Atheists – my crowd, though I never tire of giving them shit – like blaming religion, specifically monotheism, for all the ills it advocates and assists in spreading in society. There is no need to go over the list, right? They accuse it of causing most wars, of assisting the spread of AIDS in Africa, of persecuting homosexuals, of spreading harmful ideas about human sexuality and the human condition, etc.
And it’s all true, but religion is merely an agent here, not the cause. If they want to blame anything, they should be blaming life, evolution, the human condition. Ideas – memes – evolve in response to evolutionary pressure, and we can do nothing about it. Religion does not choose to evolve, people don’t choose to advance certain ideas over others, there is no choice involved. You cannot control the physical forces that create your thoughts and your personality, and similarly, you cannot control the forces that mold society.
Resisting the commonly accepted ways will result in failure to survive, so the ones that survive are the ones that comply.
Richard Carrier, in this podcast, talks about science and general political trends in the late Roman Empire. It appears that all the negative trends that we tend to associate with Christianity and with religion in general – like anti-intellectualism – already existed in Pagan society, and that the introduction of Christianity had been more a response to this social change than the cause of it.
And, BTW – polytheism (paganism) is also a religion (or a broad definition for a whole category of religions and belief systems). Monotheism is simply more centralized, suited for empires, its ‘evils’ are more pronounced, but this is no reason to idealize polytheism.
Unless you wanna take society back into the Stone Age (animism and early polytheism), to which I say: why not?
Carrier also compared the conditions in the Roman Empire following the crisis of the 3rd century AD to those of the Wiemar Republic (the entity that preceded Nazi Germany) in the 20’s and 30’s: an economic depression (which, in Rome, lasted 50 years), the same draconian measures undertaken by the state to control it, the same extremist thinking emerging as a result, which culminated, in Rome, with the adoption of Christian totalitarianism.
History repeats itself, but the patterns of this repetition are not simple.