Monday, April 4, 2022

God is dead, and Gaia is not that well either. Who Remains to Defend Humankind?




Meeting the Goddess Gaia in a Supermarket, Italy. Frankly, as a mystical experience, it left much to be desired.



On September 13, 258, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was imprisoned on the orders of the new proconsul, Galerius Maximus. The public examination of Cyprian has been preserved.


Galerius Maximus: "Are you Thascius Cyprianus?" 
Cyprian: "I am." 
Galerius: "The most sacred Emperors have commanded you to conform to the Roman rites." 
Cyprian: "I refuse." 
Galerius: "Take heed for yourself." 
Cyprian: "Do as you are bid; in so clear a case I may not take heed." 
Galerius, after briefly conferring with his judicial council, with much reluctance pronounced the following sentence: "You have long lived an irreligious life, and have drawn together a number of men bound by an unlawful association, and professed yourself an open enemy to the gods and the religion of Rome; and the pious, most sacred and august Emperors ... have endeavoured in vain to bring you back to conformity with their religious observances; whereas therefore you have been apprehended as principal and ringleader in these infamous crimes, you shall be made an example to those whom you have wickedly associated with you; the authority of law shall be ratified in your blood." He then read the sentence of the court from a written tablet: "It is the sentence of this court that Thascius Cyprianus be executed with the sword." 
Cyprian: "Thanks be to God.”

There are plenty of documents about martyrs from early Christianity that look to us naive and exaggerated. But this one, no. This is so stark, so dramatic, so evident. You can see in your mind these two men, the Imperial procurer Galerius Maximus and the Bishop of Carthage, Thascius Cyprian, facing each other in anger, a clash that reminds to us the story of the aircraft carrier that tried to order a lighthouse to move away. It was an unstoppable force, the carrier, meeting an unmovable object, the lighthouse. It is the kind of clash that leads to human lives blown away like fallen leaves in the wind. 

Galerius plays the role of the carrier, bristling with weapons, power, and movement. He is not evil. He does what he has to do. For him, just as for most Romans of the time, performing the "sacred rituals" was a simple way to show that one was part of society, willing to do one's duty. It implied little more than small offerings to the Roman deities. Doing that was the basis of the virtue carried "pietas," that later Christians would call "Caritas" and that in our terminology we might call "empathy." Why would anyone refuse to do such a simple thing? He had to be truly evil, wicked, and a criminal. 

But Galerius must also have seen that he had a force in front of him that he could not possibly overcome. The lighthouse doesn't move. It cannot be moved. A man like Cyprianus, alone, was worth more than a Roman Legion. It was worth more than all the Roman Legions. A few decades later, the Empire would be ruled by a Christian Emperor, Constantine. More decades in the future, the Empire would collapse and be replaced by Christianity to start the flowering of that delicate and sophisticated civilization we call the "Middle Ages" in Europe.

In the end, the essence of the conflict that put Galerius and Cyprianus in front of each other was about the role of a totalitarian state. By the 3rd century AD, when this story took place, the Roman Empire had been a totalitarian state for at least three centuries. "Totalitarian" means that there is nothing, strictly nothing, that can stop the state from doing what the state wants to do and that the state itself defines as "the law". In the Roman laws, there was no such thing as "human rights," and nothing like a "Constitution." The law was the law, and it had to be obeyed. But who created the law? On what principles? For what purposes? It was a difficult point that needed to be clarified.

It was only much later that the Roman Emperors started understanding that the laws that they cherished so much had been turned into a tool of oppression and mistreatment of the poor and the weak. It was Empress Galla Placidia the first to say that "That the Emperor profess to be bound by the laws is a sentiment worthy of the ruler's majesty, so much is our power dependent on the power of law and indeed that the imperial office be subject to the laws is more important than the imperial power itself."  It was the way to go, but too late. Galla Placidia was not only the last Western Empress, she was the last person who actually ruled the Western Empire. When she was gone, the Empire collapsed like a deck of cards. 

If Christianity won the struggle for the souls and minds of the Europeans of the 1st millennium of our era, the state was eventually to return with the age that today we call the "enlightenment" -- a curious mockery of a religious concept for an entity, the state, which recognizes none. Nowadays, we tend to see religion as a set of various superstitions, something that gives people some delusionary belief on the after-death world, maybe some philosophic reasoning on how to live a virtuous life, and don't do that or you'll go blind! But if you think about the clash between Galerius and Cyprianus, you see that it was a completely different story. Religion was a tool to defend people from the arbitrary laws of the totalitarian state. Christianity established the basic dignity of every human being and gave people an alternative social and cultural structure. The holy books were the "Constitution" of the Christian state. 

Over the years, this concept of what it means to be a Christian in a secular state was gradually lost. The last time when Christianity and the State clashed against each other in a serious struggle was with the "Controversy of Valladolid," when the Christian Church tried to prevent the European States from enslaving and exterminating the Native Americans. It was a hollow victory for the Church, and it led, eventually, to its disappearance as an independent force in the Europe we call "modern." Under the onslaught of the state propaganda, the roles in the struggle were completely inverted and the fault for the extermination of the population of two entire continents fell straight on the Church, exactly the entity that had tried to defend the natives. We thought that the evils of the return of totalitarian states could be kept at bay using tools operating within the state itself: opposition parties, constitutional laws, statements about human rights, and the like. 

It didn't work, Today, we find ourselves in exactly the same situation as when Emperor Decius imposed on every Roman Citizen to demonstrate his/her pietas by performing sacrifices to the sacred deity that, in our case, is called "science." But, unlike the times of Decius, we have nothing to oppose to the totalitarian machine of the state that is marching on to crush all of us. Right now, there is no Cyprian to stand for the people and accept martyrdom in the name of human rights.  

I have been thinking a lot about the Gaian religion, fashionable among Western intellectuals. Would Gaianism play the same role in our age that Christianity played nearly two millennia ago? Would anyone follow the example of Cyprianus and offer his life for his Gaian faith? Right now, obviously not. Gaians had a good occasion with the Covid story to take an independent position about an issue that the ordinary Christians were not equipped to take. Facing an epidemic, Christianity could only say that it was the result of the wrath of God because someone had sinned heavily. Gaianism, instead, has much more powerful intellectual tools that could have been used. Gaians could have told people that they were damaging their health just while trying to save themselves. That their immune system is a gift from Gaia herself that they must keep strong by keeping it in contact with the external environment. Exactly the opposite of trying to isolate themselves by wearing masks, disinfecting everything, and keeping social distance. 

Unfortunately, that didn't happen and Gaianism remained little more than a vaporous set of "green" feelings. But it is shallow, lightweight, and easily blown away by the first serious blast of propaganda created created by the state machine. And yet we desperately need something that will save us from being crushed by these monstrous machines. Will Gaia ever gain the strength of Christianity? Right now, I am doubtful, but also not without some hope. Things always change, sometimes very fast. 

Here is a reflection on Gaianism that I published two years ago on my "Chimeras" blog when the situation was not yet as dramatic as it is today. 

Gaia, the Return of the Earth Goddess





House founded by An, praised by Enlil, given an oracle by mother Nintud! A house, at its upper end a mountain, at its lower end a spring! A house, at its upper end threefold indeed. Whose well-founded storehouse is established as a household, whose terrace is supported by Lahama deities; whose princely great wall, the shrine of Urim! (the Kesh temple hymn, ca. 2600 BCE)

Not long ago, I found myself involved in a debate on Gaian religion convened by Erik Assadourian. For me, it was a little strange. For the people of my generation, religion is supposed to be a relic of the past, the opium of the people, a mishmash of superstitions, something for old women mumbling ejaculatory prayers, things like that. But, here, a group of people who weren't religious in the traditional sense of the word, and who included at least two professional researchers in physics, were seriously discussing how to best worship the Goddess of Earth, the mighty, the powerful, the divine, the (sometimes) benevolent Gaia, She who keeps the Earth alive.

It was not just unsettling, it was a deep rethinking of many things I had been thinking. I had been building models of how Gaia could function in terms of the physics and the biology we know. But here, no, it was not Gaia the holobiont, not Gaia the superorganism, not Gaia the homeostatic system. It was Gaia the Goddess.

And here I am, trying to explain to myself why I found this matter worth discussing. And trying to explain it to you, readers. After all, this is being written in a blog titled "Chimeras" -- and the ancient Chimera was a myth about a creature that, once, must have been a sky goddess. And I have been keeping this blog for several years, see? There is something in religion that remains interesting even for us, moderns. But, then, what is it, exactly?

I mulled over the question for a while and I came to the conclusion that, yes, Erik Assadourian and the others are onto something: it may be time for religion to return in some form. And if religion returns, it may well be in the form of some kind of cult of the Goddess Gaia. But let me try to explain

What is this thing called "religion," anyway?

Just as many other things in history that go in cycles, religion does that too. It is because religion serves a purpose, otherwise it wouldn't have existed and been so common in the past. So what is religion? It is a long story but let me start from the beginning -- the very beginning, when, as the Sumerians used to say "Bread was baked for the first time in the ovens".

A constant of all ancient religions is that they tell us that whatever humans learned to do -- from fishing to having kings -- it was taught to them by some God who took the trouble to land down from heaven (or from wherever Gods come from) just for that purpose. Think of when the Sumerian Sea-God called Aun (also Oannes in later times) emerged out of the Abzu (that today we call the abyss) to teach people all the arts of civilization. It was in those ancient times that the Gods taught humans the arts and the skills that the ancient Sumerians called "me," a series of concepts that went from "music" to "rejoicing of the heart." Or, in more recent lore, how Prometheus defied the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humankind. This story has a twist of trickery, but it is the same concept: human civilization is a gift from the gods. Now, surely our ancestors were not so naive that they believed in these silly legends, right? Did people really need a Fish-God to emerge out of the Persian Gulf to teach them how to make fish hooks and fishnets? But, as usual, what looks absurd hides the meaning of complex questions.

The people who described how the me came from the Gods were not naive, not at all. They had understood the essence of civilization, which is sharing. Nothing can be done without sharing something with others, not even rejoicing in your heart. Think of "music," one of the Sumerian me: can you play music by yourself and alone? Makes no sense, of course. Music is a skill that needs to be learned. You need teachers, you need people who can make instruments, you need a public to listen to you and appreciate your music. And the same is for fishing, one of the skills that Aun taught to humans. Of course, you could fish by yourself and for your family only. Sure, and, in this way, you ensure that you all will die of starvation as soon as you hit a bad period of low catches. Fishing provides abundant food in good times, but fish spoils easily and those who live by fishing can survive only if they share their catch with those who live by cultivating grains. You can't live on fish alone, it is something that I and my colleague Ilaria Perissi describe in our book, "The Empty Sea." Those who tried, such as the Vikings of Greenland during the Middle Ages, were mercilessly wiped out of history.

Sharing is the essence of civilization, but it is not trivial: who shares what with whom? How do you ensure that everyone gets a fair share? How do you take care of tricksters, thieves, and parasites? It is a fascinating story that goes back to the very beginning of civilization, those times that the Sumerians were fond to tell with the beautiful image of "when bread was baked for the first time in the ovens," This is where religion came in, with temples, priest, Gods, and all the related stuff.

Let's make a practical example: suppose you are on an errand, it is a hot day, and you want a mug of beer. Today, you go to a pub, pay a few dollars for your pint, you drink it, and that's it. Now, move yourself to Sumerian times. The Sumerians had plenty of beer, even a specific goddess related to it, called Ninkasi (which means, as you may guess, "the lady of the beer"). But there were no pubs selling beer for the simple reason that you couldn't pay for it. Money hadn't been invented, yet. Could you barter for it? With what? What could you carry around that would be worth just one beer? No, there was a much better solution: the temple of the local God or Goddess.

We have beautiful descriptions of the Sumerian temples in the works of the priestess Enheduanna, among other things, the first named author in history. From her and from other sources, we can understand how in Sumerian times, and for millennia afterward, temples were large storehouses of goods. They were markets, schools, libraries, manufacturing centers, and offered all sorts of services, including that of the hierodules (karkid in Sumerian), girls who were not especially holy, but who would engage in a very ancient profession that didn't always have the bad reputation it has today. If you were so inclined, you could also meet male prostitutes in the temple, probably called "kurgarra" in Sumerian. That's one task in which temples have been engaging for a long time, even though that looks a little weird to us. Incidentally, the Church of England still managed prostitution in Medieval times.

So, you go to the temple and you make an offer to the local God or Goddess. We may assume that this offer would be proportional to both your needs and your means. It could be a goat that we know was roughly proportional to the services of a high-rank hierodule. But, if all you wanted was a beer, then you could have limited your offer to something less valuable: depending on your job you could have offered fish, wheat, wool, metal, or whatever. Then, the God would be pleased and, as a reward, the alewives of the temple would give you all the beer you could drink. Seen as a restaurant, the temple worked on the basis of what we call today an "all you can eat" menu (or "the bottomless cup of coffee," as many refills as you want).

Note how the process of offering something to God was called sacrifice. The term comes from "sacred" which means "separated." The sacrifice is about separation. You separate from something that you perceived as yours which then becomes an offer to the local God or to the community -- most often the same thing. The offerings to the temple could be something very simple: as you see in the images we have from Sumerian times, it didn't always involve the formal procedure of killing a live animal. People were just bringing the goods they had to the temple. When animals were sacrificed to God(s) in the sense that they were ritually killed, they were normally eaten afterward. Only in rare cases (probably not in Sumeria) the sacrificed entity was burnt to ashes. It was the "burnt sacrifice" called Korban Olah in the Jewish tradition. In that case, the sacrifice was shared with God alone -- but it was more of an exception than the rule.

In any case, God was the supreme arbiter who insured that your sacrifice was appreciated -- actually, not all sacrifices were appreciated. Some people might try to trick by offering low-quality goods, but God is not easy to fool. In some cases, he didn't appreciate someone's sacrifices at all: do you remember the story of Cain and Abel? God rejected Cain's sacrifice, although we are not told exactly why. In any case, the sacrifice was a way to attribute a certain "price" to the sacrificed goods.

This method of commerce is not very different than the one we use today, it is just not so exactly quantified as when we use money to attach a value to everything. The ancient method works more closely to the principle that the Marxists had unsuccessfully tried to implement "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." But don't think that the ancient Sumerians were communists, it is just that the lack of a method of quantification of the commercial transaction generated a certain leeway that could allow the needy access to the surplus available, when it was available. This idea is still embedded in modern religions, think of how the Holy Quran commands the believers to share the water of their wells with the needy, once they have satisfied their needs and those of their animals. Or the importance that the Christian tradition gives to gleaning as a redistribution of the products of the fields. Do you remember the story of Ruth the Moabite in the Bible? That important, indeed.

But there is more. In the case of burnt sacrifices, the value attributed to the goods was "infinite" -- the goods consumed by the flames just couldn't be used again by human beings. It is the concept of Taboo used in Pacific cultures for something that cannot be touched, eaten, or used. We have no equivalent thing in the "market," where we instead suppose that everything has a price.

And then, there came money (the triumph of evil)

The world of the temples of the first 2-3 millennia of human civilizations in the Near East was in some ways alien to ours, and in others perfectly equivalent. But things keep changing and the temples were soon to face competition in a new method of attributing value to goods: money. Coinage is a relatively modern invention, it goes back to mid 1st millennium BCE. But in very ancient times, people did exchange metals by weight -- mainly gold and silver. And these exchanges were normally carried out in temples -- the local God(s) ensured honest weighing. In more than one sense, in ancient times temples were banks and it is no coincidence that our modern banks look like temples. They are temples to a God called "money." By the way, you surely read in the Gospels how Jesus chased the money changers -- the trapezitai -- out of the temple of Jerusalem. Everyone knows that story, but what were the money changers doing in the temple? They were in the traditional place where they were expected to be, where they had been from when bread was baked in ovens for the first time.

So, religion and money evolved in parallel -- sometimes complementing each other, sometimes in competition with each other. But, in the long run, the temples seem to have been the losers in the competition. As currency became more and more commonplace, people started thinking that they didn't really need the cumbersome apparatus of religion, with its temples, priests, and hierodules (the last ones were still appreciated, but now were paid in cash). A coin is a coin is a coin, it is guaranteed by the gold it is made of -- gold is gold is gold. And if you want a good beer, you don't need to make an offer to some weird God or Goddess. Just pay a few coppers for it, and that's done.

The Roman state was among the first in history to be based nearly 100% on money. With the Romans, temples and priests had mainly a decorative role, let's say that they had to find a new market for their services. Temples couldn't be commercial centers any longer, so they reinvented themselves as lofty places for the celebration of the greatness of the Roman Empire. There remained also a diffuse kind of religion in the countryside that had to do with fertility rites, curing sickness, and occasional cursing on one's enemies. That was the "pagan" religion, with the name "pagan" meaning, basically, "peasant."

Paganism would acquire a bad fame in Christian times, but already in Roman times, peasant rites were seen with suspicion. The Romans had one deity: money. An evil deity, perhaps, but it surely brought mighty power to the Romans, but their doom as well, as it is traditional for evil deities. Roman money was in the form of precious metals and when they ran out of gold and silver from their mines, the state just couldn't exist anymore: it vanished. No gold, no empire. It was as simple as that.

The disappearance of the Roman state saw a return of religion, this time in the form of Christianity. The Middle Ages in Europe saw the rise of monasteries to play a role similar to that of temples in Sumerian times. Monasteries were storehouses, manufacturing centers, schools, libraries, and more -- they even had something to do with hierodules. During certain periods, Christian nuns did seem to have played that role, although this is a controversial point. Commercial exchanging and sharing of goods again took a religious aspect, with the Catholic Church in Western Europe playing the role of a bank by guaranteeing that, for instance, ancient relics were authentic. In part, relics played the role that money had played during the Roman Empire, although they couldn't be exchanged for other kinds of goods. The miracle of the Middle Ages in Europe was that this arrangement worked, and worked very well. That is, until someone started excavating silver from mines in Eastern Europe and another imperial cycle started. It is not over to this date, although it is clearly declining.

So, where do we stand now? Religion has clearly abandoned the role it had during medieval times and has re-invented itself as a support for the national state, just as the pagan temples had done in Roman times. One of the most tragic events of Western history is when in 1914, for some mysterious reasons, young Europeans found themselves killing each other by the millions while staying in humid trenches. On both sides of the trenches, Christian priests were blessing the soldiers of "their" side, exhorting them to kill those of the other side. How Christianity could reduce itself to such a low level is one of the mysteries of the Universe, but there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. And it is here that we stand. Money rules the world and that's it.

The Problem With Money

Our society is perhaps the most monetized in history -- money pervades every aspect of life for everyone. The US is perhaps the most monetized society ever: for Europeans, it is a shock to discover that many American families pay their children for doing household chores. For a European, it is like if your spouse were asking you to pay for his/her sexual services. But different epochs have different uses and surely it would be shocking for a Sumerian to see that we can get a beer at the pub by just giving the alewives a curious flat object, a "card," that they then give back to us. Surely that card is a powerful amulet from a high-ranking God.

So, everything may be well in the best of worlds, notoriously represented by the Western version of liberal democracy. Powerful market forces, operated by the God (or perhaps Goddess) called Money or, sometimes, "the almighty dollar," ensure that exchanges are efficient, that scarce resources are optimally allocated, and that everyone has a chance in the search for maximizing his/her utility function.

Maybe. But it may also be that something is rotten in the Great Columned Temple of Washington D.C. What's rotten, exactly? Why can't this wonderful deity we call "money" work the way we would it like to, now that we even managed to decouple it from the precious metals it was made of in ancient times?

Well, there is a problem. A big problem. A gigantic problem. It is simply that money is evil. This is another complex story, but let's just say that the problem with evil and good is that evil knows no limits, while good does. In other words, evil is equivalent to chaos, good to order. It has something to do with the definition of "obscenity." There is nothing wrong in human sex, but an excess of sex in some forms becomes obscene. Money can become obscene for exactly this reason: too much of it overwhelms everything else. Nothing is so expensive that it cannot be bought; that's the result of the simple fact that you can attribute a price to everything.

Instead, God is good because She has limits: She is benevolent and merciful. You could see that as a limitation and theologians might discuss why a being that's all-powerful and all-encompassing cannot be also wicked and cruel. But there cannot be any good without an order of things. And order implies limits of some kind. God can do everything but He cannot do evil. That's a no-no. God cannot be evil. Period.

And here is why money is evil: it has no limits, it keeps accumulating. You know that accumulated money is called "capital," and it seems that many people realize that there is something wrong with that idea because "capitalism" is supposed to be something bad. Which may be but, really, capital is one of those polymorphic words that can describe many things, not all of them necessarily bad. In itself, capital is simply the accumulation of resources for future use -- and that has limits, of course. You can't accumulate more things than the things you have. But once you give a monetary value to this accumulated capital, things change. If money has no limits, capital doesn't, either.

Call it capital or call it money, it is shapeless, limitless, a blob that keeps growing and never shrinks. Especially nowadays that money has been decoupled from material goods (at least in part, you might argue that money is linked to crude oil). You could say that money is a disease: it affects everything. Everything can be associated with a number, and that makes that thing part of the entity we call the "market". If destroying that thing can raise that number, somewhere, that thing will be destroyed. Think of a tree: for a modern economist, it has no monetary value until it is felled and the wood sold on the market. And that accumulates more money, somewhere. Monetary capital actually destroys natural capital. You may have heard of "Natural Capitalism" that's supposed to solve the problem by giving a price to trees even before they are felled. It could be a good idea, but it is still based on money, so it may be the wrong tool to use even though for a good purpose.

The accumulation of money in the form of monetary capital has created something enormously different than something that was once supposed to help you get a good beer at a pub. Money is not evil just in a metaphysical sense. Money is destroying everything. It is destroying the very thing that makes humankind survive: the Earth's ecosystem. We call it "overexploitation," but it means simply killing and destroying everything as long as that can bring a monetary profit to someone.


Re-Sacralizing The Ecosystem (why some goods must have infinite prices)

There have been several proposals on how to reform the monetary system, from "local money" to "expiring money," and some have proposed simply getting rid of it. None of these schemes has worked, so far, and getting rid of money seems to be simply impossible in a society that's as complex as ours: how do you pay the hierodules if money does not exist? But from what I have been discussing so far, we could avoid the disaster that the evil deity called money is bring to us simply by putting a limit to it. It is, after all, what the Almighty did with the devil: She didn't kill him, but confined him in a specific area that we call "Hell." Maybe there is a need for hell to exist, we don't know. For sure, we don't want hell to grow and expand everywhere (although it may well be exactly what we are seeing in the world, nowadays).

What does it mean limits to money? It means that some things must be placed outside the monetary realm -- outside the market. If you want to use a metaphor-based definition, some goods must be declared to have an "infinite" monetary price -- nobody can buy them, not billionaires, not even trillionaires, or any even more obscene levels of monetary accumulation. If you prefer, you may use the old Hawai'ian word: Taboo. Or, simply, you decide that some things are sacred, holy, they are beloved by the Goddess, and even thinking of touching them is evil.

Once something is sacred, it cannot be destroyed in the name of profit. That could mean setting aside some areas of the planet, declaring them not open for human exploitation. Or setting limits to the exploitation, not with the idea of maximizing the output of the system for human use, but with the idea to optimize the biodiversity of the area. These ideas are not farfetched. As an example, some areas of the sea have been declared "whale sanctuaries" -- places where whales cannot be hunted. That's not necessarily an all/zero choice. Some sanctuaries might allow human presence and moderate exploitation of the resources of the system. The point is that as long as we monetize the exploitation, then we are back to monetary capitalism and the resource will be destroyed.

Do we need a religion to do that? Maybe there are other ways but, surely, we know that it is a task that religion is especially suitable for. Religion is a form of communication that uses rituals as speech. Rituals are all about sacralization: they define what's sacred by means of sacrifice. These concepts form the backbone of all religions, everything is neatly arranged under to concept of "sacredness" -- what's sacred is nobody's property. We know that it works. It has worked in the past. It still works today. You may be a trillionaire, but you are not allowed to do everything you want just because you can pay for it. You can't buy the right of killing people, for instance. Nor to destroy humankind's heritage. (So far, at least).

Then, do we need a new religion for that purpose? A Gaian religion?

Possibly yes, taking into account that Gaia is not "God" in the theological sense. Gaia is not all-powerful, she didn't create the world, she is mortal. She is akin to the Demiurgoi, the Daimonoi, the Djinn, and similar figures that play a role in the Christian, Islamic and Indian mythologies. The point is that you don't necessarily need the intervention of the Almighty to sacralize something. Even just a lowly priest can do that, and surely it is possible for one of Her Daimonoi, and Gaia is one.

Supposing we could do something like that, then we would have the intellectual and cultural tools needed to re-sacralize the Earth. Then, whatever is declared sacred or taboo is spared by the destruction wrecked by the money-based process: forests, lands, seas, creatures large and small. We could see this as a new alliance between humans and Gaia: All the Earth is sacred to Gaia, and some parts of it are especially sacred and cannot be touched by money. And not just the Earth, the poor, the weak, and the dispossessed among humans, they are just as sacred and must be respected.

All that is not just a question of "saving the Earth" -- it is a homage to the power of the Holy Creation that belongs to the Almighty, and to the power of maintenance of the Holy Creation that belongs to the Almighty's faithful servant, the holy Gaia, mistress of the ecosystem. And humans, as the ancient Sumerians had already understood, are left with the task of respecting, admiring and appreciating what God has created. We do not worship Gaia, that would silly, besides being blasphemous. But through her, we worship the higher power of God.

Is it possible? If history tells us something is that money tends to beat religion when conflict arises. Gaia is powerful, sure, but can she slay the money dragon in single combat? Difficult, yes, but we should remember that some 2000 years ago in Europe, a group of madmen fought and won against an evil empire in the name of an idea that most thought not just subversive at that time, but even beyond the thinkable. And they believed so much in that idea that they accepted to die for it

In the end, there is more to religion than just fixing a broken economic system. There is a fundamental reason why people do what they do: sometimes we use the anodyne name of "communication," sometimes we use the more sophisticated term "empathy," but when we really understand what we are talking about we may not afraid to use the word "love" which, according to our Medieval ancestors, was the ultimate force that moves the universe. And when we deal with Gaia the Goddess, we may have this feeling of communication, empathy, and love. She may be defined as a planetary homeostatic system, but she is way more than that: it is a power of love that has no equals on this planet. But there are things that mere words cannot express. 

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.




18 comments:

  1. Will take some work to unpack this poat. I'll comment in full later.
    Thanks Ugo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One good thing about blogging is that you learn new things. This "poat" I didn't know, but now I do!

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  2. Dear Ugo Bardi,

    An illuminating pair of essays, thank you.

    I am intrigued by the three links in the following paragraph:

    "The disappearance of the Roman state saw a return of religion, this time in the form of Christianity. It is a long story that would need a lot of space to be written. Let's just say that the Middle Ages in Europe saw the rise of monasteries to play a role similar to that of temples in Sumerian times. Monasteries were storehouses, manufacturing centers, schools, libraries, and more -- they even had something to do with hierodules. During certain periods, Christian nuns did seem to have played that role, although this is a controversial point. Commercial exchanging and sharing of goods again took a religious aspect, with the Catholic Church in Western Europe playing the role of a bank by guaranteeing that, for instance, ancient relics were authentic. In part, relics played the role that money had played during the Roman Empire, although they couldn't be exchanged for other kinds of goods. The miracle of the Middle Ages in Europe was that this arrangement worked, and worked very well. That is, until someone started excavating silver from mines in Eastern Europe and another imperial cycle started. It is not over to this date, although it is clearly declining."

    The links, which are I believe to articles by yourself, are no longer valid -- it is possible to find them elsewhere?

    Kind regards,

    Yves-Marie

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    1. Thanks, Yves-Marie, I fixed the links. For some reason, when you cut and paste an old page into a new one in Blogger, the links are lost. Maybe it is a reference to the Gospel's story of "new wine in old bottles" :-)

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  3. God returns to communities in ever escalating hardship - is a proven historic fact.

    If you don't believe the statement - watch Iraqis - they pray to God 10 times before they leave home for the corner shop - asking they return back in one-piece...

    This time around in history - God returns to Earth even stronger - armed with the emerging 21st Century Physics - Matter, and the Universe cannot be self-held, but rather externally-powered...


    The 21st Physics is very humans-centric, rather than E=mc^2, Dirac, Bohr, Hawkins et al - blinded and obsessed;

    The 21st Physics is brave, it quantifies - first of all - The Tragedy of the Commons:

    "Energy, like time, flows from past to future"

    Wailing.

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  4. I have been thinking a lot about these writings. In the end, it seems to me that we don't need a new religion. All religions have failed and will fail in the future. What humanity needs is a return to spirituality. Every human being has the right and the need to rediscover a sense of transcendence and mystery. Spirituality is unique to each person and must be individual and not imposed.
    I always enjoy rereading Taoist writings. I would like to quote Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 37

    Tao abides in non-action,
    Yet nothing is left undone.
    If kings and lords observed this,
    The ten thousand things would develop naturally.
    If they still desired to act,
    They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.
    Without form there is no desire.
    Without desire there is tranquility.
    And in this way all things would be at peace.

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    1. Maybe not a new religion. But if we don't find something to oppose to the madness that's sweeping the land, we'll be crushed to nothing.

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    2. The madness comes from the fact that a small elite has arrogated to itself access to certain secrets that should be shared. Without having known that time, I am nostalgic of the Eleusinian mysteries where everyone could participate in the ritual initiation, including women and children and even slaves.

      "I had heard the dissonances resolve themselves in agreement; I had for a moment taken support on another sphere, contemplated from afar, but also from very close, this divine procession where I had my place." (Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar)

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  5. Hello Ugo,
    Totalitarianism and dogmatism is scary. It is another way of saying that "the model is true", despite reality looking different.
    I think the double-think, as Orwell called is, is one of the true marvels of the human psyche. Another perspective of this is Group-Think, i.e. a group creating a shared reality that is diverging more and more from "real" reality.

    The story-driven monkey is one who is prepared to die for a certain idea, or kill for another. Use violence against fans from a competing football club.

    It is also the source of great inspired works, where individuals sacrifice everything they have to further a greater cause.

    I think that the modern day thinker Michael Dowd (known for his Post Doom series on Youtube) is on to something, when he calls external reality and Nature "GOD". It is nowadays an act of faith to believe in observable reality. Maybe this is the core of Gaianism?

    Peace,
    Goran

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    1. I know Michael. He is trying is best with the idea of putting new wine in old bottles. Will the old bottles burst open at the seams?

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  6. I really don't think coming up with some new religion is going to be of much help anymore at this juncture, no matter how you may define religion. The momentum with which the juggernaut of modern industrial 'civilization' is charging towards the cliff suggests that we'll probably have no choice left but to let it crash and burn, after which hopefully there will be a few pockets of humanity left here and there which will learn from the folly of our ways and start over. If we're to come up with any new religion, it will not save us (just as Christianity didn't save Rome); rather it will (perhaps) be adopted by the survivors as a new guide to living after modern industrial 'civ' is gone.

    I believe the whole trouble began during the 16th and 17th centuries when the neo-Platonists / Hermeticists promulgated various ideas and views regarding God and Nature which the Church found threatening, whereupon it (the Church) responded by teaching that Nature had nothing sacred about it at all by itself, so you can't find God in Nature; God exists strictly outside of Nature, and furthermore does not conform to anything we mortals with our limited minds think He should. These ideas were eventually the ones to prevail in the West, but led to a serious problem: given all these, how the heck am I supposed to know if there's a God? Nothing I perceive in this world is supposed to serve to indicate He exists, and my puny human mind is not supposed to be able to grasp Him. Thinkers from Descartes on wrestled with these issues, but the problem only got worse, until finally the Christian religion could no longer retain much credibility in the eyes of the more educated people of the West. Hence the turn towards secularism and the abandonment of Christianity. And 'once there's no God everything is permitted.' (Dostoevsky)

    It incidentally ought to be interesting to note that for much of history the religion followed by the elite in China was Confucianism, which never had any place for a God -- at least not in the Abrahamic sense. One thing the Confucians did believe was that all of existence comes together to form a single living body. Interesting consequences follow from this. For one thing, it would mean that whatever I do to others, indeed to any aspect of reality, I ultimately do to myself. Perhaps here is something those interested in starting a new religion might like to take a look at.

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  7. It's amazing but true that few people comprehend how exquisitely tuned the natural world is, and that tuning is why life can exist and flourish..The supreme and potentially fatal conceit of Man is to think he can improve on that system...The Amish don't think that... they nurture the land, and maybe they'll survive the inevitable collapse of the current civilization based on fossil fuels...

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  8. "Right now, there is no Cyprian to stand for the people and accept martyrdom in the name of human rights."

    I don't think this is true. Steven Donzinger, Julian Assange, Berta Cacaeres, Snowden, and many others who I could think of if I took a minute have sacrificed themselves to truth and to defense of nature and human rights. Environmentalists are being martyred at an astonishing rate. Whistleblowers imprisoned or worse.

    What is missing is a follower group that is capable of and willing to change their lifestyles and present themselves as a unity, as the Christians were motivated to do by virtue of much. The public is prostituted to a monied/propagandized lifestyle and they cling to it. I continue to read comments (on say, Naked Capitalism) of people who expect the corporate or government to do the hard work of making a change re climate change or whatever, which is nonsense. It's each of us who must make the change, and this is no easy or simple task, to walk out on the system. Maybe it's not money which is evil, but people. In one of the many Scott Ritter youtubes he has made, he makes the significant point of putting the blame for this war on the indifference and laziness of the American people...who no longer care to do the hard work of understanding and knowing and blocking their governments. The last time Americans stopped evil was the Vietnam War, and they were quite capable of doing so in the face of their children or themselves being blown up in Vietnam. Once that immediate threat was put down, they didn't care for the fate of the population at large, on any matter, in reality.

    C.

    More later. I just read this for the first time, and as always, it's provocative.

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    1. Good point. We miss a follower group. A group that could have human values as focus. But facing the monster called "propaganda" how could such a group survive? Even the Catholic Church has been all but destroyed in the clash against the state. Who speaks for the people against the state?

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    2. The truckers...they did in a simple, single issued instance, and rather successfully in Canada...I do not think it is impossible, but it was spontaneous. If all of them quit en masse, the cities would cease to function very fast. There was something to learn from this, something to think about. C.

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    3. I don't agree with much about this piece on The Great Resignation, but his "The Age of Anti-Ambition" and the anger it is engendering hits me as a starting point for a "follower" group...maybe not in the direction some would like it to go, but then...https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/02/23/ross-douthat-and-the-great-resignation/ C.

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  9. @G WangApril 6, 2022 at 8:31 AM: "hopefully there will be a few pockets of humanity left here and there which will learn from the folly of our ways and start over."

    Not to knock you, Wang, but who's to say that humanity surviving would be a good thing for the planet? Especially if our species started over in its ways. I do not expect much learning from folly, because sociobiologically speaking, humanity has evolved from a blueprint of screeching, teeth-baring chimpanzees. The humans who have survived best since they exterminated the Neanderthals and other proto-sapiens have been the ones who killed the competition best. We're working from a bad template.

    The Earth did just fine during the hundreds of millions of years when it was populated by lumbering reptiles with brains the size of walnuts. (Barring the occasional asteroid strike) Sure, they bit and ate each other in ways that we would consider vicious, but it was just to stay alive. T. Rexes didn't build concentration camps to kill all the stegosaurs with poison gas.

    This bright blue ball in the vacuum seems to have been a lush place with plants and swamps and beasts proliferating for so long that they could get trapped under continental crust shifts and turn into hydrocarbons. Epochs of fertility! Which we humans have managed to unleash as atmosphere poison in just a few hundred years, guaranteeing the death of so much of what's alive today. It will get better in a few thousand years if all humans die, of course, and given a million years, all sorts of new species will evolve to fill the eco-niches. Not that humans would be around to witness this, but does the Earth care?

    Incidentally, Sr. Bardi, I would say that based on the image of Gaia you're standing next to, the Goddess must be transsexual. Because in addition to the swellings on the green creature's chest, that's quite a, ahem, "package" it's got between its legs...

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  10. It will take some thousands of years until Mankind is erased from Earth surface.
    But if it happens or not, does not matter at all to us. We live now in the present and should think how to do our best to enjoy what is available, take care of our family, friends, neighbours and live without great concerns.
    Future is just an idea we have in our mjnds... Don't feed us.

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