Religion and the end of empires
One of the interesting things I note, looking through history, is that the end of empires corresponds with a huge resurgence in religion. As the Roman Empire was winding down, you had a tremendous religious fervor that resulted in Arianism, Nestorianism, Pelagianism, Macedonians and other sects/cults, and the reaction of the Church against them, and the entire empire became embroiled in the question of what was acceptable doctrine and what was heresy.
The Byzantines, the Russian Empire, even the Soviet Empire if you consider Soviet Communism to be a religion (which I do, since it was faith-based rather than fact-based and became even more faith-based as the empire crumbled towards the end), in all of these reason gave way to faith in an ideology and the worse things got, the more people double down on that whole faith thing. Whether it was praying for God to smite the Vandals at the gates or fervently believing that the next five year plan would surely bring Soviet industry to a higher level than Western industry despite the fact that Soviet industry couldn’t even build a crappy 8085 yet, much less the snazzy new 80486 that Intel had just shipped, wishful thinking replaced any realistic assessment of what was happening and what to do about it.
So, did it work? Uhm. Do you need to ask? Instead of drilling with spears and shields and then marching out and smiting Vandals, the citizens of Rome instead huddled inside their city and prayed to God to smite the invaders. Yeah, that worked out well for them, didn’t it? Instead of dumping their crufty ideology and opening up their economy, the Soviets doubled down on ideological purity — a friend who was an engineer in their missile program during the 1980s noted to me that he wasn’t even able to read Western scientific journals unless they’d been vetted for ideological purity by Communist party monitors and half the time so many pages were missing, cut out by the censors, that the journal was useless. Yeah, that really worked out well for them, didn’t it?
So now I note another empire devolving into religious fervor — I mean, what else can you call the collection of religious nutcases that are the so-called “serious” candidates on the Republican side of the aisle? Santorum surging, indeed (giggle!).
Thing is, it was predictable. When the American Empire lost its first war in Vietnam — defeated by a buncha pajama-wearin’ gooks in flip-flops, for cryin’ out loud — the rise of something like Reaganism, a faith with no factual backing, was as sure to happen as the shocked withdrawal of the Roman citizenry into religious fervor after the disaster of the Battle of Adrianople.
When events seem too huge and horrifying for people to confront and do something about, for some reason they react by withdrawing from the realm of reason and descending into the chasm of wishful thinking, where faith substitutes for fact. And alongside secular Reaganism that rejected reason arose a Christian fundamentalism that in turn rejected reason (despite the fact that no main-line religion rejects reason, even the Catlicks give lip service to reason).
The merger of the two was inevitable — when you have two religious beliefs with such power to explain why things are wrong (i.e., you just haven’t prayed hard enough to God / the Free Market Fairy, an explanation which can be used *FOR ANY PROBLEM* with no reasoning required), it became inevitable that the two would end up co-opting each other and breed a mutt offspring that would become even more nasty and vicious due to hybrid vigor.
So anyhow, that’s where we are today. The crumbling of the empire has become even more apparent after a buncha Arabs in Iraq beat our noses bloody (and don’t say they didn’t, why else did our last troops in that country have to creep out in the middle of the night?!), and what that means is that the religious nutcases are just gonna double down on the crazy.
Which ain’t gonna help a whole lot — if the Roman citizenry had armed themselves, trained themselves to fight, and taken the fight to the barbarians rather than huddling with their rosaries babbling Hail Marys we’d all be speaking Latin right now, and that’s pretty much what Reaganism and Christian fundamentalism consist of, babbling meaningless prayers like late-era Romans rather than doing what it takes to perpetuate the empire.
But they have faith, faith I say, in their magical great sky demon and His son, the magical free market fairy, and no amount of reason will ever shake that faith and for some reason people who live in crumbling empires seem to prefer faith to reason so … (shrug).
Hang on for the ride, folks. It’s gonna be a wild one.
This post appears courtesy of Badtux the Snarky Penguin.