliefs are also evident in Declinism, such as the fall and degeneration of the human race, and the need to embrace a salvation scheme, to make some sacrifice.
And there we are right back to the primitive religion/theology that is still at the root of contemporary alarmist movements, even though often at the level of the subconscious. How do I know that religious themes are behind secular ideologies? Because the core themes are essentially the same, whether expressed religiously or secularly. And I understand the reason for this- because those primitive mythological/religious themes were long ago deeply embedded in human consciousness and worldviews and those themes are still present in the main world religions.
And those main religions dominate the worldviews of most people on Earth. Some 85% of humanity claims affiliation with a major religion. Fully 3.6 billion people are members of either Christianity or Islam, both intensely apocalyptic religions, descendants of the Zoroastrian mother of Western religion. Apocalyptic is an essential and foundational element in our Western consciousness, whatever other ideology people may hold. Hindus and Buddhists also have apocalyptic elements in their worldviews. And this is why Foss was right to say that environmental alarmism has been embraced by all faiths across the world. It intuitively resonates with most people.
To run all this forward again, the connections would be- primitive apocalyptic shapes the earliest mythology (i.e. Sumerian Flood myth, Egyptian Destruction of Mankind, return to chaos); apocalyptic also appears in the collapse and ending of the great Hindu cycles, and in Buddhist decreasing life-span myths; apocalyptic then shapes Zoroastrianism which shapes the Western tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Christian apocalyptic then shapes 19th Century Declinism which in turn shapes Marxism, Nazism, and environmentalism with the foundational themes that there was once an original paradise of pristine nature, that corrupt early people have ruined that paradise (currently with their industrial civilization) and now all is declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. So to “save the world” we must halt industrial society and replace it with a Green utopia, through central control of humanity via organizations like the UN. And this mythology drives the environmental alarmists to regulate and restrain contemporary industrial civilization, and to halt economic growth by attacking the basic energy of our civilization- fossil fuels. And we are all poorer today because of this ongoing apocalyptic alarmism.
For further background on the religious influence on our contemporary world, see James Tabor’s comments just below on how prominent the Christian influence, with its apocalyptic message, has been on Western consciousness and society. Christianity is mainly responsible for bringing apocalyptic into our modern world and inciting the endless alarmism in our societies. The scandal in this is that Christianity has long possessed the potent counter to apocalyptic mythology- the core statement of Historical Jesus that we should not retaliate because God does not retaliate (i.e. no more eye for eye, Matthew 5:38-48). And because God does not retaliate then there will be no ultimate divine retaliation as in some punishing apocalypse. But Paul and other New Testament authors shamefully buried that powerful anti-apocalyptic theology of Jesus in the larger apocalyptic context of the New Testament. Paul retreated to the myth of a retaliating, apocalyptic God (Romans 12:17-20). And that became Christianity.
Richard Landes and Arthur Herman have noted the influence of Christian apocalyptic millennial ideas on the mass-death movements of Marxism and Nazism. This is about harm that is far more devastating than just a drag on economic development and growth.
And there is further devastation from apocalyptic alarmism. Note Rachel Carson’s use of an exaggerated apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring. Her DDT alarmism then resulted in the ban on DDT and the resulting unnecessary deaths of 50 million people, many children, over subsequent decades. This is not to deny the need for care in using chemicals. But also be careful about the exaggeration of danger that leads to distortion and even more harmful over-reaction.
And there is the damage from activism against GM foods (i.e. genetically modified Golden Rice). That activism has resulted in the unnecessary blinding and deaths of some 8 million children over a recent 12 year period (see Lomborg article below). The damage from apocalyptic mythology and alarmism is immense and ongoing. The devastating outcomes expose alarmism to be more than just irresponsible. It is immoral.
This site repeatedly traces the linkages and lines of descent from ancient systems of mythology down into religious traditions and then their re-emergence in modern ideologies. I have offered a more complete picture of the apocalyptic template of ideas, and a broader long-term historical perspective, than the above noted researchers, though I am grateful for their work.
Apocalyptic mythology has been a persistent set of historically descending ideas, ideas that change forms of expression from system to system but maintain the core themes. And the damage from this mythology continues into our contemporary world.
Christianity bears major responsibility for bringing apocalyptic alarmism into our world. To further establish this critical link, note the following comment from historian James Tabor: “Paul is the most influential person in human history, and realize it or not, he has shaped practically all we think about everything. I have in mind, of course, the West in particular, but since Christian culture has had such a global spread, I think my somewhat extravagant language about ‘human history’ can be justified… the foundations of Western civilization- from our assumptions about reality to our societal and personal ethics- rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul. We are all cultural heirs of Paul, with the well-established doctrines and traditions of mainstream Christianity deeply entrenched in our culture. In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure… has been largely lost to our culture… the message of Paul, which created Christianity as we know it, and the message of the historical Jesus… were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another with little in common beyond the name of Jesus itself…” (Paul and Jesus, Preface).
Further, Tabor notes the dominance of apocalyptic in Paul’s writing. “Paul operated with a strongly apocalyptic perspective that influenced all he said and did… (and) the ‘Jesus’ who most influenced history was the ‘Jesus Christ’ of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus” (p.15, 21).
As Tabor said, “We want to understand the deeper roots of our culture”.
My larger point- alarmism has repeatedly traumatized people across history, frightening them into embracing damaging salvation schemes such as the anti-industrial movement of today (to “save the world”). To fully counter the basic impulses of historical alarmism you have to go to all of the root factors and deal properly with them. We are still driven by subconscious fears, such as the inherited fear of Ultimate Harm (see Grosso article below). Therefore, contemporary alarmism continues to resonate with us and we then embrace the harmful salvation schemes offered by the alarmists. The damage has been massive. And it has directly impacted your income, significantly. You are much poorer than you should be today. But more than that, alarmism has destroyed the lives of multiple millions of the most vulnerable people in the human family.
(This comment is further endeavor to clear the way to see the “single greatest discovery ever”.)
A New version of the central theme of Historical Jesus: A new take on the offensive ‘hard saying’ of Jesus- the scandal of an unconditional deity. His discovery that the core of reality- God- was Unconditional Love. Historical Jesus (entirely opposite to Christian Jesus) went to the heart of the matter- theology- to slay the monster of Threatening deity with the sword of unconditional Love.
Continuing my “redacting” or tampering in order to make clear, here below is a fuller summary of the “hard saying” of Jesus. Note the inclusion of the adjective “unconditional” here and there to make the core point clear. The central theme of Historical Jesus was the unconditional treatment of all people, whether good or bad, because that was what how God treated every human being. Unconditional love in behavior and belief was the central message of Jesus as stated in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36.
I have merged the Luke 6 version with the Matthew 5 version as Luke does a better job on some points. Matthew tampered with his version, introducing conditions that distorted the message of Jesus. He included the statements that your righteousness had to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees or you would not enter heaven, that you had to “be perfect as your heavenly Father was perfect”, or that you would only be forgiven if you forgave others (chapter 6). Nonsense. Jesus stated that the love of God was unconditional. Luke gets the spirit of the message better than Matthew, who was a moralist. Luke ends with “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful”.
Here is the new cleaned up version, merging Luke 6:27-36 with Matthew 5:38-48.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said ‘eye for eye’, and ‘tooth for tooth’ (i.e. traditional justice as retaliation, payback, punishment). But I tell you… Love your enemies. Do not retaliate against your offender, or get even, or engage tit for tat vengeance.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who persecute you or mistreat you, that you may be the children of God (or “be like God”, because this is what God does)… God does not engage eye for eye justice, but loves God’s enemies, without conditions.”
Jesus based his unconditional ethic on a stunning new unconditional theology. He stated that God did not engage eye for eye justice. God did not reward the good and punish the bad. God generously and scandalously forgave all and loved all the same- unconditionally.
Note that Jesus based this no “eye for eye behavior…instead your love enemies” on the very same belief- i.e. do this because God does this- God does not engage eye for eye justice but instead loves God’s enemies. Basing behavior on belief has always been a primal human impulse.
What does it mean to love unconditionally? Jesus said, “If someone wants your shirt, give him your coat also. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him for two miles.” This was the point that Mandela made when he said, “Let us surprise them- our enemies- with our unconditional generosity”. Jesus continued, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Jesus emphasized the unconditional point of his message when he added that God did not discriminate between good and bad people, but loved all the same, with unlimited and authentically universal generosity. God’s love was not limited tribal love, reserved only for favored ‘true believers’. Jesus said that “God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” This was his most potent and clear statement on the absolutely unconditional nature of God’s love.
He then argued further against limited or conditional forms of love: “If you love only those who love you (tribal, discriminating, excluding love), what credit is that to you? If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even primitives do that? With their limited tribal mentality, they love only those of their own tribe. Further, if you lend only to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even primitives lend to primitives, expecting to be repaid in full.”
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be the children of God, because God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be unconditionally merciful, just as God is unconditionally merciful.”
I would add- ready for shock and awe?- that it is perhaps best to keep just this central statement of Jesus and throw the rest of the bible away. The rest only weakens, clouds, and confuses this profound statement of an unconditional ethic and belief. The larger Christian context (the rest of the New Testament) is most essentially about conditions to appease a threatening God. See Romans 1-5 for the basic Christian statement of the divine demand that a supreme condition be met to appease the wrath of God. Paul stated that there had to be the sacrifice of Jesus before God would forgive or save anyone. Those Roman’s chapters set forth the very foundational beliefs of Christianity- that Jesus had to die to pay for humanity’s sins.
This new version of Jesus’ central theme, just above, is the cleaned off “diamond or pearl”. It has been pulled out of its larger context- the “dung, slime, muck, and garbage” that Tolstoy and Jefferson spoke of. The diamond has been cleaned and polished.
Seriously, I would do as Jefferson did and come up with a new reduced version of Jesus’ message, using only the above core statement and then add a few other sayings and parables. I would also clean that additional material up, freeing it from any conditional clouding and weakening by the gospel writers.
Explanatory Notes: I have excluded some of the original statements in the Matthew and Luke versions of Jesus’ teaching- i.e. “if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek”. It is too confusing to explain just what these statements meant in ancient Roman society. For instance, this statement on turning the other cheek is generally and wrongly understood today in terms of extreme pacifism- i.e. do not resist violence of any kind. Biblical commentators say that turning the other cheek actually had more to do with taking an aggressive stance toward an offender. Embarrassing the offender and holding them accountable for their actions.
And just as all religion does, watch how some people immediately start to qualify and undermine the scandal of unconditional as stated by Jesus. That urge to add conditions and qualify Jesus’ teaching, then lessens the impact of his unconditional “hard saying”. Such conditions weaken the liberating power and potential of the ethic and the theology of Jesus. Much religious qualifying does just as Paul’s Christianity did, it buries the liberating power of Jesus’ hard saying. Matthew and others followed Paul’s example, burying Jesus’ core teaching in the Christ myth with its supreme condition of a cosmic sacrifice to appease God. All the more reason to uncover this diamond and let it shine in all its beauty and scandal.
But many people simply cannot embrace the scandalous nature of unconditional love. The unlimited generosity of such love seems unfair, it appears to abandon all sense of proper justice as some form of payback (i.e. reward the good, punish the bad). Note the older brother in the Prodigal parable and the all-day vineyard workers in the Owner of the Vineyard parable. They were all offended by the generosity of the Father and the Owner.
And to clarify something that confuses many people I would stress that unconditional love is responsible to protect the innocent from violence, to restrain violence in an imperfect world, to hold others responsible and accountable for their actions (imprisonment of some, elimination of others- i.e. ISIS).
But the responsibility to restrain violence should not weaken the attitude or intention of treating all with unconditional love. We do this already in our humane treatment of prisoners of war, and criminals. We try to engage rehabilitative programs and restorative justice programs with such people, even while keeping the habitually violent locked up.
Others try to weaken the scandal of unconditional in Jesus teaching and try to salvage the conditions of Matthew by arguing that the rain which God sends on the unrighteous is actually punishment because rain is a miserable experience. Ha. That misses entirely the spirit and overall tenor of the context. To the contrary, rain and sun are for the benefit of crops and are given to both good and bad people. And the context is clearly about no more “eye for eye”, about not getting even, about not engaging punishing payback, and not hurting one’s offender. Nonetheless, the conditional religious mind endlessly seeks some condition that must be fulfilled, some punishment that must be meted out…the bad person must be given their due. That is exactly what Matthew tries to do with his conditions. He tries to weaken the scandal of this unconditional message of Jesus. He ends with “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees or you won’t enter heaven”. Luke does better in simply ending by stating, “Be unconditionally merciful as God is unconditionally merciful”.
Devotion to the fallacy of Biblicism leads people to do such things as add conditions to a clearly unconditional message. Biblicism is the belief that every word in the Bible must be honored as sacred, as given by God and unchangeable. No. Be faithful to the general spirit and tenor of the context of the central message of Jesus. Be careful of burying the unconditional diamond in conditional dung.
Post from discussion group…
“Stephen Patterson, current head of the Jesus Seminar, in his latest book on Q, in a very measured and scholarly manner states that the theology of Jesus “poses a serious challenge to Christian theology”. Ahem. I am more blunt in order to be real clear- Jesus’ theology devastates the Christian religion and Paul’s Christ myth- the fulfilling of a supreme condition of cosmic sacrifice to appease a highly conditional God. That theology is gonzo. Fini. Kaput. Its all over for the great anti-Jesus, the Christ of Paul. Jesus’ theology of no conditions love spells the end of all such conditional religion.
“Christianity has been a grand fraud, specifically for burying that greatest ever discovery of Jesus. Christianity could have been, and should have been, one of the greatest liberation movements ever, liberating human consciousness from Threat theology, from Ultimate Harm mythology, the greatest curse and monster in history. Ah, I am using such superlatives, to get this point across.”
“But if Christianity had faithfully preserved the central theme of Jesus then it would have ceased to exist as a religion because unconditional cannot be framed in any kind of conditional institution or tradition. Unconditional is about absolute freedom to be human. It is about joining the entire human race.”
Collectivism versus individual freedom– the central struggle of the modern era. See Arthur Herman’s The Cave and the Light for a good history of the descent of Plato’s collectivism versus Aristotle’s individualism.
Over the past few centuries we have had it in diverse iterations- Socialism versus Capitalism, Liberalism versus Conservatism, or Progressivism versus Conservatism (i.e. Democrats versus Republicans in the US). And in setting forth these dualisms I am not arguing that modern Conservatism has been the best representation of Classic British Liberalism, or Libertarianism as a roughly similar tradition. I approach this as a fierce independent- float like a butterfly and take nectar wherever you find it.
In the past century we witnessed the horrors of Communism where all members of varied societies were coerced to live for some greater good as represented by the State and State elites. Socialists in the West were always confounded at the totalitarian extremism of those Socialist experiments in other countries. But as Muravchik noted (Heaven on Earth), someone had to run the collective “for the good of all others”. And as others have said, the most dangerous people in life are those who know what it best for you and all others, and will force you to embrace that good.
Ruling elites in those Socialist societies refused to tolerate individual freedom for dissent, skepticism, open debate and disagreement, or the expression of human difference and diversity. Remember the sense-violating and colorless drab of the dull blue Mao jackets. In totalitarian central control societies, individual freedom had to be crushed in the interest of protecting a greater collective good.
With the collapse of Communism, many old Socialists migrated over to join the environmental movement (detail by Michael Hart in Hubris). Reds became Greens. They saw a new opportunity to go after the great enemy of capitalist industrial society. By attacking CO2 and fossil fuels, the very energy basis of industrial society.
The old totalitarian impulse of collectivism has re-emerged in environmentalism. Greens, like Reds in the last century, have tried to force a radical re-ordering of the world system toward central control via organizations like the UN. This is the same old Socialist central control for some greater utopian good. Now a mixed Red/Green utopia.
And with Green totalitarianism we find the same intolerance of individual freedom for dissent, skepticism, open debate or disagreement, or expression of human difference and diversity. Greens have tried to control what people eat (local not imported), what cars people should drive, what light-bulbs they should use, and even how many children people should have. They have tried to institute a worse form of totalitarian control that even the Communists. And this central control by Greens has caused the same environmental damage that Communist control produced. Note the destruction of more rainforest that was cut in response to Green fossil fuel alarmism (i.e. the bio-fuels fiasco and rush to plant more palm oil plantations).
The ‘equality of poverty’ that Socialist utopias produce has always harmed people and the environment.
Why do Socialists keep trying to establish a system that has repeatedly produced the same harmful outcomes? Isn’t the definition of insanity to keep trying the same thing that does not work?
For one, Socialists believe that true and pure Socialism has never really had a chance. They claim that Communist societies were always perversions of the real thing. But that is to deny the very heart and soul of all Socialism which is collectivism- the ordering of a society to suppress individual freedom and to coerce all citizens to live for some greater good. Whether Robert Owen’s Communalism, or Communism, or other varieties of Socialism, it is all essentially collectivism. That is the central organizing principle. And collectivism operates to undermine and violate individual freedom. It cannot do otherwise. The greater good takes precedence over the freedom of the individual.
Also, Socialists believe that their collectivist ideal gives them the moral high ground over all other systems for organizing human societies. Their ideal of collective good, of greater good, gives them a sense of superiority over the base “selfishness” or “greed” of living for individual good. Their greater good ideal blinds them to the fact that the one system of the past few centuries that promoted individual freedom and the search for individual good- the free market or free enterprise system- has lifted most of humanity out of the misery of poverty like nothing ever before. Despite its failures, the market system has done more for the greater good than any other system that humans have created.
When Classic British Liberalism began to protect citizens from monarchal (state) intervention and confiscation of property; when citizens knew they could create, produce, sell, buy, trade, and reap the rewards of their effort, and that their freedom, their rights and their property would be protected; that new individually-oriented society of Classic Liberalism then unleashed the explosion in human creativity that we saw in the early 1800s. GDP then began its historical rise that has liberated billions from the misery of poverty since 1820.
The historical evidence is now overwhelming that free individuals, improving themselves and their families, has contributed to the greater good far more effectively than central control of citizens. The greater good has been served best by individual economic freedom, by protected individual freedom. And this system of free individuals works because it unleashes inherent human creativity as nothing else can.
The results? Average human life spans tripling in length over the past century. Technological invention and advance in industrial society that has freed people from the enslaving labor needed just to meet basic needs and survive. Add such outcomes as less suffering from disease, more leisure time and comforts, and on and on. General improvement in the human condition and the environment (see Environmental Transition research).
Collectivist systems were never able to produce such results and, in fact, produced the opposite of the general impoverishment of humanity and damage to the environment.
The struggle continues between these two fundamental ideals or principles for organizing human societies- collectivism or individual freedom. For detail on the history of these two principles see Arthur Herman’s “The Cave and The Light”.
Notes: As with Communism, so environmentalism seeks to control citizens with excessive regulation and taxation (elites believing that they know best how to spend your money), and state programs that cover all aspects of human life (the “Nanny state” doing everything for its citizens). This totalitarian impulse to centralized control is an assault on individual human freedom.
Advocates of human freedom- Frederick Hayek, Milton Freidman- have argued that the state should have a minimal role in human society. It should exist minimally to provide an atmosphere of protected individual freedom, where there are general guidelines to maintain a fair and safe environment for human freedom to be expressed. Government should provide minimal services such as security for all, and provide systems of law and courts to fairly resolve disputes between citizens. And as Hayek advocated, people only need some general guidelines pointing to the direction the society wants to take (general agreed on goals, ideals), not detailed instructions on how everyone should get there.
Understanding equality/inequality: Equal protection under law does not guarantee equality of outcomes for each person as Socialist systems try to do. The real issue is that while some gain immense riches in free systems, most people also experience significant improvement in their lives. Even the poorest people today live far better than kings did just a few centuries ago. Absolute poverty continues its remarkable decline across the world.
And yes, there is greed and corruption in the free enterprise system, just as greed and corruption was rampant in Socialist/Communist societies. But these aberrations do not define the market system. Individual freedom is the driving principle and force of the market system. The market system protects human freedom better than any other system because it distributes power among competing actors. It protects better against the centralization of power in controlling elites.
Primitive mythology continues to dominate modern “secular” minds (i.e. apocalyptic hysteria in environmental alarmism). The outcomes of apocalyptic alarmism and its essential anti-humanism (humanity as fallen, corrupt, a cancer on nature) have been devastating for the most vulnerable people.
Devastating? The easily-alarmed apocalyptic mind has always embraced the most destructive salvation schemes. The outcomes have been horrific for the most vulnerable people. Millions died as a result of Thomas Malthus’ counsel to let the poor starve and die. Robert Zubrin notes that Malthus’ theory “motivated the British government’s refusal to provide relief during the great Irish famine of 1846” (Merchants of Despair, p.9). So also, “the death count inflicted on the British Empire’s subjects by Malthusian ideology soared into the many millions during another famine, from 1876 to 1879… in India… the imperial government used Malthusian reasoning to help justify its oppressive policy… (p.13).
And it never ends. Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth) and Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline) show how Christian apocalyptic millennialism influenced the mass-death movements of Marxism and Nazism with their tens of millions of victims. Rachel Carson’s use of an apocalyptic narrative resulted in the ban on DDT which then led to tens of millions of unnecessary deaths in the following decades. 50 million people, many children, died of malaria from 1970-2000. And now many million more poor people are being obstructed from using fossil fuels because of modern climate apocalyptic. The damaging impacts are also being experienced in developed nations due to alarmist obstruction of fossil fuels (Britain and Germany are notable examples- see GWPF newsletters). See also Michael Hart’s Hubris and Jeffrey Foss’s Beyond Environmentalism for more detail on the damaging outcomes of environmental apocalyptic.
Linkages, Lines of Descent: This site probes the primitive mythology behind the devastating ideologies of the modern era. This site traces the descent of apocalyptic pathology across history, from primitive mythology (i.e. the Sumerian Flood myth), to historical religion- i.e. Zoroastrian apocalypse shaping the Western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Christianity then shaped the ideology of 19th Century Declinism, which in turn shaped post-WW2 environmental alarmism, the “most prominent ideology” across the world today. Environmental alarmism has been expressed over recent decades in climate alarmism. Apocalyptic has descended now into contemporary science, into climate science.
The curse of apocalyptic re-emerges endlessly to infect and dominate human outlook. The end is nigh, again and again and again… and never arrives, re-affirming the 100% historical failure rate of all apocalyptic. But apocalyptic hysteria persistently continues to plague humanity because the primitive foundational idea- a threatening, punishing God- is never challenged or changed.
Apocalyptic continues to make the brightest minds look foolish. Even Stephen Hawking is now slip sliding toward apocalyptic scenarios- “aliens or AI is gonna get us and bring on the final end of humanity”. Freeman Dyson more correctly states the future of humanity and life as “infinite in all directions”.
The great scandal in the history of human thought is that we have the stunning alternative to the apocalyptic pathology. We’ve had it for the past two millennia- the discovery that goes to the very root of the problem to potently solve it. Unfortunately, Christianity has buried that discovery in its own primitive apocalyptic narrative (i.e. Paul’s Christ myth).
Summarized template of apocalyptic themes– the single most dominant body of myths across history: There was an original paradise (the past was better, pristine nature before humanity); corrupt early people ruined the paradise by committing some error or original sin; they angered the gods (deity as angry, vengeful, violent and punishing, revenge of Gaia or angry planet); now life is declining toward some catastrophe, toward the collapse and end of civilization and life; the “Salvationist impulse” demands that the corrupting force (fallen people and their industrial civilization) must be purged from the earth by apocalyptic destruction, so that the lost paradise can be restored, or a new paradise installed (a more perfect system instituted- utopianism, millennialism). There must be a violent intervention- the actual apocalypse- to purge corruption and to “save the world”.
Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas (clearing the way to see the “single greatest discovery ever”)
This comment and the following “Big Picture” have been brought up from sections further below.
(Note: To calm skittish religious nerves, the following comment on bad religious ideas is balanced throughout this site by the recognition that the “single greatest discovery ever” is also embedded in a religious system- the Christian New Testament. But unfortunately, that discovery has been buried there by the larger context of bad religious ideas. See the quotes of Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy below. The Christian scriptures are not the sole source, nor the best source, of the unconditional discovery. Our common human consciousness enables all of us to appreciate that the supreme expression of love is a transcendent “no conditions love”. The larger Christian context makes it almost impossible to see this insight.)
I repeatedly use the phrase “single greatest discovery ever” throughout this site. To appreciate the impact of that term, look at the big picture of human thought across history and note how dominant Threat theology and apocalyptic mythology have been across history (angry, punishing deity), and still are today, in environmental alarmism and myths like the revenge of Gaia, angry planet, or karma. Then note the powerful contrast that a core “No Conditions Love” provides to Threat theology and apocalyptic. It severs the very tap root of that monstrous pathology in human thought. It goes to the deepest foundations of human thought and worldviews, whether religious or secular, and liberates human consciousness with the single most humane discovery ever. There is no ultimate Threat or Harm. There is only no conditions Love at the core of reality and life. This is the single most liberating and enlightening insight/truth ever revealed to human consciousness.
Bad religious ideas (Sam Harris’ term) have arguably caused humanity more grief and harm than anything else. These ideas have endlessly incited people’s basest emotions, impulses, motivations, responses, and consequent actions, even validating violence between people. Bad religious ideas have hindered human development, restraining people at subhuman stages of thought, emotion, and behavior. See comment by psychologists like Zenon Lotufo, from his book “Cruel God, Kind God”. Bad religious ideas have promoted unnecessary fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and aggressive “defense” in the stories of human beings. Bad ideas traumatize human consciousness with endless and unnecessary alarmism. They frighten people to embrace harmful salvation schemes, solutions that are often worse than the original problem.
Note, for example, the outcomes of the ban on DDT. Rachel Carson used an apocalyptic narrative to exaggerate her chemical alarmism and the result was 50 million unnecessary deaths, mainly children, over the subsequent decades of the DDT ban. So also, anti-GM alarmism has resulted in the blinding and death of some 8 million children over a recent 12 year period. The bio-fuels fiasco harmed the poorest people with rising food prices. And on it goes.
(Insert: In the very century that Carson raised the exaggerated alarm that humanity was dangerously exposed to chemicals, in that past century the human life span tripled in average length, infant mortality decreased remarkably, and the overall human condition improved immensely. Life in general improved. Her apocalyptic narrative buried the true state of things. And that is my point. I am not advocating for carelessness in our use of chemicals but I am protesting the endless traumatizing of public consciousness with alarms that exaggerate and distort the true state of things. Alarmists offer no balancing context that shows how well humanity is doing in solving problems and improving life overall.)
Many note that religion obviously plays a role influencing alarmism and violence across the world, but few actually spell out what exactly in religion does so. This site details the foundational religious ideas that have long incited, inspired, guided, or validated alarmism, violence, and other forms of subhuman thought and behavior. If we are ever going to thoroughly and properly solve these problems for the long-term future, then our religious traditions must confront these bad ideas and engage the project to radically change some very fundamental themes in religious belief systems and holy books. Western religions must do much more than just engage defensive attempts at peripheral reform. They must fully humanize the very core of Western religion- the Western views of God. Eastern religions contain similar religious pathology. Deity/God is where the worst of all bad ideas is epitomized (i.e. divine vengeance, tribal exclusion, and the violent punishment and destruction of enemies).
Unfortunately, bad religious ideas have infected contemporary “secular” systems of thought and ideologies that have become dominant across the world, notably environmental alarmism.
These pathological religious ideas appear in the earliest human writing, which means they most likely originated in the prehistory era (see John Pfieffer, Jacquetta Hawkes). They were deeply lodged in human consciousness/subconscious and worldviews, and remained largely unchallenged down through subsequent religious history, repeatedly forming the core themes of many belief systems. I have traced their descent from Sumerian/Akkadian/Babylonian mythology, down through Zoroaster (the most influential religion in history- Boyce), then into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all the offspring of Zoroastrianism in our Western tradition of thought. Prominent bad religious ideas were then secularized in 19th Century Declinism, from where they shaped contemporary Green religion or environmental alarmism, and much other modern ideology, including scientific thought. These pathological myths have infected most societies across the world. See, for example, the apocalyptic themes in Buddhism and Hinduism, as noted in the research of Mircea Eliade (History of Religious Ideas).
Why focus on this dark stuff? Because these bad religious ideas have played the main obstructionist role across history, preventing billions of people from clearly seeing the liberating alternative to threat theology- the absolutely no conditions Love at the core of reality. And the outcomes of the worst of bad religious ideas- Threat theology and apocalyptic- have always been devastating to humanity and life (i.e. fear-based Salvationism policies).
The intolerable scandal of the Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas is that they have buried the wonder of a Core Reality that is absolutely no conditions Love. This was the stunning discovery of the Historical Jesus. But early Christianity (i.e. Paul) then immediately buried that discovery in his highly conditional Christ myth- the belief that the Christ had to fulfill the supreme condition of offering a blood sacrifice to pay for sin. I have detailed this contradiction between the unconditional message of Jesus and Paul’s highly conditional Christianity in sections below. Paul rejected the discovery of Jesus and shamefully retreated to the primitive ideas of past Threat theology and apocalyptic mythology to shape his new Christian religion.
I hold Christianity as mainly responsible for bringing bad religious ideas into our Western consciousness and societies, and consequently shaping Western outlook (ideologies, worldviews) toward an apocalyptic and alarmist orientation. See Tabor quotes that affirm the central Christian role in this historical line of descent.
My list of bad religious ideas:
(What initially sparked the creation of bad religious ideas? It was a huge error in early logic. The ancients believed that there were spirits behind all the elements of nature- in trees, streams, animal life, behind storms and lightning, and so on. When those elements of nature were destructive- i.e. storm/lightning/flood, or sun/drought- then people concluded that the gods were angry and were punishing them for their sins, for their failure to offer sacrifices, for breaking taboos, and other misbehaviour. Bad religious ideas emerged from those early fails in logic.)
1. There is an angry, vengeful, violent, and punishing God behind all things. This is the worst of all bad ideas and the inciting mainspring for the rest. This bad idea appears right at the beginning in the Sumerian flood myth, and in the punishment of Enki for eating the 8 original plants (Dilmun paradise myth). It is also evident in the early belief in sacrifice- i.e. the required appeasement of angry, threatening deity. This core bad idea evokes the overwhelming terror of divine punishment. With this bad idea you have the worst of pathology projected onto humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity. This myth of divine anger, vengeance, and violent punishment then distorts and buries entirely the true nature of Ultimate Reality as unconditional love.
This angry, punitive god myth is childish and subhuman in the extreme, but it continues to dominate religious consciousness, and even contemporary “secular” minds in such things as the revenge of Gaia myth, angry planet, or payback Karma thinking. Angry, punishing deity has long incited and validated the worst impulses in people. And it adds the psychic burden of fear, anxiety, depression and despair to already unbearable physical suffering. Remember the Japanese lady after the tsunami, standing among the ruins and asking rhetorically, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
2. An original paradise or perfect beginning- i.e. the past was better. The Eden myth. Early people could not believe that divine power and goodness would create imperfection right at the start. So they misread the obvious imperfection of life all around them (i.e. natural disaster, disease, accident, death, violence from others) as a fall from an original perfection. The imperfection of the world was evidence of the ruin and loss of the original perfection. This perverse myth of original perfection reverses entirely the actual narrative of life- that life has progressed from an imperfect beginning and toward more complexity and higher stages of development, toward something better than before.
This myth of original perfection creates the platform for the narrative of life as being in decline since the loss of the perfect beginning. Loss of original perfection is at the basis of Declinist mythology and thought, that all has been going downhill since the original paradise was lost.
And original perfection mythology is also at the basis of the devaluation of humanity. It is central to the myth that we humans ruined the original paradise, that we are corrupters of perfection and therefore deserve punishment. We have ruined the original perfection that God created.
Original paradise, or Eden mythology, also creates the basis for the myth that God desires perfection, that God only creates perfection and that we have ruined God’s perfect creation or plan. This original paradise myth feeds the notion that God is enraged at imperfection, is obsessed with punishing imperfection, and plans to purge all imperfection in a great apocalypse.
None of this helps us to understand the critically important role that imperfection plays in our development as human. It is only by struggling with imperfection in life that we learn and grow as human. Perfection mythology does not help us to embrace imperfection as a natural part of our learning process. By embracing the imperfect historical process and struggling to make it better, we discover insights and find solutions that benefit others. See Joseph Campbell and Julian Simon comments below.
The original paradise myth is a bedrock myth in the apocalyptic template of ideas. It also helps to understand why there will be a world-ending apocalypse. The angry, vengeful deity must purge the ruined world of the corrupting element- fallen humanity- in order to restore the lost original paradise.
3. As noted above, early people also believed that their ancestors had become corrupted or “sinful” and they had caused the ruin of the original paradise by committing an original error or sin. So “fallen, sinful” people now deserved punishment and destruction. This belief in the loss of original perfection, and blaming humanity for that loss, has led to the ongoing devaluation of humanity as something that has been corrupted, that has become evil. The fallen humanity myth also reverses entirely the actual narrative of human history- that we have consistently progressed toward something better than before, toward less violence and more empathy/love, and toward more creative improvement of life. We have emerged out of a brutal animal past to become human, to become more humane over history.
Fall myths, along with original perfection myths, promote the distorting idea that life has been in decline from the imagined perfect beginning. They promote the fraud that humanity continues to ruin the world and life. Humanity is also believed to be in decline, and degenerating toward something worse. This decline myth distorts entirely the actual trajectory of life and denies the mass of evidence that shows undeniable progress toward ever better conditions and higher stages of development, both in life and in humanity. Anti-human Fall mythology misses the essential love, goodness, and creativity of humanity that is evident in the overall improvement of life. This decline myth then incites unnecessary fear, fatalism, resignation, depression, and despair. It is a great distortion and lie. But it is one of the main features shaping the profoundly anti-human nature of all apocalyptic mythology.
This anti-human myth of fall and decline continues today in the Green religion pathology that views humanity as a virus on the planet, a cancer on nature. This has resulted in anti-population alarmism (i.e. the “population bomb”) and anti-human polices. This loathing and hatred of humanity as a corrupting force has promoted far too much anxiety and misery over being imperfectly human. It misses entirely the wonder of being human and that more human minds on the planet means more creative solutions to problems and more creative advance in life and civilization. Julian Simon was right that in net terms we have been more creators than destroyers. More people on Earth are not a threat to life.
Note: “Original noble savage” mythology is part of this fall and decline distortion. Many in the academic world (see LeBlanc’s “Constant Battles”) still propagate the myth of early noble savages that have “fallen”, or become corrupted, in emerging human civilization.
Consider what this fallen humanity myth has contributed to people’s view of themselves across history. This is the mother of all bad self-image thinking.
4. One of the most psychologically damaging of all bad religious ideas is the myth of humanity being rejected by God (i.e. thrown out of Eden), of humanity becoming “separated” from God and now under obligation to heal some imagined broken relationship, to become reconciled. Separation from our Source never happened. We have not been rejected and abandoned by our Creator. No one is excluded from the unconditional Love at the core of reality and life.
Added note: There is no God that is angry at the human struggle to emerge from an animal past and to become human or humane. Consequently, there is no divine condemnation of human imperfection. Further, there is no future judgment, no ultimate punishment, and certainly no Hell. There is only absolutely no conditions Love at the core of reality.
5. The myth of cosmic dualism and the related human dualisms. This bad idea states that there is a cosmic Good Force/Spirit that exists in opposition to a Bad Force/Spirit. The cosmic dualism is then played out via human dualisms- i.e. the tribal thinking of us versus our “enemies”, us versus some other group in the human family. Religious tribalism is expressed in the dualism of believers versus unbelievers (insiders versus outsiders). Such oppositional dualism incites and validates all the varied forms of human exclusion, domination, and destruction of outsiders- all the racial, national, religious, ideological, and other dualisms that we create to exclude and oppose others that differ from us. Dualistic tribal thinking misses entirely the essential oneness of the human family. It incites endless conflict and warfare.
People that believe they are on the right side of something have often then devalued, dehumanized, and promoted hatred of those on the other side. Others are demeaned as enemies, as dangerous threats that must be excluded, punished, and even destroyed.
Another element in tribal thinking is the myth of a “chosen people”, a special “elect” group that is uniquely favored by God. This myth re-enforces the feeling of being a superior insider, in opposition to lesser outsiders or enemies.
Note that in the new theology of Jesus, his God of unconditional love included and loved all people the same. That God sent sun and rain on all, both good and bad with no discrimination or exclusion. God treated all humanity as one family.
6. Looming and always imminent apocalypse. The threat of coming collapse and ultimate destruction stirs fear, and fear incites defensive aggression and violence. This mythology is often accompanied by victimhood alarmism- that there is some threat or enemy that we must eliminate in order for us to survive.
7. Violent and overwhelming divine intervention is necessary to purge the corrupting element from life and restore the lost paradise, to bring in some hoped-for utopia. The apocalypse itself is the great instantaneous purging of imperfection that will permit “true believers” to escape from imperfection and instantly enter into their utopia. People have always tried to escape the slow, messy historical process for a mythical perfect existence. We hate the slow learning process, the struggle with imperfection.
This violent intervention mythology validates coercive action to “save” the world, or human civilization, or whatever else is believed to be threatened. We are watching the impact of this thinking right now in ISIS and the fight for its utopian caliphate. A similar situation is playing out in the environmental alarmist movement with its demand for coercive centralized action to “save the world” and restore a lost paradise. So also Marxism engaged violent intervention to purge the world of “destructive capitalism” and to restore the imagined lost paradise of original egalitarian communalism and hunter/gather existence.
Violent intervention mythology validates the coercive overruling of individual freedom in the name of some greater good (i.e. collectivism). It misses entirely the importance of embracing the human struggle with imperfection and that this gradual learning process- our wrestling with the imperfect historical process- is vital to human development. Many other bad ideas come in here such as the felt need of people to act violently as the agents of God to get the delayed apocalypse and the purging of life moving along.
Further, this instant, violent purging myth (apocalypse) does not understand authentically humane love and power. Truly humane love will not coercively overwhelm and intervene to short-circuit learning and bring instant change. Authentic love patiently respects human freedom of choice and tries to gently persuade. Love does not violate the freedom of others. And far from being a “weak response to evil”, such love is the most powerful response to transform life and people for the better. Note how Nelson Mandela’s non-coercive unconditional approach spared South Africa from civil war. As he said, it brought out the best in others and made friends out of former enemies.
Again, we balance this with the responsibility of love to restrain violence and to improve life in every way. We do not passively yield to suffering. We try to balance the responsibility to restrain the minorities in populations that commit most of the violent crimes and to protect the freedom of the general population that prefers the non-coercive forms of democratic cooperation that shape our societies.
8. The demand for a salvation plan. Historically, this has been the demand for sacrifice. Religious Salvationism has always been highly conditional (i.e. sacrifice as demanded payment, punishment) and believes that violence is necessary to solve problems (i.e. blood sacrifice). Salvationism believes that God must hurt/harm an innocent victim in order to find satisfaction, in order to be appeased. Punishment must be meted out. Lotufo rightly stated that this view is psychopathic. Green religion also demands sacrifice in order to save something. And the salvation schemes are often more harmful than helpful. The medicine is often worse than the disease- e.g. DDT ban, anti-GM activism, bio-fuels fiasco.
(Note: This is not to deny the obligation to care for nature. But while doing so, we must beware of Green Salvationist exaggeration and distortion of problems and their extremist anti-human responses.)
9. Payback as true justice. Based on the above belief in punishing deity- a God that demands the full punishment of sin, the full payment for sin- so human justice systems have been oriented to punishment, to getting even, or to exacting revenge. This is known as ‘eye for eye’ justice. It originates with primitive offense and retaliation response- that if someone offended you, then you had the right to get even. This primitive retaliation view of justice argues that retribution is necessary to make things right again. And it misses entirely the humane ethic of loving enemies, of forgiving unconditionally, and of treating all people with unconditional inclusion and generosity. Unconditional love is the supreme expression of authentic humanity, of authentic love. Humane justice systems should be based on an unconditional approach, as restorative justice that affirms responsibility and accountability in an unconditional framework. Not justice as promoting retaliation and punishment.
Further, studies in psychology conclude that punishment approaches do not work with children or criminals. Punitive approaches do not teach alternative humane behaviors. And they do not bring ultimate ‘closure’ to victims.
But again, this is balanced with the responsibility to protect the innocent and to restrain violence, to hold offenders accountable. And to eliminate offenders in some situations of irrational violence, such as ISIS. As the old pacifist preacher said, “If someone attacks my family, I will beat him over the head with a two-by-four and then when he is laying unconscious on the ground, I will sit down and discuss my pacifist principles with him”.
Extra insert: It cannot be stated strongly enough- there is no ultimate divine condemnation or judgment. There is no next-world divine punishment. And there certainly is no such monstrosity as Hell. And consequently, there is no need for some sacrifice to appease an imagined angry God. We face only the natural consequences of our behavior in this life and world. For example, if you jump from a too-high elevation then you will suffer the consequence of a sprained or broken ankle. But that has nothing to do with some divine punishment. It is just a natural consequence. So also if you forget to wash your hands you may suffer the consequence of some viral illness. There are all sorts of such natural consequences throughout life. Further, people who do not- or cannot- control their worst impulses to violence, will be locked up in order to protect others. That is a common sense natural consequence of social life. But the responsibility to protect the public does not have to be driven by vengeance, or the impulse to harm and destroy.
10. Bob Brinsmead would add another to this list of bad religious ideas. He points to the myth of a hero messiah, common throughout all cultures and notable in the Greek epics such as the Odyssey. He says that the gospel of Mark appears to be based on the Homeric epic model, and the miracles of Jesus in Mark are similar to the Homeric epic.
The myth of a super-human hero is found in the Sumerian/Akkadian combat myths. Zoroaster also speaks of a savior that would defeat evil and a great final battle. The Roman emperors were super-human political messiahs. Brinsmead says, “Usually these divinized heroes were virgin born or born of some miraculous union with the divine”.
Brinsmead continues, stating that every messiah was expected to be someone who would bring victory by superior violence. The book of Revelation expresses this hope. But in the Q Sayings Gospel, the original teaching of Jesus, there is none of this messianic Christology, says Brinsmead. Jesus made a complete break with this messianic violence myth. He rejected what many of his followers wanted him to be.
One more bad idea- Biblicism is another bad religious idea that needs to be abandoned. This fallacy claims that religious holy books, or scriptures, are uniquely inspired by God and are therefore special. They are more valuable than ordinary human writing. Not at all. We evaluate all writing with the simple criteria of what is good or bad. If any material contains good insights then we affirm that in terms of general categories of good and bad. If such material contains subhuman, or bad material, then we expose and reject that material just as we would discriminate between good and bad anywhere else (or humane and inhumane). Religious writings are not more special or more valuable than any other common human communication or writing.
The fallacy of Biblicism leads to “cognitive dissonance” among followers of religious traditions. People who believe that their holy books “are from God” then feel obligated to hold all of the teaching in those books, embracing often entirely contradictory themes- i.e. that God is love but will send people to Hell. Biblicism has resulted in massive waste of human time and resources as millions of people across history have endlessly invested their time defending their religious books and beliefs. It is better to just hold to the few good themes found in religious traditions and let the rest go. Find more humane alternatives.
And another bad religious idea- Top Ten and counting…
Another bad religious idea is that we are obligated to know, love, serve, and be loyal to some invisible Person, to a God above. This derives from the primitive belief that “humanity was created to serve the gods”. Absolutely not. We live in a material world and our primary obligation is to know, love, serve, and be loyal to people around us, here and now.
Too often the endeavor to know and serve Something invisible and above has led to neglect and abuse of real people here and now. Look at the history of religion to see this sorry outcome. We are here to improve the human condition in this world and this life, for ourselves and others, and we are not to worry about some invisible reality outside of this life, or another existence at a later date.
Loyalty to things outside of humanity, or above humanity, has too often resulted in neglect and abuse of real people. Remember the example offered by Jesus. Jewish law forbade work such as healing on the Sabbath. Jesus responded that the needs of real people took priority over loyalty to some religious law or greater authority above (i.e. deity). He stated basically that law was made to serve humanity and not humanity to serve law.
Loyalty to things aside from humanity, or that are placed above people as more important than people, include religion, law/rules, ideologies, and institutions like government.
Jeffrey Foss applies this principle to environmentalism. Foss says that in environmentalism the “health of the environment” has been elevated to the status of a “transcendent objective” (Beyond Environmentalism, p.46). It is given value which is so important that it takes precedence over all others. Humanity must then be obligated to serve the ultimate objective of protecting the Green view of the environment, where, in extremist versions, all human use of nature is considered to be destructive. Consequent to this extremist view, people must be prevented from using natural resources, or forced to use resources at much lower subsistence levels. It matters not to the environmental extremist that people will suffer and die as an outcome of such views. Humanity must be sacrificed to a higher value or good.
Foss says that transcendent objectives have a hideous history, such as in religious wars. And in environmentalism the goal is wilderness with only minor human intrusion, much less than today’s levels of human engagement of nature. According to Foss, some people argue that human intrusion should be at absolute minimums, implying it would be best if we disappeared altogether. The Green ideal of a world without humans.
This pursuit of an ultimate good above humanity then inspires people to overcome their scruples, to overcome their horror at the harmful outcomes of their superior objective. They see such outcomes as “necessary evils in the pursuit of their transcendent objective. A transcendent objective is like a trump card that overpowers all other cards, a moral principle that subjugates all other moral principles” (p.47). Hence, there is the sacrifice of basic human rights to a principle that is seen as higher, says Foss. Environmentalism has thus become a profoundly anti-human movement. Lesser goods, says Foss, are sacrificed for the sake of the greater, because environmental health (a wilderness world) is the overriding concern.
The sacrifice of humanity (the lesser good) for the greater good is well under way, says Foss. Food has been made more expensive for the poorest people because of things like the bio-fuels program, a response to fossil fuel alarmism. People have also suffered because of “the suppression of modern agricultural methods (genetic engineering) or in decades-long economic depression caused by the suppression of fossil fuels.” Foss continues, saying that “we would do well to reflect on the effects of environmentalism on human beings so far. In particular… meditate on the effects of the ban on DDT… in the battle to save the planet. It (the ban) stalled the battle against malaria… and led to increased illness and death (tens of millions, many children). Tragically, the number of people who have died due to the banning of DDT does compare with the human tolls of Hitler and Stalin,” (p.70, 71).
Further, human law is not always moral or humane even if it is often “legal”. It may be against common sense love and mercy. The “legalistic” or “anal retentive” mind has trouble with these distinctions. Legalists tend to blindly follow rules no matter what the harmful consequences are to people. These perversions over laws/rules were evident in situations like the concentration camps of the Nazis. Some supervisors felt obligated to uphold a perverted sense of morality in the midst of unimaginable horror. SS soldiers were prosecuted for petty corruption offenses (i.e. stealing the goods of prisoners) while just a few feet away women and children were screaming and clawing at the walls of the gas chambers, desperate for one last breath of life.
The perception of God as something outside of, or above humanity, is part of this religious error that promotes loyalty to heavenly deities. To help rethink this issue, consider the general thrust of the statement of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, aside from its normal distorting context, “Whatever you did for the least person, you did for me”. The point- see deity in other people. Then focus on “serving” or “loving” God in them.
So again, God as unconditional love alleviates entirely any concern about serving anything other than real people. It frees us to join the human race and to work to improve the human condition here and now. There is no God that demands attention and worship, or that threatens people with punishment for failing to worship and serve God.
As some have stated, God has disappeared or incarnated into all humanity. We therefore ‘know God’ in all human goodness. And we ‘serve God’ by serving our fellow human beings. So if there is any wrong to make right in life, then it will be done only by us, not by some invisible, intervening sky God. If someone is sick then a doctor will heal them. If anyone is hungry then a farmer must grow crops to feed them. If anyone is jobless and poor then a businessperson creating a new business venture will provide jobs and create wealth for the poor. And so it goes all through life. Any deity is in all of us, and is expressed in our help to our fellow humans. That is how we know, love, and serve any God. And that is all the theology that we need to know.
Related: The only “spiritual relationship” that we need to be concerned about is that of relating to others here and now.
Add your own bad religious ideas…
These bad religious ideas are the foundational themes of all three Western religions- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They are, in varied features, very much the expressions of base animal impulses, impulses long ago projected onto the gods, embedded in myths and religious beliefs, and now considered to be the untouchable sacred. They continue to incite and validate inhuman behavior.
The humanizing project- making fully humane- that has impacted most of the rest of life must confront these bad ideas, purging them and replacing them with more humane alternatives such as unconditional.
Some will note that if you purge these particular ideas from Christianity then you have nothing left of the original religion. But if you replace them with the central theme of Jesus- unconditional- then you have rediscovered the best of everything, something far better than the divine retaliation religion of Paul.
Once again- If you take the step and reject the idea of some great Threat behind life, and embrace the ideal of absolutely no conditions Love at the core of all, you will have embraced the greatest liberation ever, the single most profound shift in human consciousness. If the core idea of ultimate Threat is purged, then the supporting/inciting basis for all the other bad ideas collapses.
Love and freedom (further comment on the violent, coercive intervention noted above)
Critical to add to the Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas is some further comment on the pathology of God as a dominating Ruler. This fallacy has been coupled with the ancient myth that people were “created to serve the gods”. People have expressed this pathological mythology in ideas of God as King, Lord, Judge, and so on. The “superiority and rule of deity”.
The humane response to this? Authentic love is tightly bound to authentic freedom. True love does not dominate, control, threaten, or coerce. It grants full freedom to the other, it respects the freedom of the other and will not interfere, overrule, overwhelm, or intervene in the freedom of another. Love is not totalitarian or tyrannical but persuasive. It is non-controlling.
Further, a God of love is not a self-centered Idi Amin or Kim Jong-Un, demanding to be the center of attention, or demanding constant praise of his greatness, on pain of death for not doing so. A truly loving God will be self-forgetful as any decent human person is, and will treat others as equals, with respect and honor.
(Note: Alex Garcia in Alpha God rightly portrays much human worship of God, with people bowing down before deity, as more animal behavior than human. It is exactly what inferior animals do- averting eyes, bowing heads- in the presence of dominating alpha leaders.)
If God is authentic love then God will not dominate, control, threaten, interfere, overrule, or coerce. This helps to understand the central problem of theodicy- how there can be an ultimately good and loving God, yet evil still exists. When authentic freedom is granted to people, there will always be the possibility that some will abuse such freedom and the consequences can be horrific for others. Others note that God is invisible spirit and it is up to us to stop evil and solve the problems of life.
Religion and God- the pairing of entire opposites
The profound contradiction between the core teaching of Jesus (God was no conditions or unconditional Love), and the entirely opposite core teaching of Paul (his Christ had to meet the supreme condition of a sacrifice before God would forgive), illustrates the greater historical fact that mythology and religion have always buried the true nature of ultimate reality or deity.
One of the central projects on this site is to present the central discovery of historical Jesus that deity/God was unconditional love. This is clear in Jesus’ teaching that God did not engage “eye for eye” justice but generously gave sun and rain to all alike, both good and bad. Religions across history had got this central theological truth all wrong, and none more so than Christianity, beginning just after Jesus left the scene.
Religion as Salvationism has persistently presented the very opposite reality to an unconditional God. Contrary to the unconditional reality of God, salvation religion has always promoted conditions. It cannot do otherwise. It sets forth the conditions that are required to appease and please the wrongly imagined upset deities. Religion is a conditional social institution. All across history it has buried this liberating discovery of God as no conditions Love. Yet, greatest of all ironies, religion claims to represent God to humanity. That is oxymoronic to extreme- highly conditional religion trying to represent something entirely opposite- absolutely no conditions Love. The diamond has long been buried in the dunghill, according to Jefferson and Tolstoy. What a confusion-generating mess.
And Christianity took this conditional religious thinking (divinely required payback, retaliation, punishment, atonement, exclusion of some, final destruction, ultimate harm) and epitomized it in Paul’s Christ. Christianity took conditional thinking to new heights in the Christ myth. The Christ of Paul was about a supreme sacrifice, an ultimate payment, to appease the wrath of God and atone for all sin. This supreme religious condition buried the brilliant discovery of Jesus that God was absolutely no conditions Love.
In his original gospel- the Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel- Jesus had said nothing about coming as a savior to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin, to pay for sin. He taught nothing about divine conditions.
Jesus had also pointedly taught that there was no exclusion of unbelievers with God. Sun and rain were showered on all alike, both good and bad. Love was extended to all alike. There was no tribal exclusion, no limits to God’s love. Jesus said that if you love only those who love you, then how are you any better than a primitive tribal person who loves only those of his own tribe. God is not like that, limiting love only to the good, or to insiders. God includes and loves all the same, as one family. Both good and bad persons are included in the family of God.
The point? No one has ever been “separated” from God. No one needs to “get right” with God. No one will be excluded from God’s future or from God’s generosity.
Many of us grew up in Christianity and never saw this great liberating discovery of Historical Jesus that God was a stunning unconditional Love. We read it many times in places like Matthew 5:38-48 but only saw the conditional and threatening context- what Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy called “the muck, slime, garbage, and dung” that surrounded it. But yes, something of the spirit of that core message (i.e. love your enemy) affected us at times.
Now we know better. There can be no more excuses for ignorance.
Note: My repeated appeal to historical Jesus (as someone entirely opposite to the Christian Christ) is not an appeal to religious authority. It is simply to touch base with someone considered to be an important icon in religious history. The ideal of unconditional love stands on its own as the supreme expression of the ideal of love. It is the highest statement of authentic humanity. It needs only the validation of our own human consciousness and human spirit. It does not need any religious authority to validate it.
Note from discussion group:
“Religion emerged in early human society as an institution of conditions. It’s very originating nature was conditional. It developed as such from the very beginning. Early shaman/priests set forth the conditions to appease and please the spirits/gods. That is what religion began as and developed as it’s nature. That conditional nature gives the very reason for its existence as a social movement or force.
“Religion taught people the right way to think, what to believe, how to act, how to become initiated or a member, what ceremonies and rituals to practice, what sacrifices and offerings to make, how to love and serve your God, how to worship. And it established the priesthood to mediate all this to the followers.
“To embrace religion would make you an insider, one of the ‘saved’, a true believer, a child of God, blessed and protected by your deity, favored by your God.
“Historical Jesus blew all this out of the water with his ‘stunning new theology’ of an unconditional God.
“Religion has always intensely re-enforced conditional thinking in populations and buried the truth of a core no conditions Love. Religion has made it impossible to think of God as unconditional reality. This is why religion and God is such an oxymoronic merging of profound opposites. Religion by its very nature cannot and never has properly represented an unconditional God to humanity.
“Ah, to take historical Jesus seriously on this unconditional Reality is the end of all religion. What was Sheehan’s statement…’ now that the Father is here there is no need for mediating religion’. That doesn’t quite get the point but is on the way. Unconditional spells the end of all religion.”
“I think it was John Pfeiffer (Explosion: An inquiry into the origins of art and religion) who suggested that the first forms of vertical relating started with early religion. And the first divisions of people in society, with the shaman claiming special insights into invisible realities, claiming to know the secrets of how to appease the spirits. Setting themselves aside as special, as above their fellow tribals. As mediators of the secrets. Telling others what sacrifices to make, what ideas to hold/believe, how to appease and please the angry gods. How to get the goods or blessings from the gods.”
“There was never any purely egalitarian primitive society (i.e. tribal hunter-gatherers). Even anthropology has noted that vertical forms of relating were present in early tribal groups. That vertical relating was expressed in the domination of age, gender, skills, and strength differences. Vertical animal forms of relating were still present in early humanity. There was no original ‘noble savage’. Our animal inheritance did not skip over early tribal societies to later emerge in modern civilization.”
The Big Picture (Historical descent of mythical/religious pathology)
Intro: The following material comments on how mental pathology begins and develops over history. See further below for more comment on the logic behind the ancient misread of the natural realm and its imperfection. We (i.e. humanity across history) have always had a hard time embracing imperfection. We just do not appreciate its role in promoting struggle, learning, and our development as human. For example, what about the role of inhuman behavior in the struggle to learn how to love? Opposites that provide opportunity to exhibit the better human qualities. Again, I would point to Joseph Campbell’s comment on human story- that our struggle with “monsters” has the outcome that we gain insights that can then benefit others. Julian Simon also affirms the role of struggling with problems, and how such struggle then prompts the search for personal solutions and that produces solutions that benefit others. But still… Yechh, eh.
Our ancestors tried to understand and explain the big question- the presence of imperfection in life. Why natural disaster, disease, cruelty and violence, and death? They concluded that life must have been originally perfect but that our ancestors messed it up somehow. They could not accept that Ultimate Goodness or Power would have created an imperfect world. So blame humanity for some original error or “sin”. They then wrongly concluded that the subsequent imperfection of life was punishment from angry gods, gods that were pissed at human failure to honor and obey the gods, failure to offer sacrifice, or failure to live according to the dictates of religious taboos and commands. The result of their misread of natural imperfection and consequent human suffering was the profound mental and emotional pathology that is still lodged at the core of most myth and religion. All those “bad religious ideas” (Sam Harris’ term).
But laser in on the worst of all bad ideas that came out of the early misread of imperfection- that God was angry and would punish human imperfection. The entire suite of other bad ideas was developed to explain and support this core bad idea.
Here is a long-term historical view of the origin and descent of some of the main ideas that are explored on this site. I have focused quite intensely on the pathological ideas that have caused more damage to human consciousness and life than anything else. Across the millennia these themes have become hardwired in human subconscious where they work in concert with our inherited animal impulses to incite, inspire, guide, and validate the worst behavior. These themes have long shaped how people see the world, how they feel, and how they respond to life.
Again, the cohering central theme behind the bad religious ideas listed below is that of a threatening deity (the worst of all bad ideas), a God that uses violence to resolve problems, to punish people. Further, I have gathered these ideas under the umbrella framework of apocalyptic. Ernst Kaseman called apocalyptic the “Mother of Christian theology”. I would expand that out to argue that apocalyptic is the Mother of most mythology, most religion, and much ideology. Its just that prominent and persistent across history- the pessimistic belief that life is declining toward some catastrophic ending where this imperfect historical process will be abandoned. Many of the other bad ideas noted below relate intensely to apocalyptic. They are part of the larger template of tightly inter-connected apocalyptic mythology.
Note how these ideas descend down through history, being absorbed into ever new systems of thought or belief. Subsequent systems (i.e. religions and ideologies) make changes and revisions to adapt these inherited ideas to their local situations and cultures. But it is important to note that the core themes remain the same. It is always the same old, same old being repeated, whether in religious or later secular systems of belief.
Historically, apocalyptic has been mainly about a divine intervention to punish bad people for ruining an original paradise, and to purge the world of corrupt and evil humanity so that paradise can be restored. Apocalyptic is the destruction and removal of fallen, corrupted people. That would be most of us. Except for the “true believers” in the destroying God. They are exempted. Saved.
This summary is incomplete because brevity was the goal. See rest of site for more detail. I am posting this because it is helpful to keep an overall historical picture in mind, a greater background template in which to locate things. For brevity, I am only touching on some major nodes down through history and I am tracing mainly down through to our Western tradition. One also finds similar bad ideas moving down through the Eastern tradition. See Mircea Eliade, and others, on apocalyptic themes in Hinduism, Buddhism, and elsewhere.
Lets start in prehistory. Pre-historians John Pfieffer and Jacquetta Hawkes state that what we find in the first human writing (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets circa 3000 BCE) we can assume represents what was believed in the pre-literature or prehistory era.
Pfieffer suggests, for instance, that people in prehistory may have already held an original golden age myth, the cornerstone myth of apocalyptic (Explosion: An inquiry into the origins of art and religion). The belief that life began in some early paradise. Is he on to something? Well, consider that our line of humanity emerged about 150,000 years ago. And consider that evidence of developing consciousness also begins far back- i.e. ancient people burying their dead, artistic beauty in tool-making, sacrifice to appease spirits, and so on. Prehistory people were already engaging their impulse for meaning and purpose, the fundamental impulses of human consciousness. They were trying to understand and explain life (especially the bad parts), the world, and the cosmos, and what it all meant.
Some checking of the natural history of the more ancient past shows that the previous interglacial- the Eemian Interglacial Period- lasted from about 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, well within the span of developing human consciousness. And some research shows that the Eemian Interglacial may have ended abruptly, within several centuries. The ancients would have considered that loss of better interglacial conditions in terms of the loss of a paradise- the warmer interglacial- and descent toward something worse- the colder glaciation that followed. That severe downturn/decline in climate may have prompted the belief in early apocalyptic. Those people may have wondered why the gods were punishing them. Such is how myth originates and develops. It is the attempt to explain greater Reality in terms of the natural world, especially in terms of the nastier features of nature.
Note on following: Early myths of apocalyptic floods may originate from varied natural events such as Mediterranean tsunamis or the great Black Sea Deluge of 5600 BCE.
Sumerian mythology– Here we find the first human writing and literature. Writing begins roughly around 3000 BCE (noun lists of temple produce, and kings lists) and then more expressive literature (words as verbs, adjectives, etc.) develops around 2600 BCE. Then we start getting early poems, stories, epics, and related material. The Sumerian cuneiform tablets are broken and scattered but later Akkadian and Babylonian versions are more complete and are quite identical to the earlier Sumerian versions of the same myths.
Apocalyptic is not found in any formal statement of theology in that first writing. It is more a scattering of themes throughout the epics. For instance, we find an original paradise theme in the story of the city of Dilmun where there is no sickness, death, predation, or corruption. We then find a loss of paradise and “fall of man” mythology in the story of the god/man Enki eating the 8 forbidden original plants and becoming ill. The Dilmun myth states that he was punished for his “sin”. The paradise of Dilmun was then corrupted and lost.
A statement of early proto-apocalypse is also found in the Sumerian Flood myth. In this myth the waterworks god, Enlil, becomes enraged at people. There are too many people (early over-population scare) and they have become too noisy and he is sleep-deprived. So he plans a great flood to wipe out humanity and end human history. Some “nicer gods”, arguing against drowning, suggest that they could destroy people by having wild beasts tear them apart. Ah, such mercy.
Again, this is not formal apocalyptic theology but the core themes are detectable in this mythology, right at the beginning of human writing.
Egyptian mythology: Running almost historically parallel with the development of Sumerian mythology, Egyptian mythology appeared in art and architecture, and then in written form, around the mid-Third Millennium BCE. In Egyptian myth we also find gods (i.e. the Eye of Ra) planning to destroy humanity (the Middle Kingdom myth of the ‘Destruction of Mankind’) and plotting to dissolve the ordered world and take all back to chaos. This expresses a form of eschatology (the end time) or apocalypse.
As with most mythology/religion, the Isis and Osiris myth- the central Egyptian myth- is a myth of vengeance/retaliation, and justice as payback destruction of one’s enemies. Also, the great battle between the good god Horus and the evil god Seth is played out among their followers (tribal dualism and opposition).
(Insert: Greek apocalyptic mythology is expressed in such beliefs as the trend toward degeneration in the successive stages of humanity, and in the belief that Zeus will eventually destroy the world. Hindu apocalyptic is evident in the great cycles of rise and then decline toward collapse and ending. In Buddhism, apocalyptic is noted in the myth of the ever-decreasing human life-span. See Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas.)
Skipping over to another major node along the way- Zoroaster is dated around 1500 BCE. He is credited with shaping ancient apocalyptic themes into a more formal statement of apocalyptic theology. He claims that there is a great cosmic dualism, a cosmic battle between a good God (Ahura Mazda) and an evil power (Angra Mainyu). Zoroastrian cosmic conflict is similar to early combat mythology and order versus chaos myths. The cosmic battle is played out through humanity, with the followers of the good religion set in opposition to the unbelievers, the “bad people”. The good God eventually destroys the world in an apocalypse of fiery molten metal that purges the world of corruption. Note that Zoroaster shifts from a water apocalypse to an apocalypse by fire. Then after the final purging, the lost original paradise can be restored.
Zoroaster makes revisions and changes to the myths that he adopts, but he preserves the core themes of previous apocalyptic in his “new” religion. Zoroaster is then credited with shaping Jewish thinking and belief. Varied routes to this line of descent are suggested- e.g. Jewish exile in Babylon, or Jewish descent from the Sumerian/Mesopotamian region, or the usual exchange of ideas over centuries of mutual contact and trade.
Jewish apocalyptic belief is stated more formally around the second to first century BCE in books like Daniel, written roughly around 175 BCE. See Walter Schmittals’ “The Apocalyptic Movement” for more detail.
The next historical node is a major one- Christianity. Christianity is a religion created by Jewish people within Jewish culture. Paul, the main creator of the version of Christianity that came down to us, was a Jew. His apocalyptic Christianity has shaped Western consciousness and society more than any other body of thought (see James Tabor, Mary Boyce below). Tabor says that apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did.
In the Christian scriptures we find all the main themes of apocalyptic- original paradise, early human sin and the loss of paradise, the corruption of life, the decline of life toward something worse, toward some great catastrophic end where evil people will be punished and purged from the world, and then the original paradise will be restored, or a new utopia created. In the meantime, the true believers exist in opposition to unbelievers (Zoroastrian dualism- good versus bad, truth versus falsehood).
Note that Salvationism, often thought of as the basic Christian message- i.e. Jesus died for our sins in order to save us from Hell- is a sub-category of the larger apocalyptic system of belief. Salvationism derives from the myth that humanity suffered an early Fall into sin when paradise was lost and people must subsequently find salvation from the apocalyptic wrath to come (punishment for sin, a God angry at humanity for ruining paradise). The threat of future punishment pushes people to find some atonement scheme- a payment for sin in order to escape the coming apocalyptic wrath of God (Romans 5:9).
(Side note: The Jewish/Christian movement also gave us one of the best expressions of the new insight into absolutely no conditions reality, though the early Christian movement then immediately buried that insight in the highly conditional teaching of the rest of the New Testament.)
And with this template of pathological ideas the Western world entered the Dark Ages of Christianity- very much a consequence of such irrational and damaging mythology. However, the humanizing influence of Jesus’ core teaching (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6:26-37, and some related material) also remained within the Christian tradition. That central theme of no conditions love helped to blunt the harsher impacts of the larger body of Christian teaching.
Then, continuing the Western line of descent, we have the stepchild of Christianity- Islam. The early revelations of Muhammad begin roughly around 610 CE when Muhammad was about 40 years old. And yes, as Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and the Prophet shows, Muhammad borrows Jewish/Christian ideas from his Jewish Christian mentor Waraqa (Ebionite Christian) and shapes Islam around those ideas. Islamic apocalyptic also believes that an angry, vengeful God will destroy all unbelievers, purging them from the world and will then restore a lost caliphate- Islamic paradise- across the world. See, for instance, David Cook’s books on Islamic apocalyptic belief.
Islamic historian Abbas Amanat adds that Islamic apocalyptic includes the beliefs in the advent of the Mahdi (Islamic Messiah) to be followed by a great resurrection and Day of Judgment. This will include the restoration of the utopian Islamic community. See “Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism”.
And then the next major historical node- The Enlightenment and scientific age from roughly the 1600s on to the present. From this time, in a more widespread manner, people begin to think more critically, scientifically, or secularly. Less mythically, or at least they believe so. They shift toward a more rational way of viewing life and reality. Again, so they think. And much is good in this shift. Empiricism emerges more widely- observing natural evidence and making rational conclusions based on evidence- and is developed further. The empirical/observational approach actually began initially with the Greeks (i.e. Aristotle) but never became as widespread as during the Enlightenment.
But something else happened in the shift toward the more widely accepted scientific worldview. People also brought along the themes of primitive apocalyptic mythology into their new scientific worldviews. They actually “secularized” ancient mythical themes, giving them new secular expression. Thus the same old, same old mythology continued into modern consciousness. How so?
Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline) details some of the transformation of mythology into secular ideology. But he notes only a few themes from apocalyptic mythology. For instance, he states that 19th Century Declinism- also known as Cultural Pessimism, or Degeneration theory- borrowed ideas of an original golden age that was lost, a pristine natural paradise before humanity. He also notes the Declinist belief in the violent purging of the corrupting element from the world- i.e. removing the destructive human technological, industrial society. This purging myth is derived from the similar Christian belief that God will violently purge the world of corruption- the present “evil” world system- in the final apocalypse. Despite Herman’s limited references to previous apocalyptic mythology, much of the template of primitive apocalyptic is still visible in 19th Century Declinism. Herman then rightly concludes his book showing that Declinism has subsequently shaped contemporary Environmental Alarmism.
(Note: In the development of Declinism there was also a notable anti-science element. That was a rejection of the rational approach of science and a longing to re-establish the mythical mindset. Also, a strong anti-human element was built into Declinism. This anti-human feature- corrupt, destructive people- has always been part of the mix of human mythology, religion, and more recent ideology.)
And this brings us to today. As Herman, Landes, and others have noted, the environmental alarmist movement repeatedly voices the themes of primitive apocalyptic. Environmental alarmists believe that the world was an original paradise before humanity emerged to engage, use, and change nature. They believe that corrupt, greedy humans have destroyed the original paradise and all is now in decline toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. So Gaia, Mother Nature, Angry Planet, must take revenge and punish humanity. The salvation scheme? We must purge the world of the corrupting element- greedy, destructive humanity in industrial society- in order to restore the lost paradise.
Apocalyptic despair infects more than just environmental extremism. Its core theme of violent, punishing deity also finds expression in such widely embraced myths as punishing Karma. I detail this below.
Today we have the confounding spectacle of many people claiming to be modern rational secularists, materialists, and even atheists, but still mouthing the most primitive themes of ancient mythology.
And I am now verklempt. Discuss this mental pathology- these bad religious ideas- amongst yourselves.