13 June 2008


"Imagine there's no religion," John Lennon's Imagine famously invites. What if we went further? What if we imagined there had never been religion at all? That's probably too extreme of a hypothetical. The nature of the human species, mainly our inclination toward pattern recognition, seems to make the development of religion, at least in our infancy as a species, inevitable. But what if we imagine what the world would be like without one specific religion? Say, Christianity?

Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most gifted stylist of the German language and a fascinating philosopher, believed Christianity to be a profound betrayal of the natural order. Born from Judaism, the originator of slave morality (see The Genealogy of Morals), Christianity inverts the natural moral order, replacing the correct dichotomy of good/bad (strength/weakness) with good/evil, changing the moral focus from results to intention. Christianity, after all, famously advances submission, meekness, nonviolence, caring for the poor, etc., all things that run counter to survival of the fittest. Nietzsche hated the religion so much he devoted the first fourth of his planned magnum opus, The Will To Power, to refuting it. This first part, The Antichrist, was all he ever wrote of the planned four books.

So what if Christianity had never existed? Would the western world be in a better state now? There's no way to know for certain, obviously. Chaos theory makes it clear that any change in starting conditions will dramatically and unpredictably alter the final result.

Perhaps a more useful question is will the human race be better off ten, one hundred, one thousand years from now if Christianity goes away? Plenty of thinkers have believed so--Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx, Mill, Ingersoll, Asimov, Clarke, Sagan, Dawkins, Dennett, etc. Moreover, all those men believed the condition of the human race would be much improved if all religion went away. And I think I'd have to add my name to that list.

An interesting question to mull over, regardless of one's beliefs on the subject.

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