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Monday, October 24, 2011

That Delicate Internal Combustion Engine

"The time has long gone by when anyone who claims the title of philosopher can think of religion as a superfluity for the educated and an 'opiate for the masses.' It is the only known explosive in the economy of that delicate internal combustion engine, the human mind. Peoples rich in religious energy can overcome all obstacles and attain any height in the scale of civilisation. Peoples that have reached the top of a hill by the wise use of religious energy may then decide to do without it; they can still move, but they can only move downhill, and when they come to the bottom of the hill they stop." -- R.G. Collingwood, "Fascism and Nazism"

10 comments:

  1. Perhaps this is a pesky little question, but is anything written in the last half of that passage true?

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  2. All of it is, I believe. Certainly no civilisation has ever arisen that did not have a religious impetus behind it.

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  3. Right - which is why I asked about the second half... the whole "Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after" part.

    It's an untested claim, certainly - but it should probably be left unasserted for that reason too!

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  4. Rome? They were more superstitous than religous proper afaik.

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  5. Well, there religion was *different* than ones we are used to, but they were very religious: offending the gods was a *really* bad idea, and armies turned back if a ceremony had been done wrongly.

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  6. What about substitute religions, like egalitarianism or social justice? They too are based on man's relation to a metaphysical entity. They too involve pursuing something that is an ultimate end in itself. They too are about achieving a kingdom of heaven, except perhaps having it here on earth. And they too involve the premise that you must not anger the god of equality or some such, or there will be dire consequences.

    I wonder if these ideologies, as substitute religions, would serve as an impetus for boosting civilization in a secular age.

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  7. "which is why I asked about the second half... the whole "Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after" part."

    Ah, I see -- well, Greece and Rome are two very good examples here.

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  8. Prateek, I recommend Voegelin's _Order and History_ -- it is a five-volume attempt to answer your question!

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  9. Good evening, Dr. Callahan. Not to overstate things, but isn't the US currently tumbling down the hill for the reasons noted by Collingwood?

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  10. I agree, Phel. But suspected Daniel would not, so I wanted to offer some examples that he could buy into.

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