October 22, 2017

Did God really do such a bad job?

A leading article for The Ecologist Vol. 28 No. 3, May–June 1998. Republished in The Doomsday Funbook (Jon Carpenter Books, February 2006).

See ordering information for the Funbook.

Underlying the worldview of the secular Religion of Progress is the funda­mental assumption that the world is badly designed. God did a bad job, and it is incumbent on man, armed as he is with all his science, technology, industry and free trade, to transform it in accordance with his vastly superior design. To a truly religious person this dogma must be the ultimate blasphemy; yet few people see it that way. Nearly everyone today seems to accept the preposterous view that modern man is actually ‘improving’ the world – making it a better place to live in – against all the evidence to the contrary.

Of course people still pay lip-service to a transcendental religion – in our part of the world, to some form of Christianity. But it is indeed only lip-service. The real religion with which they have been imbued is the secular Religion of Progress and hence of the science and technology which make it possible.

Science, in many respects, is just another secular religion. Kuhn actually describes the scientific community as a sort of priesthood. John Passmore compares ‘aristo-scientists’ with medieval theologians. In many ways they are the priests of our industrial society. It is they who provide the information on the basis of which the industrial process is mediated and without which it could not occur. It is they who have formulated the worldview that provides the industrial process with its rationale, and like other priesthoods, they have couched their holy texts in an esoteric language of their own which no outsider can understand.

What is more they have defined truth in such a way that they alone have access to it, for it must be established by a set of scientific rituals which only they can perform, since only they possess the necessary scientific skills, only they are equipped with the requisite scientific technology, and only they have access to the holy places where, in order to be effective, these rituals must be performed.

It is not surprising that their writings are imbued with an aura of sanctity previously reserved for the holy texts of the established religions. Indeed, if a proposition is classified as ‘scientific’, then it must be true, indeed incontestable; if on the other hand it is branded as ‘unscientific’ then it must be the work of a charlatan. This has provided the scientific priesthood with the power to prevent any undesired deviation from scientific orthodoxy, just as the Catholic establishment of the Middle Ages could excommunicate any heretic whose teachings were a challenge to its authority. Science has thereby not banished faith. It has substituted faith in modern science for faith in conventional religion.

In any case, modern Christianity, like most modern mainstream religions, has changed very considerably over the years. From serving above all to link people together to the whole creation, as etymologically the term ‘religion’ implies, it has become little more than a bipolar relationship between an asocial, anecological man and a God to whom are attributed the same characteristics.

The Metropolitan John of Pergamon has stated that the destruction of the environment is a sin, but this by itself is not sufficient. People can only understand and believe that it is a sin, indeed the ultimate sin, if they have been imbued with a worldview in terms of which the preservation of the creation is man’s sacred duty, as it once was.

Mircea Eliade and other great students of religion have shown how most rituals performed by traditional peoples served, above all, to maintain the order of the cosmos which was seen as encompassing society, the natural world and the world of the Gods. In many societies, in fact, a word existed for the path that had to be taken in order to do so – the Tao of the ancient Chinese, the R’ta of the Vedic Indians, and as Father Murray and Margaret Barker make clear, the Sedeq of the ancient Hebrews.

These concepts also meant justice, morality and indeed the divine law. No distinction was made between this law as it applied to society (nomos in Greek), that which governed the natural world (the Greek dike, and the dikeos of early Christian theology) and that which governed the all-embracing world of the gods (usually referred to by the Hellenes as Themis) so that as Pythagoras is said to have noted, who violates any one of them, violates them all.

What a contrast with modern man’s view of the law, which serves above all to protect property, indeed one could destroy the living world and make our very species extinct without violating a single one of the laws that modern man has enacted. What an indictment of the worldview that our law so faithfully reflects!

Man is inherently a religious being and religion is, even today, a powerful force and could be very much more so if it were seen once more as potentially providing the basis of an ecological and hence a cosmic worldview with which we could all once more be imbued. To do this means reviving the largely forgotten cosmic roots of the Judeo-Christian tradition and indeed of the other mainstream religious traditions of today.


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