There was a book by Reay Tannahill, years ago, titled Sex In History. It was a fascinating read, but the overall impression I gained from reading it is that traditional American views on sex are historically-atypical and grotesque perversions of the rather more commonsense views and practices of sex in different cultures throughout history — and most startling of all is our complete ignorance of how utterly parochial our views are.
It’s much the same with religion. The chief clue, in my mind, is in the Roman Latin root for religion, religio, which derives from the root ligare, or bond, and could (in my mind, at least) be viewed as “re-binding.”
Consider: among band hunter/gatherers, the band is the family bond. Simple. Intimate. Co-dependent for survival. There are origin stories that vary from band to band, but are passed down as traditional stories in a context of simple survival needs. There are rules that vary for swapping men and women with other bands, to prevent inbreeding: rules range from trade to warfare. This model moves fairly well into pastoral societies, which herd, but are generally migratory. But as soon as you form an agricultural society, you are stuck in one place. You have to become more militant to defend the land, and then you end up attracting other bands and tribes that are starving because they have become too populous and have stripped Eden of its treasures, so you either have to kill them, drive them away, or appropriate them into your culture. Only the latter is stable in the long run. So you have to re-bind them under a common origin story.
Re-read the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) in this light. Cain and Abel, the farmer and the hunter, where the farmer (the agriculturalist) slew the hunter (the tribal band) and was then expelled from Eden to till the soil. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and their interaction with, and assimilation under, the great agricultural civilization of Egypt. Moses, their independence from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and eventual creation of an Israelite Kingdom. It’s all there: the birth of “civilization.”
Agricultural villages give way to city-states, which give way to kingdoms, which give way to empires, which give way to nation-states. Every increase in scope requires a new organizational structure, and a new re-binding under some kind of common origin story.
Catholic (universal) Christianity was the great binding story of the late Roman Empire, and as that empire split between East and West in decades after Constantine, the Catholic story broke into the Roman and Orthodox varieties. The Roman Church grew deeply corrupt as the remains of the Western Empire fell and then rebuilt, and was challenged repeatedly by “heresies” — many (all?) of which were reform efforts targeting the corruption. The Protestant Heresy successfully broke off in the 16th and 17th centuries, and created an entirely new model of belonging, with allegiance to “individual conscience” carrying an equal stature to the Word of God and the Authority of the Church, enabling the creation of an increasingly technological/economic/secular society.
The United States — post-1776 — was one of those secular societies, and one of the first European societies (I believe) to prohibit religion as a basis for governance. It was aided in this by the utterly fragmentary nature of Protestantism, owing to its elevation of individual conscience. In the US, diverse religions sprang up like weeds: Mormonism; Christian Science; Theosophy; various Fundamentalism(s). None recognized any contrary religious authority. None had secular authority to force acceptance of its own religious authority.
So what did the US do to re-bind its individual elements, and tribes, and religions?
I think it’s this word, “Liberty,” which only has meaning in the context of its antonym, “Tyranny.”
“Tyranny” was the iron hand of the Roman Empire. It was the brutal corruption of the Roman Church. It was the wars of all the European Monarchs, and most notably (for the US), the Damned British Empire. When the Leninists decided to create a worker’s paradise based on a totalitarian model, it was the Damned Communists. And then, of course, the Damned Nazis in Germany. And the Damned Japanese Empire.
Since 1991, when the Damned Soviet Union fell, what Tyranny are we fighting? What binds us as a people? What ARE we, in the absences of either a coherent religion, or a nation fighting Tyranny?
What does “Liberty” even mean?
I think what is happening right now in the US is EXTREMELY deep.