All human societies have some form of belief system, usually based in the supernatural or in unexplained mysteries. People who study these things think that belief is one of the earliest modern human traits. Language and religion, the formalization of belief, most likely evolved together. That certainly makes sense. Religion has always been a handy store of knowledge and language is the way in which it can be transported from one generation to the next. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for both to coexist.
That is speculative, but what is not speculative is that all known people have had something we would consider to be a faith system. Primitive people have primitive belief systems, usually based in natural phenomenon like the seasons and elements. American Indians have a whole collection of deities based in nature. More complex societies create more complex myths, legends and belief structures. The Greeks and Romans had very complex systems. Christianity, obviously, is a rich and complex belief system.
We in the modern West tend to think we have moved past this stuff. The educated classes, while not willing to say they are atheists, scoff at the religious. The most you will get from the upper classes is the line about being spiritual, but not religious. The truth is, Western elites are believers like all people in all times, maybe more so. It’s just that their beliefs are informal and ad hoc. The people toting canvas sacks to the market are doing so because our better say nature demands it of us.
Belief systems describe a people. The ancient Egyptians had a highly complex belief system like many ancient people. Their religion, however, was unique in that it was entirely focused on the afterlife. They did not make sacrifices and pray for the here and now. They built monuments, complex burial systems and temples in order to prepare the living for the after life. There is a good argument that this focus on the after life is what allowed the Egyptians to keep their culture going for 3,000 years.
On the other hand, the Greeks were not very concerned about the after life. Their focus was on the here and now. The gods interfered in the lives of men, so it made sense to focus devotion on swaying the gods to act on your behalf or against the interests of your enemies. The Greeks did have the concept of an afterlife, but it was not the focus of their belief system. Immortality for man was possible by having sons, who would carry his name, or dying for his polis, which would live on and remember his name.
The Greeks may have been more concerned with the present, when it came time to worshipping the gods, but they had a nice long run, roughly 1000 years. It was not as if they were hedonists, living only in the moment. Even so, this focus on the now had some odd results. For instance, we know just about every Egyptian ruler and his deeds. We even have some of their corpses. The Dorian Greeks, on the other hand, burned their kings, as well as any record of them. We know nothing about them as a result.
This brings up an important point about our present age. The cult of Gaia, for example, is long on rhetoric about the future, but its focus is on present virtue. The greens are not trying preserve the environment for future generations. They are hoping their efforts snuff out future generations. The same is true of anti-racism and multiculturalism. These are all about the present. Calling them suicide cults is useful rhetoric, but in fact our virtuous rulers don’t think past tomorrow. it’s all about grace today.
This is particularly true with regards to migration. Nationalists like to cook up complex theories as to why our rulers are wedded to the idea of mass immigration. Some say it is cheap labor. Other say it is cheap votes. Still others see it as spite. All of those things are true, but the real motivation is virtue. Instead of a public ceremony where they sacrifice a bull or consecrate a church, inviting in the poor and downtrodden is the big public act of virtue. The consequences are down the road. The grace is today.
It’s not just vanity. We are the first people to have no conception of an afterlife. Even the Greeks believed in the after life and they believed there was judgement of souls. They may not have made that the focus of their faith, but they still believed there was something beyond this life. This spiritual hopelessness of Western elites may be why the Cloud People couch everything in terms of personal fulfillment and self-actualization. It is a way of crossing the River Styx without actually believing in it.
The nuttiness of modern elite culture may simply be a neurosis arising from the conflict between the natural, bone deep desire of man to be remembered, colliding with the lack of any reason to be remembered. Even the humblest of men will carve his name into a tree or scratch his name on his prison wall. “I was here” is the primal scream. Today, that impulse has no cultural vessel into which it can flow. The lonely barren spinster yells “I was here” and the only thing that happens is the cat stirs and then goes back to sleep.
Maybe this is it for us. Maybe there is no tomorrow for the West.