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Posts Tagged ‘civilization’


Over 900 years ago the Crusades fizzled out . . . well, sorta. The Christians, Muslims, Jews, and whomever else was up for a fight spent a respectable chunk of history killing one another over whose beliefs were better than whose—essentially a playground brawl but with doctrinal rancor.

As I was rereading Ghosts of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegrino I came across this statement from Isaac Asimov: “…religion is incompatible with civilization.” Asimov referenced the Taliban, who, in 2001 came to our shores as if to prove, once and for all, that their beliefs (as Pellegrino points out, “extremist” and “intolerant”) are the gold standard for humanity and America must be the poster child for their modern crusade.

And yet that same idea, the mere thought and words, fly in the face of certain moral intuition. Many an act of kindness—dare I say, of civilization—was borne of these same ideals which organized religion try to espouse.

Clearly, evidence would seem to suggest the very statement “religion is incompatible with civilization” is nothing less than a solid truth. Religious prejudice is no modern phenomenon, history is crystal clear on that point. But even the least educated among us could likely point out examples where people of strong religious convictions have done much to improve civilization around them; again, history illustrates this as well. I could prattle on about hope in its mythological context, or even in the biblical construct, but I think that would belabor the point.

To me this question of incompatibility boils down, as many things do, to the individual. An individual has a choice (at least in a democracy). Not so much in a theocracy, or perhaps any other ‘-cracies’. Reduce this concept down just a little further and see that each of us are born with a moral compass. The flaws of humankind are not small, however, and such a compass is easily corrupted. To wit, James Madison wrote “If men were angels government would not be necessary.”

Though many religions claim to be superior to others, to my knowledge there is no mandate by Providence that man or humankind must accept or affirm any single sort of structured, organizational sense of religion. Sure, certain sects boldly declare that God has, in fact, deemed all prior belief systems bunk and theirs is the chosen group. i still can’t bend my mind around so many sects believing in essentially the same Power of Nature, and yet having the stones to say their belief is the only real way to save ones soul.

Religion, as a system of ritual and communication, has throughout history served as both an emissary of good and a deliverer of unspeakable evil and cruelty. But the conduit for such delivery has always been mankind. If indeed there is a God, the preponderance of historical evidence would suggest that at some point He threw his hands in the air and let us continue to fight it out like tempestuous, argumentative children.

Given religion’s innate inclination to be a force of good, can it actually be said that religion is incompatible with civilization? Perhaps it is simply the other way around.

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