–The central tenant of the purveyors of the scientific method was that they were not using the tools of religion. Even well-known Christians who were advocates of fact-based, scientific philosophies, such as Francis Bacon in the 16th century, explained they were not using Christianity, religion, or faith to conduct their experiments, but rather, they argued that they were using purely ‘objective reasoning’. From the very beginning of the Enlightenment, few Christians even seemed to notice that their own Christian brethren were denigrating their religion by distinguishing their fact-based approach from Christianity; the god fearing scientists, by saying they were not using anything remotely ‘religious’, were essentially setting themselves up for others to put religion in the corner of ‘blind faith’ and science in the corner of ‘objective fact’.
It didn’t take long for scientific historians to reject the origin stories and symbols of religion and begin replacing them with ‘factual’ origin stories and histories of humanity. It didn’t matter that the ‘facts’ of history that these historians would assemble were filled with contradictions, falsehoods, and in some cases outright lies, such things didn’t matter because they proudly declared; ‘at least we don’t have blind faith like the silly Christians, but rather we use objective scientific methodology!”
As we have seen, the term ‘modernity’ is often meant to describe the way modern people in the new world think more rationally, intellectually, and scientifically than humans in the old world, yet as is evident, modern people are no more rational or intellectual whatsoever. The key change that occurred between the old world and the new, is that in the old-world, religion wasn’t a four-letter word; it was always understood that religion was simply a component of human nature. The true change that occurred in the new world is that modernity replaced religion with Not-Religion.
Replacing thousands of years of religious narratives and symbols with a new Not-Religion is no small task, and no better example of how it can be done can be found than Chairman Mao, the leader of Chinese communism for more than forty years during the 20th century. Chairman Mao was arguably one of the greatest tyrants that ever walked the earth, and his reign resulted in the deaths of nearly a hundred million of his own people; throughout China’s new communist experience it became normative for the innocent to be imprisoned, the masses to go hungry, the Christians to be executed, and for children to be taught to turn on their parents. In the midst of all this terror, how could such an evil man stay in power for as long as he did; the answer is Mao’s Not-Religion. Central to his forty years of rule was the manner in which he replaced the old religion of China with his new Not-Religion called communism, a Not-Religion in which Mao would serve as the great prophet-priest ruler over all the people; it would be through his mouth that the oracles would be spoken that the people would come to believe as gospel.
First Mao replaced the symbols of the old religion with the symbols of the new; One of his first initiatives was to outlaw all traditional forms of Chinese clothing in every day work life. Essentially, it was against the law to wear the clothing styles of one’s parents and grandparents to work or school, any clothing that connected people to their cultural and religious heritage was banned. Mao replaced the traditional and religious clothing with the new communist uniform; the military uniform became the fashion of Mao’s cultural revolution.
Once traditional and religious clothing were discarded, Mao then ordered his Red Guard to destroy all the historical sites and cultural relics; (just as we see in our day) a denigration of the old religion and culture was a chief order of business for Mao’s new Not-Religion. All such icons and monuments were replaced with icons of communism; statues of Mao, pictures of Mao, and other communist iconography.
Of course, what is a Not-Religion without a religious text; next Mao wrote out what would be called the Little Red Book, essentially it was the bible of Mao’s communist sayings and aphorisms for the people to live by and memorize, and it was the central text in all the communist schools throughout China. The Little Red Book was quoted throughout China in everyday conversation and at meetings among the communist party just as Christians might have a bible study, or Hindus might quote the Vedas.
Having replaced the old symbols with new symbols, and replaced the old religious texts with Mao’s bible, it then became necessary to give the people a hero. All ancient religions have heroes for the people to learn from and exemplify; because Mao’s Not-Religion was brand new, it was essential for him to create a hero for the people to model their lives after; enter Lei Feng. Whether or not Lei Feng was an actual real person we will never know. What we do know is that the life of Lei Feng became the symbol of Mao’s communist ideal; Lei Feng is the story of a young man born into poverty, an orphan, who rises in the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army of China and is a man who is the very embodiment of selflessness in favor of the common good. Even more striking his that Lei Feng’s story demonstrates the positive impact that Mao’s writings will have on those who dedicated their lives to reading him devotionally. Throughout the course of his life Lei Feng finds moral principles and inner strength from dutifully reading Mao’s literature and committing himself to honoring and obeying all that Mao instructed. Lei Feng had no desire for materialism, but instead realized the noble life was one sacrificed for the common good; especially a life that was lived in sacrifice for Chairman Mao.
By breaking up the various elements of the narrative that connected children to their grandparents and life before communism, by changing their clothes, replacing their monuments and symbols, giving them a new holy book, and showing them a hero; Mao was essentially attempting to wipe the memories of the children clean; as if to create an entire generation of amnesiacs who had forgotten their origin, and who were taught an entirely new Not-Religion. What Mao did was really no different than what ancient cultures had been practicing for thousands of years. In antiquity, it was rather common for a Pharaoh of Egypt to blot out the name of an adversary on every monument, stone, tablet, and papyrus where he or she’s name was written, effectively killing the memory of the person, it was as though they never lived. Neither was this limited to Egyptian rulers either, as Kings and Queens of Persia and other ancient cultures regularly erased the names of their opponents, effectively rewriting history.
The difference with ancient Pharaoh’s and kings is that they were aware of what they were doing; choosing one religion over another or choosing one god over another. Mao believed he was doing something new; replacing the sacred with the secular, replacing the false stories of religion with the true stories that were based on ‘fact’. Yet only an impartial view could ever deny that Mao had instituted a new Not-Religion. Mao was simply imitating the act of kings and queens of old; squashing his enemies by creating a new Not-Religion to replace that which he hated.
Mao rewrote history and gave his people a new Not-Religion. He told them there was no God that existed, all that exists are the ‘facts’ that Mao presented to his people. Gone was self-evident truth. Gone was the ability to think about the terror that Mao brought to his country; having effectively replaced the old way of thinking with a new fact-based philosophy, the people had difficulty remembering the old concepts and old constructs and thereby had a difficult time being able to critically analyze what Mao was doing. For the many detractors, a great many of them Christians, who preached a different religion than Mao, they were promptly imprisoned and executed, millions of deaths were a ‘minor’ causality when it came to creating a new cultural revolution.
The Not-Religion Mao inserted into China and the manner in which he replaced old symbols with new symbols was repeated throughout much of the communist world; Russia, Cuba, Vietnam, and other countries used similar tactics to varying degrees of success. While the symbols and political ideology differed from one country to the next, the process of religion replacement always involved the same fundamental steps.
In the non-communist countries replacing the old-world religions with a new Not-Religion involved more subtlety, especially since the non-communist societies allowed the people varying degrees of liberty; it was essential then for the people to think they were freely choosing the Not-Religion rather than force it upon them in the top-down manner of the communists.
At the core of instituting the new Not-Religion in Western Culture was convincing the masses that the scientific method had led to modernity; in other words, students were taught that ‘science’ had free the human mind from old world religious bias. Students could not believe they were being taught a new religion, but rather they had to be convinced they were being taught Not-Religion. And because religion is natural to human nature, this new Not-Religion needed all the forms of religion in order for men and women to embrace it wholeheartedly; an origin story, symbols, oracles, and priests were all vital components necessary to spreading this new Not-Religion across the landscape.
Throughout the 20th century the American educational system experienced more fact-based changes than at any other period of educational history. Literally overnight, the classical trivium (Grammar, Latin, and Rhetoric) which was based on self-evident truths and had been the sole educational philosophy right up to the early 20th century, was thrown out and replaced with entirely new scientific subjects; the classical study of nature was replaced with fact-based biology, the origin stories of old-world religion and nations were replaced with fact-based history rooted in Enlightenment philosophy, classical math which was based on reason and logic was replaced with the mere fact-based memorization of mathematical formulas with little reason given to the students as to why they needed to memorize the formulas. Every old-world educational subject was replaced with a new fact-based subject.
Most importantly, instead of rearing students to think about ideas with classical logical and rhetoric, the students were taught to simply memorize ‘facts’ for endless quizzes and tests they would take; it was not necessary for the students to remember the facts after the test was over, since by next year the ‘facts’ would be different anyways! In the old-world students were taught rhetoric and logic as a way of creating men and women who grappled with ideas, in the new world students were taught to memorize facts and this created entire generations of people who were malleable in the hands of the fact-based leaders; they could sway the people to do or say whatever they commanded by the introduction of new ‘facts’.
As the new education of the Not-Religion took hold of American society over the span of the 20th century, by the time the new millennium dawned, it became clear that multiple generations of America had lost their connection to the old-world religions, old world narratives, and the old-world symbols that had brought stability and unity to society.
Then, at the beginning of the 21st century, as if to confirm that the new fact-based education had taken root in the culture, a new phenomenon began surfacing among many young men and women in America; upon entering adulthood they began to hate their own cultural heritage. It became common to meet young men and women who believed their country was inherently evil; they believed their parents and grandparents to be so close minded that these young adults rejected the religion, politics, and even science of the previous generations. The scientific ‘facts’ that their parents had been taught in the 1950’s to be ‘true beyond the shadow of a doubt’ seemed as stupid to these students as the religion that their grandparents were taught in the 1920’s. The ‘facts’ of the 1950’s were replaced with the ‘facts’ of the new millennium and with every decade of new ‘facts’ each new generation became alienated from the previous.
The phenomena grew to such an extent that eventually these young adults became convinced their country’s forefathers were nothing more than racist, patriarchal pig’s and just like Mao in China or ancient pharaohs of Egypt, the young adults began calling for the removal of monuments, demanding the name change of the nation’s capital since they deemed George Washington to be an evil brute, and the general removal of all the names of those they despised off all stones, buildings, and other such edifices throughout the country.
In the old world, young adults who despised their own country would have been a foreign concept. Even today in the 21st century, if one were to travel to Costa Rica you will meet throngs of young adults who are proud to be Costa Rican, and likewise whether you were to visit the continent of Africa, Asia, or other places throughout the earth you will meet young adults who wear their cultural identity on their sleeves. However, in North America for the past few generations it has become quite commonplace to meet young adults who despise the historical narrative of their family and nation.
While it has always been common for young adults to push back at certain ideas or concepts of their elders, it was never common for an ancient Roman man to hate his own country for the oppression of the Francs or Gauls. Perhaps the old world might have been better if imperial powers were more reticent of the evil of war, but hating war is far different than hating one’s own cultural history.
The new Not-Religion had effectively destroyed the old-world religions and replaced them with a new Not-Religion; the young people were so enthralled with the new Not-Religion that their animus of the old world led them to destroying every vestige of the past they could dismantle.
In communist societies, it was usually the authoritarian elites that had to order the destruction of monuments and symbols of the old-world religions, in Western countries where the Not-Religion had been more covertly taught to the masses, the citizens of their own free accord began rioting and destroying the old-world religion and ideas. Even worse, by destroying the symbols that united different races within a country together, the rioting and destruction of old-world symbols often erupted into race-based warfare; suddenly, racism and bigotry which had seemed to be dissipating over the years, erupted to levels of such brute hostility none could have ever predicted.
As we have seen regarding memory, the more memory we have of our past, whether of our family lineage, or cultural heritage, the more it connects us to a positive sense of identity; without being firmly grounded in the religious and cultural heritage of their past, young adults are like amnesiacs, they are like the students that lived during Mao’s Cultural Revolution; their minds are simply blank and receptive to whatever ‘facts’ are put in their head by the authorities who tell them the ‘facts’ they need to believe.
*Stock Image Arissa Chatasa unsplash.com