archive/2015: stream and sequence: religions, axial ages, and reformations
May 4th, 2017
Our analysis of world history in WHEE doesn’t honor ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ distinctions. It has another more useful distinction of ‘stream’ and ‘sequence’:
the Axial Age produces two monotheistic ‘sequence’ transitional areas, archaic Israel, and the hard to understand Zoroastrianism of Persia. We only see the Israelite succession in the West, but the Persian blending with Israelitism at the conclusion of the ‘Israelite’ transition (of Israel/Judah) is one of the key moments of the (mostly unwritten) Axial Age. This was a world historical first, a blending of Semitic and Indo-European ‘monotheistic’ strains with an extra boost given to the underdog Semitic peoples crushed by the Roman Empire. It would seem that the Persian strain resurfaced explosively in Islam, but in a new set of disguises given the later history of the Middle East and the transient character of the Persian Empire. Recall from WHEE the issue of the ‘frontier’ effect: Persia was a very advanced culture
flourishing after conquest at the core zone of the ancient Sumerian civilization and its succession. So why wasn’t it the prime locus of the onset of a monotheistic age? Once we understand the frontier effect we see that the macro system never returns to the same spot, i.e. core Sumer 2400 years later. The macro system favors the underdog in a frontier area, almost the middle of nowhere for its time, but the zone of multiple effects of diffusion from Egypt and Sumer. The Israelite (Israel/Judah) transition is a tour de force barely appreciated by either Jews or Xtians. Instead of expanding into empire it becomes an ironic experiment in the ‘incredible disappearing kingdom’ as its theme becomes ‘dealing with
empires’ as underdogs. That seems odd, but if you reflect the saga of Israel is its symbolic disappearance from history after creating a ‘seed monotheism’ (not yet Judaism): the effect is stunning: creating a religion torn away from its geopolitical roots enabling its universalization. And then just at the last moment, during the Exile, the results blends with Zoroastrianism and begins its course toward the era of the coming of Xtianity.
Note that ancient Israel staged a ‘reformation’ of the classic temple religion/culture of antiquity in the middle east.
But we should note that the resulting religions of Xtianity and Islam are stream phenomena created to move through the mideonic period to create new forms of oikoumene. The issue of theism and atheism haunt us now but the original focus was the attempt by Xtianity and Islam to create new civilizations in the wake of paganism. With respect to their age periods they were thus innovations of the proto- modernist type.
But Christians and Moslems should note the way the ‘sequence’ effect returns with the modern transition. The modern transition will prefigure the future of religion in a very powerful way. We cannot be sure the ‘stream’ phenomena of the post-Axial Age will survive collision with the modern transition. But just here the issue of ‘reformation’ buys time into this new epoch, and Moslems, Xtians and Buddhists are learning the lesson of a new epoch.
This is why the Protestant Reformation is often so mysterious: it is no longer the Xtianity that came into being in the era of Constantine. It is suddenly a new question mark with an affinity to the coming capitalist revolution, and then becomes an adjunct to the movement of abolitionism. It has many sides, and it has survived into recent times because it was amped up at the beginning.