The Roman Empire ended. Today the US Empire is ending. The Chinese Empire is ending. What is left of the Russian Empire is ending. Likewise ending is what is left of the British Empire, the French Empire, The Dutch Empire, the German Empire. Indeed, our era of ending is more extreme than the Roman demise. This time civilization itself is ending. The top-down, hierarchical, patron, patriarchal mode of social organization is ending in the minds and actions of individual persons. It is also coming unglued in the social practices of communities and nations. It is being replaced with various forms of more democratic and ecologically sane practices. Civilization as a mode of social organization is unsustainable on planet Earth in the 21st Century. Civilization is dying, and there is nothing that can to done to save it. The defenders of civilization (including its gross inequalities and ecological foolishness) are strong and passionate, but they are on the losing side of a viable future for humanity.
The end of civilization need not mean that humanity is ending. Only that portion of humanity that is clinging to civilization is ending. Humanity can continue, but only without civilization. Just as the fall of the Roman empire was followed by a new imperial effort eventually called the Holy Roman Empire or Christendom, so the end of civilization can be followed by a post-civilization mode of social organization. We have a feeling for what that would be, but there will be many surprises. And the true gifts for human living created during the era of civilization need not be lost. These gifts can pass on to the builders of post-civilization just as the gifts of the Roman Empire passed on to the builders of the Holy Roman Empire. So it is not the various gifts of civilization that are dying. We can keep our cell phones, our computers, and perhaps even some form of energy-driven private transportation. But the frame of civilization is going away, and it is not coming back.
How do we know this How do we know that the defenders of civilization will not win How do we know that a confused and lazy humanity will not fail to build an alternative to civilization First of all, we know or can know that civilization is no longer a workable mode of social organization. Saving civilization is a futile project. Reality itself has already assigned civilization to the tomb. The only question that remains is whether humanity will join civilization in this impending extinction. Perhaps humanity will abandon civilization and opt for something better. Do we really think that humanity is so stupid, so lacking in creativity, so estranged from our authentic love of Reality that we will opt to die with civilization rather than create something better It is true that the majority of people are currently out of touch with what is so. But I for one (and millions of others) do not choose to join them. Perhaps those of us who are awakening and are awakening others will fail to complete our work to a sufficient degree to enable our species to enjoy a post-civilization existence. Indeed, history is not a fixed fate. Outcomes depend upon the decisions that people make. The impending, unavoidable end of civilization sets before humanity a choice between life and death. We, humanity, can chose life and live, or we can chose otherwise.
One way our time is different from the time of building a Christian Empire in the midst of Romes demise is that we are not building an empire. We are not building a better civilization. We are not making modifications on the established mode of social organization. We are building a surprise, even to ourselves. We do not yet know what this fully democratic, post-hierarchical, and ecologically sane mode of social existence will look like in most of its details. We will be surprised and even shocked again and again as this process continues.
Not only are we not building a new sort of empire, but what we are building cannot be called Christian. Hopefully, thatglorious future will breathe the Spirit of what is best about Christianity, but what we now call Christianity is just as obsolete as civilization. We know this! The efforts of popes, bishops, clergy, and the dumbed-down conservative Christian masses to preserve Christendom are creating a bubble of reactionary enthusiasm that will crash and burn, precisely because it is so out of touch with Reality, with the very God served by Jesus and Paul and the long string of heroic Christian witnesses. In addition, the liberal reform attempts to repair Christendom are failing, and these futile efforts are boring to the more fully awake among us. In order to have a vital next edition of Christian practice, something very new is required.
Not only will the post-civilization world not be Christian, it will not be Buddhist or Hindu or Jewish or Muslim or Catholic, or Orthodox, or Protestant or Mormon or any other source of authority within the history of religion formation. Each long-standing community of worship has functioned in the lives of people as an authority that provides some security of thought and moral certainty. Such authority is losing its hold on people. The awakening core of humanity is learning to realize that true authority is found only in our own interior experience of what is so. These old authorities are passing away as authorities. Their many insights and useful practices remain, but only as compost within which new plants of religious practice will grow. Each of these traditions does possess some holy compost. The Buddhist gift of meditation that carries us to the depths of inward aliveness shall surely continue to make its contribution. And the Christian and Jewish passion for social justice on this Earth need not perish; it can reach its finest flowering. Similarly imperishable is the gift of Jesus that tells us never to lose hope, but to always count on new life rising from the death of the obsolete. Also enduring is the Native American love of the Earth and its richness, abundance, and magic. We are likewise seeing and may continue to see the incredibly ancient drum beat of African aliveness flourish in our mentally arid cultures. And the yin and yang of societal balance can come forward from its oriental depths to play its part in a post-civilization construction. The recovery of the feminine counts as a deeply religious truth. Whether it be the richness of consciousness and its symbols known to Hinduism or the stark singularity of loyalty to the One Reality known to Islam, all the old gifts can and need to rise again and bless the roots from which post-civilization will grow. Our religious practices will surely remain diverse, each of us drinking more heavily from one tradition than from others, but all religious insight and practices are facing the challenge of deep changes for the impending new era.
Human life is not over, not yet, perhaps not until the planet boils in the heat of an expanding sun. And religion is not over; nor is education or morality or economics or politics. Yet in a comparatively short time, nothing will remain of that top-down, nature-estranged, woman-demeaning, hierarchical-wealth-indulged-poverty-stricken catastrophe called civilization.
Yes, it will take a few more lifetimes for civilization to finish dying. And that is fast: the Roman Empire took four hundred years longer to die than Paul, Jesus, and John the Baptist thought it would. When Christians built Christendom they were doing what had to be done. They did not have the option of building a post-civilization. They did have the option of building a better civilization. What they built had its flaws, including all the flaws of civilization we still endure. But a new impetus for change toward realism was set in motion. We err to demean the lives of those creative persons who in a dark age turned on some light for a better civilization.
The creative citizens of Christendom struggled for fifteen centuries with the conflict betweencivilization and the Spirit of Christ. This struggle became organizationally explicit when Luther and Calvin and a string of others fully realized that even a Pope could become a child of that same Satan that ruled classical Rome. Many Christians have known that the fall of Adam and Eve pictures an ongoing event in our contemporary lives, instead of merely a tragic beginning. As fast as human authenticity can build anew, human inauthenticity can create new illusions and new despair. Yet we who are awakening know that inauthenticity does not have the last word or the last act in our human drama. Reality and authenticity wins in the end because lies cannot last, while Truth is everlasting.
Finally, we must acknowledge that the truth of the possibility of success for a post-civilization mode of living for the human species may not be accepted. Being post-civilized is an overwhelmingly awesome choice, for it means dying to the patterns we have assumed were necessary and opening to a truth that requires some intense working through. Humanity may attempt to go on living a while longer in the lie of civilization. Such a choice will not succeed in preserving civilization; it will only postpone and make the transition to something else more costly. Indeed, the cost could become horrendous for the human species. In the worse case scenario, the everlasting Truth might have to go on without us. Perhaps some other species will inherit the job of glorifying life on Earth.
For some of the sociological details of this massive and surprising transition, many good books have already been written one by myself together with Ben Ball, Marsha Buck, Ken Kreutziger, and Alan Richard entitled, The Road from Empire to Eco-Democracy.
On the Christian religion aspects of this transition, I have spelled out my sense of this in two other books: The Call of the Awe: Rediscovering Christian Profundity in an Interreligious Era and Jacobs Dream: A Christian Inquiry into Spirit Realization. I consider these three books to be, not conclusions, but prompts toward the consensus that the awakening ones among us are building.
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