You surely noted how a new religion is being born right in front of our eyes. It includes a complete set of sacrifices, rituals, canons, saints, prayers, and competition of good and evil. It does not officially include the belief in an all-powerful God, but it worships an abstract entity called «Science.» We may define it as «Scientism.»
The problem is that there are evil aspects of religion. Witch hunts, human sacrifices, fanatic cultists, the Spanish inquisition, suicide bombers, and more. Even moderate religions, such as Christianity, can be perfectly evil when they try to scare you into submission, or use force or deception for the same purpose.
So, what kind of religion is Scientism, good or evil? It may be both as it keeps changing and adapting to an evolving situation in which humankind is facing enormous challenges, from resource depletion to ecosystem collapse. Scientism may be understood as a desperate, last-ditch reaction to these threats, but it may well worsen the situation. It is normal when humans try to control complex systems.
In the following, I propose to you my thoughts on this point. Sorry that it is a long story (some 5000 words). I am also sorry that it is focused mostly on Christianity in Western Europe — it is a subject I have studied in some detail and I will use ancient Roman history as a mirror in which to see our own future. But I do believe that what I propose is valid also for other regions and other religions.
In 250 AD, Emperor Decius issued a law that obliged all Roman citizens to make public sacrifices to the traditional Roman deities, including the Emperor himself as a living God. Refusal to do so enticed stiff penalties, even death. The government spared no effort to make sure that nobody could escape. The sacrifice had to take place in the presence of witnesses and a public officer would issue a «libellus,» a certificate attesting that the sacrifice had been performed.
We have a detailed description of these events from Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who tells us in his «De Lapsis» how the Roman authorities played on the responsibility of the Romans toward the state and their fellow citizens. This tactic of persuasion had a certain success: many Christians lapsed into idolatry rather than face death or ruin. But but some resisted and offered their lives as martyrs (witnesses) of the Christian faith. Cyprian himself was martyred in a later persecution ordered by Emperor Valerian (*).
Monetary economies and the associated states arose from the ancient tradition of gift-giving. With trade becoming widespread, metals started being used as a compact and portable form of commodity. We have evidence of metal trading as early as in the 3rd millennium before our era. From the 6th century BCE, coinage became a diffuse technology in Eurasia. «Money» soon acquired the form of standardized metal disks, gold or silver coins, with an impressed image that guaranteed their title and their value. These coins were a practical form of communication even among people who did not share a language.
Already in ancient times, money and the state were strictly linked to each other. The state produced precious metals from mines and minted coins. The state also levied taxes, so it got back from the citizens the money it spent. It is the same nowadays, even though money is not anymore based on metals but it became «currency,» an entity created by obscure virtual processes carried out by the «financial system» on behalf of the state. The triad of money, markets, and the state has been the powerhouse of human social systems during the past 5,000 years, and it still is.
If we see human society as a complex network of nodes (single human beings) linked to each other, we can say that money is a «vertical» kind of empathy, that is a one-directional kind of communication where someone gives orders and someone else executes them. Money tends to generate a hierarchy simply because people have different amounts of it and those who have more money tend to rule over those who have less. Inequality tends to increase as states go through their cycles of decline (and, as Seneca the Stoic said: growth is sluggish, but ruin is rapid).
The interaction between state and religion goes through cycles of dominance and interdependency. When the state is strong, it tends to dismiss or suppress religion. When the state goes through a phase of decline, money is expensive to produce and, more than all, in order to work there needs to exist a market where those who have money can buy something. If the economy collapses, money disappears. And, with it, the state. Then, religion appears as a cheaper form of social networking and the state discovers that it needs to enlist it as support in order to survive. Over time, the state may become so weak that religion takes over as the structure that manages society. It happened when the Western Roman Empire collapsed.
These cycles tend to repeat themselves and we may now be in a situation in which the declining power of the state generates the necessity of new forms of religions. The one that seems to be emerging out of the battle of memes is called «Scientism.»
4. The rise and fall of Scientism
Scientism arose as a set of ideas related to the rapid economic and technological developments of the Renaissance. The founder is often said to have been Galileo Galilei, who found himself in conflict with the Catholic Church and underwent a minor form of martyrdom — as it is fit to the founders of new religions.
At the time of Galileo, during the 17th century, the Church still had the upper hand in the conflict, but things changed with Charles Darwin and his idea of evolution by natural selection, in the mid 19th century. Soon, European leaders found that a distorted version of Darwinism could be used to justify their worldwide dominance. The idea that Europeans were a superior race, destined to rule all the others grew into an official position of several governments during the 20th century, with some of them actively engaging in the extermination of «inferior races» and unfit individuals as an act of racial hygiene. Of course, Darwin never ever remotely intended his ideas to be understood in that way, actually, they are perfectly compatible with the Christian religious views. But that’s the way the human mind works.
Scientism gained enormous prestige during the 20th century. Nuclear weapons became Scientism’s paradigmatic divinities. The associated spectacular liturgy of powerful explosions menaced (and in two cases obtained) human sacrifices on a scale never seen before. In time, Scientism moved into an even more powerful set of rituals, those involving the modification of the very nature of human beings, also called «genetic engineering.»
Yet, up to relatively recent times, Western states maintained a dalliance with Christianity as their state religion. But things are rapidly changing as the Western states reach the limits of the natural resources they exploit. It is a condition that normally goes unrecognized, but its effects are clear to everybody. The increasing costs of exploitation of natural resources appear in the form of deep financial troubles.
So far, the cure to the problem has been «fiat money,» that, unlike precious metal coins, can be created out of thin air. We may be running out of minerals, but for sure we won’t ever run out of virtual currency. The problem is that without a market, money of any kind is useless. And a market needs resources to be created. That’s the unsolvable problem faced today by the Global Empire.
At present, money is being progressively siphoned away from the commoners to the elites, who still have access to a market and can continue playing the game of conspicuous consumption (very conspicuous, nowadays). At the same time, the number of those who have zero money, presently known as the «deplorables,» increases. Lockdowns are used to give the surviving members of the Middle Class the illusion that they still have money and that it is just a temporary situation that of not being able to spend it. But a larger and larger fraction of the population is being pushed out of the economic system into a limbo in which they survive only as long as the elites are able and willing to provide doles for them. And nobody can say for how long.
The ultimate inflation occurs when there is nothing you can buy, money simply ceases to exist (or, if you like, its value becomes zero). With it, there goes the «vertical» empathy network that keeps the state together. And the state disappears. We are not there, yet, but this is the moment in which the state desperately needs the support of religion. And it seems that Western states are dumping Christianity for Scientism, by now officially the state religion almost everywhere in the world. (**)
Scientism has been so successful in this new role because the state has been using its brute force in the form of mass propaganda to exploit the basic characteristic of all religions: creating empathic bonds among people who don’t understand each other’s language. The complexification of society has created specialized fields of knowledge that use different, mutually incomprehensible jargons. Scientism links together all the resulting Babel under a single banner, «trust science.» Reliance on the «experts» replaces the need for understanding different sets of ideas.
The result is that the faithful are not required to know anything of the complex rituals performed by the adepts. In fact, scientists abhor the idea of «citizen science» and they tend to believe that Science must be left to scientists only. Lay people are asked to express their acceptance of the new religion by participating in a liturgy that involves jabs, face masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and more.
The new liturgy seems to have been remarkably successful: the faithful are genuinely convinced that they are doing what they do as a service to others. It is the magic of «horizontal» empathy. People like to help others, it is a built-in behavior of the human psyche that has been hijacked by the creators of the new religion. Scientism, as it is now, is a remarkable success of social engineering.
Unfortunately for the promoters of Scientism, there are enormous problems with their idea. One is that it can be defined as a «granfalloon,» to use Kurt Vonnegut’s term for «a proud and meaningless collection of human beings.» Even though many people see the new liturgy as a service for others, Scientism’s rituals need to be imposed by the government by means of stiff penalties. It is the same as when the Roman Government imposed sacrifices to the Emperor on pain of death. We haven’t arrived at that for the disbelievers of Scientism, so far, but we are clearly sliding in that direction.
A religion that needs to be imposed by force is doomed from the beginning. It means that it cannot create a stable kind of horizontal empathy» natural for human beings. You cannot create it on the basis of the idea that humans are filthy, germ-carrying bags, that need to be kept at a distance from each other or locked in cages. And masked people cannot really speak to each other, they are only expected to receive orders from above. It is a brutish form of «vertical» empathy, based on the powerful giving orders to the powerless. As it happened at the time of the Roman persecutions of Christians, people may lapse into formally surrendering in order to survive, but they remain ready to toss away the veneer of political correctness on the first occasion. Scientism may be already starting an irreversible decline, pushed down by its own supporters who bombard people from TV screens with sentences such as «trust science.»
Another enormous problem with Scientism is that it requires years of training for the adepts («researchers») to make them able to perform the complex liturgy required («scientific experiments»), also because they need expensive liturgic equipment («instrumentation»). The whole contraption is simply impossible to keep together in a society that’s rapidly sliding down to economic collapse.
The Catholic Church lasted for nearly two thousand years, Communism (that the Italian Catholic writer Lorenzo Milani termed «a page torn out of the Christian books») lasted less than a century. Will scientism last more than a decade? And if not, what will come afterward?
5. The future of religion
You see in the image a group of Italian workers in the city of Trieste protesting against the restrictions imposed by the government, this October, before they were dispersed by the police using hydrants, tear gas, and sticks. Note how some of them were holding a rosary in their hands. Not usual for protesting workers, normally supposed to be godless leftists. But you see how things change: some old ideologies have completely lost their grip on the people they were supposed to represent and now we see old values and ideas re-emerging. This image shows how Christianity may return to its original form of a way to protect ordinary people from the excesses of a totalitarian government.
Of course, at present, Western Christianity has taken a completely submissive stance in front of the onrush of the triumphing Scientism, but that may change in the future and there is evidence of the growth of a new strong opposition. It is the same for the other major world religions, Islam, Buddhism, and others.
Then, there is the possibility of new forms of religion. Gaianism is a movement on the rise that includes some elements of ancient Paganism, and the same is true for the Wiccan movement. Right now, these are mostly intellectual fads. Especially Gaianism seems to be making the same mistakes that traditional churches are doing, that is subservience to Scientism. Unless we develop a strong and compelling Gaian liturgy, Gaianism risks becoming little more than a public relations agency for companies involved in greenwashing. Right now, Gaia works as influencer for an Italian chain of supermarkets.
What we need is a higher form of empathy that involves relations not just among human beings, but among all living creatures as well. Maybe it could take completely and unexpected new forms: religion is, after all, is just a tool to attain empathy and enlightment. So, could we perhaps revitalize Scientism returning it to its original meaning «natural phylosophy»? Not impossible but not easy, either. Centuries ago, St. Francis tried to revitalize a corrupt Christian church by eliminate the very source of corruption: money. It didn’t work, but today there are proposal to replace money with forms of «social credit» which are not controlled by the state, at least not directly. So, how about using Google to create empathy via social credit? Could the new religion be called «Googlism?» Who knows?
Or might it be that we could go along without any form of religion and be what we are and we have been over our history? Simply human. Imagine!
(**) Note that scientism as state religion is the political opposite of «Technocracy.» In a technocracy, science dominates the government but in this case the government dominates science
– The Seneca Effect Read More