Previous Page/Table Of ContentsNext Page

The beginning of this section can't be said better than Will and Ariel Durants' 1968 book, The Lessons of History, Chapter XII, on pages 92 and 93:

A universal right to education should "develop standards of excellence and taste" in everyone, regardless of circumstances. That right thus becomes the first bastion against the long decline that leads to barbarism. However, that "inalienable right" is meaningless if the standards of educational excellence are allowed to degrade. The barbarism invades more slowly, but it advances nonetheless.
One unique attribute of Western Civilization is that its end times have available a mass media for communicating with the barbarians within, and this at least gives us the opportunity to attempt to instill those "standards of excellence and taste" in the masses. No previous civilization had either the methodology or the motivation to attempt to reverse the advance of barbarism within its own citizenry; or if reversal is not possible, to at least plant the seeds of a grand replacement for Western Civilization.
The centerpiece of the above quotation is the first three sentences of the second paragraph, which I repeat here for emphasis:

This is the other edge of the sword. To be totally obvious, the first edge is that a failure to educate the masses leads inevitably to a failure of those masses "to inherit or develop standards of excellence and taste." The opposite edge is the quote, above.
Is this problem unresolvable? Is it impossible to have an educated mass of lower class individuals who will conform their behavior to a moral code without divine surveillance and sanctions? In other words, is an ignorant and eventually barbarous mass of mindless religious believers a prerequisite to a maintenance of social order?
This book is, in large part, an expression of my own hope in the development of a truly new social order which can stare the Universe in the eye without blinking, and without the need of supernatural assistance. Why should this ability be reserved for only those of the upper classes? Obviously, there is no universal rule which demands that this be true. This result is merely the consequence of the repetitive trials humanity has repeated from time to time throughout recorded history. Even God is an imperfect guardian because there have always been those who did not care about the consequences of evil deeds. Is there not an idea which is better than God?
Clearly, there have been utopian plans before, but none have gained favor with any significant number of people for any significant amount of time to give any such utopian plan a fair test.99
While we have yet to choose a direction, the road map is clearly before us. On the final two pages of The Lessons of History, the Durants state:

So much for the first edge of the sword. The task, then, is to defeat the second edge. We must find a theology which does not lose credence as education spreads.100 That theology must embrace all life and ideas so that they may never become secular. Finally, we must find a moral code that will hold its force in spite of its human origin and without divine surveillance and sanctions as its enforcer. In a play on the old Mission Impossible television series, this is mankind's assignment, should we choose to accept it.

99 I am all but ignoring Communism when making this statement. There was never any honest attempt at implementing the alleged utopian ideals of Communism. Instead, those utopian ideals were used in lieu of a religion. So, instead of religion being the opiate of the masses, Communism used its own alleged utopian ideals as the opiate of its masses. (see The Lessons of History, page 51.) Besides, Communism was only in power for three quarters of a century (roughly 1917 to 1992). Finally, as Clement Attlee said: "[Russian Communism is] the illegitimate child of Karl Marx and Catherine the Great." (Speech at Aarhus University, June 14, 1957, quoted in the London Times the next day.) Thus, there was never any attempt at "pure" communism, and it could not have worked if there had been.

100 This is what is occurring with Christianity. The writings of biblical scholars like John Dominic Crossan, which de-mystifies much of the life of Jesus, actually contribute to the decline of Christianity. The reactionaries of the Christian "Right" recognize this, and they strongly agitate for teaching the literal truth of the Bible in our schools, beginning with the teaching of creationism. I strongly believe that this divisive debate actually drives more people away from Christianity than it ends up attracting to the fundamentalist cause.

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

Please send us your feedback!

Previous Page/Table Of ContentsNext Page