Friday, 21 December 2012

Obviously, the Mayan end of the world thing is nonsense. Interestingly, though, 20% of Chinese apparently believe in it. History shows that the Chinese have a strong propensity to become infatuated with crazed, irrational ideas, especially those that take the form of bizarre cults. I wonder if these periodic eruptions of cult-inspired lunacy in China have something to with Confucianism and what is lacking in it. There's always been a debate about whether Confucianism should be classified as a religion. It's an ethical system that reveres order and tradition. There is no Godhead in it, but it does touch on the supernatural with its reverence for ancestral spirits. Perhaps something in human nature craves something more concrete than that, though. Hence the mad cults springing up.

It's easy to sneer at this, but one of these historical episodes - the Taiping rebellion, which was inspired by someone who had imbibed half-baked ideas about Christianity from some missionaries then promptly decided he was Jesus' younger brother - resulted in large-scale warfare and the death of 20 million people. Given China's historical experience, it is easy to see why the Chinese government is quick to crack down on eccentric religious movements.

And this is one reason why I think the principle of universalism, which underlies the ideology of human rights, is woefully misconceived. Even though I am a free speech extremist - to the point of considering the use of violence to be justified if speech is criminalised by a government - I say this only in relation to the countries within European civilisation, including its colonial offshoots. I am not trying to erect some universal principle that should be applied everywhere. When the dissemination of absurd ideas can lead to the death of 20 million people, there is a strong case to be made for their repression.

Applying the same fixed rules everywhere just isn't a good way to manage the moral complexity of the world. Our sense of what is appropriate in any given country should derive from its own distinctive traditions, historical experience and the moral maturity of its people. For this and other reasons, the ideology of human rights deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with Communism, that other great expression of destructive utopianism.

And, lastly, comical though the Mayan apocalypse nonsense may seem, it is possible that Islam itself was birthed in a similar frenzy of apocalyptic expectation. Norbert Pressburg's book, which I discussed before in several blog posts, examined the possibility that Islam was originally a deviant branch of Christianity that had rejected the divinity of Jesus. If this is true, it begs the question of what occasioned its transformation into what we now know as Islam, including the probable invention of the prophet character and the large-scale fabrication of historical events. One of the book's most intriguing suggestions is that the deviant branch of Christianity that served as the proto-Islam included an apocalyptic element that predicted the end of the world around the year 800 AD. The non-fulfilment of these prophecies may have acted as the traumatic event that forced the transformation of the religion into something terrible and new, something that still blights the world 1200 years later: Islam.


Hermes said...

Regarding the chinese religious issue:

Anonymous said...

The one who wrote this is wrong, the mayans never predicted the end of times.

The only ones who talk nonsense are those who linked that event and the date 21th December with the Mayans.

But it seems like we are in front of the gates of human fall (human destruction) thanks to the communists/socialist/leftists and muslims. The biblical apocalypse may be near after all.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting video:
God in Ancient China

Anonymous said...

I have also read Norbert Pressburgs book and found it a blast and very revolutionary in many of its findings.

What transformed the divinityless-Jesus-version of christianity that most likely was the "Muhammad-cult" of Abd al-Malik???

As you point to, perhaps the letdown when Christ did not show up in the year 700. I think thats very likely.

And there were most likely other strands of "proto-islam" out there. There were several politico-cultural centers in the early arab empire. There was the primarily christian Syria and the primarily jewish and pagan Iraq. It seems to me that islam, as we know it today, is strongly connected to the Abbasids and their long regime and to the very influencial jewish culture in Iraq. Many of the stories of the Talmud is found in the Quran directly or indirectly. Islamic law in many ways mirrors jewish talmudic law and so on. There are of course also elements of both babylonian-assyrian paganism and persian zoroastrianism in islam.

When Abd al-Maliks heretical arab pseudo-christianity failed, primarily because of the non-arrival of the apocalypse, the focus of thought seems to have shifted towards Iraq and a mixing between judaism and arab-babylonian-persian paganism.

Muhammed the prophet and decendant of Ishamel seems to have been invented in that iraqi milieu. He looks like a ideological response both to Christ and Moses and perhaps also Zoroaster. And he could also be a remade version of the selfmade prophet al-Mukhtar (today a lowlevel shia-hero) who lived during al-Maliks reign and were said to receive revelations from an angel and to have put them in a book.

At least that seems likely to me! :)

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