The current rush of historical books that cover the entire history of humanity, from cave dwelling to space travel, would seem to indicate that there is a feeling abroad that the time has come for a summing up of our history as a species. This may be because we humans have recently become all too aware of our own mortality, like an old man suddenly moved to review his life.
On this site I adopt a broad-brush approach of my own, which has two distinctive features. The first is that I do not assume that there is one specific strand in our lives that takes first place in threatening to kill us – not our technology, or that God needs to be abolished, or that Muslims are about to destroy western civilisation, or that the water and oil are about to run out, or that the Antichrist is about to preside over a New World Order government. This site reflects my view that it is our own faulty mental processes that represent the most potent threat to our existence, and that the most persistent cause of war is a willingness to misunderstand, invent, elaborate and act upon notions of alleged differences between ourselves. My message is one of hope; that we can understand these processes if they are set out simply and without rancour.
We do not need to view these processes in technical psychological terms, because we can all understand patriotism, socialism or conservatism without reference to brain function, just as we can understand competitiveness, intolerance and bigotry in an entirely non-technical way, when we feel them.
There is scarcely a political or religious thought conceivable by human beings that does not serve equally well as a basis for strife of some kind as for unity. Nation, class, race, faith – any voluntary or involuntary classification creates insiders and outsiders, as well as believers, unbelievers and sceptics. This potential double function of all our abstract thinking is not generally acknowledged by partisans, who assume that all right-thinking people will agree and that discord comes from unreasonable quarters. Yet any argument that fails to persuade – for any reason, circumstantial or inherent – just brings more frustration and division. Only an argument that persuades universally can bring unity, and such an all-conquering argument has yet to be discovered, despite something like five millennia of dogged trying.
I maintain that, now more than ever, there is a need for a non-technical overview of the way politics and religion interact. Religion and politics are the two most divisive (and, of course, unifying) forces on earth, and partisans of the one rarely contemplate the other fully, especially not those political types who deny the need for religion at all in the modern world.
While the nineteenth century was presenting us with an unprecedented range of material and intellectual ways to view world history, the religious interpretation of history hardly developed at all. Now, however, it has undergone a spectacular revival with the end of the Cold War, and the emergence of a supposedly powerful force in radical Islam. At the same time there has been a systematic assault upon conventional religion coupled with the promotion of atheism as the only viable forward path for humanity.
On this site I intend to examine the interaction of politics and religion in a broad and jargon-free way. I will attempt to follow a non-partisan line. Anyone wishing to have their prejudices reinforced here will be disappointed. They will, on the contrary have those prejudices questioned. Such questioning, I am convinced, is the best path to human progress through understanding.
A broad approach is required, something more in line with the books of the eighteenth century. Since then the progressive specialisation and subdivision of human learning has fragmented the wider fields of human knowledge – a limiting development that has rendered human understanding understandable to less and less humans. If we all need degrees in everything associated with psychology, politics and religion before we are allowed to form any coherent wider thoughts, we will lose any sense of clear direction, and will remain becalmed in the prejudices of the last dominant academic fashion.
To qualify to have valid opinions about history it is only necessary to have read a lot of it and to have thought deeply about it. These two things I have certainly done.
People are extraordinarily fertile in the invention, promotion and justification of political and religious beliefs. Unfortunately these same beliefs are also a royal road to mayhem, death and destruction. Detachment and dispassionate analysis are the best ways to step away from fanatical misunderstanding on the one hand, and excessively technical academic writing on the other.
This site is intended to sketch the outlines of a non-judgmental historical approach to understanding how we are where we are. It is not a universal history or a cultural prospectus for a better world. A better world cannot wait for the creation and development of better people. Simply put, we need to develop better understanding of ourselves, and to create better living conditions that do not set us against each other so regularly. The first of these tasks is the area traditionally associated with religion, the second with politics. This is the starting point in any understanding of their conflict and its hardy persistence.
There will be no victories in religion; there will be no end to politics. A variety of world-views will persist. Interests, personal and economic, will endure; identities will still feel real, even if they are elective and/or fictitious; opinions will still be held passionately, even if they are based on too much personal experience, or too little objective information. We still face potential conflict within any form of society yet invented, and there have been many, many such models by now. The average constitution written since 1787 is reckoned to have lasted fourteen years. Weapons are more available than ever, and in more and more destructive versions. All economic activity produces potential winners, and thus also losers.
We have fought, we are fighting. Will we still be fighting in the future? Over what exactly, and why? The thinking set out on this site is an attempt to address these questions.