one ring to rule them all

Multiculturalism

A successful idea

One of the most successful political ideas in history is multiculturalism. Multiculturalism allows people from different cultures to coexist peacefully under one government. It is an old concept, even though the modern version of multiculturalism is more about respect for other cultures than peaceful coexistence. Under the influence of identity politics, it has become a recipe for division rather than unity. Nevertheless, many successful empires of the past were multicultural states.

Cultures usually do not change in a short timeframe. Leaders of states that conquered other states often allowed subjugated peoples to keep their customs and religions as long as they did not threaten the political and social order. It promoted peace and stability, which improved trade and prosperity. For instance, Cyrus the Great, who ruled around 550 BC, respected the religions and traditions of the different peoples in his empire. He helped the Jews to go back to Palestine and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.

If the empire lasted long enough, the different peoples of an empire could form a common culture and become one. In this way, smaller groups became integrated into larger ones. That happened, for example, in the Roman Empire. Many later Roman emperors came from the provinces such as France, Africa or Arabia. When the empire collapsed, the conquered peoples did not reappear as independent nations.1 The Roman Empire did not have an assimilation strategy, but cultural integration happened nonetheless.

multiculturalism

The case of Bosnia can illustrate the success and the vulnerability of multiculturalism. For over 500 years, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians lived relatively peacefully together under the umbrella of three successive multicultural states. These were the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian Empire, and Yugoslavia. But in the 1990s, identity politics suddenly turned them into Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Serbs, and they started killing each other in a civil war.

Multiculturalism has often been a step towards more unity. There have been temporary reversions as empires collapsed. Still, the long-term trend is unmistakable. The world gradually became more integrated as smaller cultures merged into larger ones. Nowadays, the world is closely interconnected, and a global culture may emerge without conquest. A new unifying religion can accelerate this process like Christianity and Islam did in the past.

So why do many people think multiculturalism is a failure? First, identity politics changed the nature of multiculturalism. Rather than peaceful coexistence, it is now about respect for other cultures. Respect for one person or group is often at the expense of another person or group. It is also hard to see the success of multiculturalism when foreigners come to your country and do not integrate. Large numbers of immigrants can profoundly change the nature of society. Many people currently in Europe and the United States fear that it will not change for the better. That is understandable. Refugees come to Europe and the United States because they see no future in their home countries.

If human civilisation does not collapse, all the peoples are likely to be integrated into a global culture. Multiculturalism can be a step in this direction. There may still be cultural differences in the future, but tribes and nations may lose their meaning. Multiculturalism can provide a framework that allows different cultures to coexist peacefully in the meantime so that forced assimilation is not necessary.

Us and them

Us and them
And after all, we’re only ordinary men
Me and you

Pink Floyd, Us and them

We divide humanity between us and them. Us is the good people, and them is the evil people who act oddly, look differently, have funny accents and wear peculiar outfits. People differ in skin colour, religion, sexual preferences, or other qualities. And that helps us to feel good about ourselves. Even when you think you are open-minded, there are those evil narrow-minded others. Welcome to human nature. Xenophobia is a trait we share. Racism and homophobia are particular expressions of this feature. Many people prefer the company of like-minded individuals and do not like people who are different. The strange people can tell you similar personal stories about bullying, physical violence and exclusion.

Those who do not experience regular bullying and exclusion often fail to understand life under these conditions. That is the meaning of lived experience. For instance, you do not know how it feels to live in a ghetto if you have never lived there yourself. Lived experiences express themselves, for example, in Black Lives Matter, right-wing populism, and #Metoo. These movements highlight the effects of police violence towards blacks, the neglect of the interests of the working class by the elites, and male conduct towards women. But emotions can undermine rational debates. For instance, defunding the police can cause more violence. And right-wing populism is often just anger without a viable perspective for the future. Lived experience is also central to identity politics. More and more groups demand respect for their lived experiences and demand not to be offended by unpleasant facts. It halts progress towards more unity.

If your culture is dominant, you enjoy advantages you may not realise you have. Societies in Western Europe and the United States may be multicultural, but Western culture is dominant. Western culture has such a profound impact on world culture that it may be the most influential culture in the world today. White privilege is being part of the dominant culture. Similar privileges exist for members of dominant cultures in non-Western countries. The most significant cultural advantages do not come from being part of the dominant culture. Some ethnic groups have trouble finding a place in the multicultural society, but others do better than the dominant cultural group.

A multicultural society is a melting pot with growing pains. If it lasts long enough, tribalism may end, and unity may emerge. If we constructively engage the unpleasant facts, then a social contract for the multicultural society can emerge. It can help us to focus on our future together. Adaptation can hurt feelings, and cultural change comes with stress and alienation. It will be painful for everyone, but the existing cultures of today are unfit to meet the challenges of the future. And so, cultural change will be about meeting the demands of the future like living within the limits of the planet and ending poverty.

Being born with a specific cultural heritage is not an achievement nor a reason for shame. Overcoming the limits of your background and contributing to a better future is a real accomplishment. Lived experiences can help us evaluate how our conduct impacts others and renegotiate social rules. Such a feat is much easier to achieve with a new unifying religion. That may happen because this universe could be a virtual reality created by an advanced humanoid civilisation.

Featured image: One Ring to Rule Them All. Xander (2007). Public Domain.

1. A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.

John the Evangelist from the 6th-century Rabbula Gospels

The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John is strikingly distinct from the other Gospels of the New Testament. In the first three Gospels, Jesus appears human. In the Gospel of John, he appears godlike. Biblical scholars have long believed that the Gospel of John is from a later date than the other gospels and that Christians had already deified Jesus by then. But Christians were already worshipping Jesus as a godlike creature very early on. In the Epistle to the Philippians, Paul cites a poem stating that Jesus is God in nature (Philippians 2:6-11). Scholars believe it is an older poem dating from the earliest days of Christianity.1 Another theory is that the Gospel of John originally was written by someone close to Jesus.

The first three Gospels probably contain stories about Jesus that circulated among the public. A small group of insiders may have known more about the nature of the relationship between God and Jesus. This insider account, after heavy redactions, may have become the Gospel of John. This Gospel likely has undergone several redactions and reviews. Viewing it in this way comes with a few interesting insights.

To understand the following paragraphs, you may read the following:

The identity of God

The Gospels state that Jesus had a personal and intimate relationship with God. Scholars agree that the Gospels have been edited.

Platonic birth

Christianity may at first have had a separate creation myth in which Eve was God, gave birth to Adam, and then took him as Her husband. The account of the fall may also have been different. The Christian account of creation and fall may have contradicted the Jewish scriptures. Eve giving birth to Adam and taking him as her husband also carries a lewd suggestion. The tale of Eve and Adam is a myth, so it probably never happened, but people did not know that at the time.

And it may have had problematic consequences in early Christian communities. In the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes, ‘It is reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!’ (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). The scribes may have watered down this controversial fragment. And so, this man may have slept with his mother. The Christians in Corinth were proud of it, perhaps because this man followed the example of Christ.

Hence, the scribes may have taken out the creation myth, and under the influence of Platonic thinking, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus (John 1:1-14). If Jesus is Adam, and all of humanity descends from Eve and Adam, one can imagine that without him, there is no life. And if Adam was a child of Eve, we are all children of God, and because God is a woman, Christians are born of God (John 1:13).

If you are already born, you have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. The meaning appears spiritual. Only, when arguing with Jesus, the Pharisee Nicodemus noted that you cannot enter a second time into your mother’s womb to be born again (John 3:4). Nicodemus may have correctly understood what Jesus meant, which is that Christians are figuratively born of God’s womb. Jesus then gave it a spiritual meaning in his answer, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’ (John 3:5)

The wedding

There was a wedding in Galilee (John 2:1-10). Jesus was there, as were his mother and his disciples. When the wine was gone, his mother said to Jesus that there was no more wine. That would not have been his concern unless he was the bridegroom. Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ It could mean that Jesus was not the bridegroom and was about to be married too. He called his mother ‘woman’. That makes sense when he considered God his Mother. Jesus started doing miracles at this wedding by turning water into wine. Perhaps, he became the Christ through this wedding. Hence, it may have been his wedding, and the scribes may have changed the narrative to make it appear that it is not.

And then John comes with a statement not found in the other Gospels, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said: ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The Bride belongs to the Bridegroom. The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:27-30) Apparently, Jesus was the Messiah because he was the Bridegroom in a heavenly marriage. The other Gospels also indicate that Jesus was the Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34). The Gospel compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who prepares a wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:2).

I and the Father are one

Jesus called God Father, making himself equal with God, so the Jews wanted to persecute him, the Gospel of John says (John 5:16-18). Jesus made other claims in this vein. If the Gospel of John is a heavily redacted insider account, these claims may reflect Jesus’ own words. For instance, if Jesus believed himself to be Adam, he could have said that before Abraham was born, he existed (John 8:58). The wording in the Gospel of John implies that he claimed to be God, but that may not have been what Jesus said.

And then comes an intriguing assertion, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30) It appears that Jesus claimed to be God. And so, the Jews wanted to stone him for blasphemy (John 10:33). But marriage is a way to become one with another person (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). If Jesus had implied that he was married to God, it would still have been blasphemy to the Jews. And if Mary Magdalene had remained in the background to let Jesus do Her bidding, and Jesus believed himself to be Adam from whom all of humanity descends, then Jesus may have said something similar to, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)

Love is a central theme: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ (John 15:9-12) That is an unusual amount of love. But if Jesus was God’s husband, it makes sense. That brings us to the loving and intimate relationship that Mary Magdalene and Jesus may have had. The Gospel of John features an enigmatic beloved disciple.

The beloved disciple

Perhaps, Mary Magdalene became Jesus’ most beloved disciple in an early redaction of the text. That could still have raised questions, so later redactions may have turned the beloved disciple into the anonymous author of the gospel and a separate person distinct from Mary Magdalene. This perspective can provide us an explanation that resolves a few contradictions. One of those contradictions is the following fragment, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

The fragment states that four women were near the cross. If you take the text literally, then the beloved disciple must be one of these four women because the first sentence does not mention the beloved disciple. The most likely candidate is Mary Magdalene. And if Mary Magdalene was God, then Jesus may have said to Her, ‘Mother, here is your son.’ And then to his birth mother, ‘Here is your Mother.’ A few arguments can support this view. First, it is more plausible that Mary Magdalene took Jesus’ birth mother into Her home than a male disciple. And second, the Gospels suggest that Simon Peter was Jesus’ favourite apostle. For instance, Jesus had asked him to take care of the sheep (John 21:15-18). Only, he had fled the crucifixion scene (Mark 14:50-52), so he was not present.

According to Paul, Simon Peter saw the resurrected Jesus first, and then Jesus appeared to the other disciples (1 Corinthians 15:4-6). It probably is a statement of faith handed over to Paul. It might be the truth because it was an early belief dating from only a few years after Jesus’ death. And it agrees with the idea that Simon Peter was Jesus’ favourite disciple. The Gospel of John tells a different story. It claims that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. She then ran to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’ So Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb. The beloved disciple came there first. He saw the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went into the tomb (John 20:1-6).

Then the beloved disciple went in. And he saw and believed (John 20:8). Apparently, the beloved disciple saw and believed, but two men were inside. Strangely, it is not mentioned that Simon Peter saw and believed. If the scribes had added the beloved disciple to the story later, it probably was Simon Peter who saw and believed. An empty tomb alone would not have made him think that Jesus had risen. And so, he may have seen Jesus there, apparently alive.

The Gospel of John tells that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first (John 20:11-18). If Mary Magdalene had become the beloved disciple in an earlier redaction, then it was only natural that Jesus first appeared to Her and not to Simon Peter. The scribes may have changed the story accordingly. When, in a later redaction, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple became separate individuals, the narrative changed again. And so, the beloved disciple saw something and believed, while Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first but had trouble believing it. After that, Jesus appeared to the disciples (John 20:19-23). If we follow this explanation, Paul may tell the truth in 1 Corinthians 15. It also implies that Mary Magdalene set in motion the resurrection beliefs by bringing Simon Peter to the tomb.

The resolution of this contradiction comes with a thought-provoking conclusion. Most likely, Jesus did appear to his disciples, and probably already on the third day after the crucifixion. When Paul joined the Christian movement a few years after the resurrection supposedly happened, this was an established belief among the disciples. A group of first-hand witnesses probably remember what happened and the number of days between two events of such importance that occurred only a few years earlier. And if Mary Magdalene was God, that might explain why Paul does not mention Her name in his epistles.

Figuratively speaking

The Gospel of John contains a remark that you can easily overlook, ‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.’ (John 16:25) Why should Jesus not speak plainly about God? Possibly, the scribes who redacted this gospel and performed the sex change on God have been aware of what they were doing and realised that the truth would come out one day.

Latest revision: 3 May 2022

1. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher. Bart D. Ehrman (2014). HarperCollins Publishers.

The flag of the Iroquois Confederacy

The Great Law Of Peace

What society could look like

Can we have a free and equal society? The road to tyranny is paved with good intentions. So can this question be asked at all? Or do we lack vision? Perhaps examples can show us the way. In 1142, five North American tribes, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca, formed a league known as the Haudenosaunee, Iroquois or Five Nations. In 1722 a sixth tribe, Tuscarora, joined. Their constitution is known as The Great Law Of Peace.

The impact of the league on world history is considerable. Unlike Europeans, the Haudenosaunee had equality and liberty for all. This degree of equality is not uncommon in tribal societies. The Haudenosaunee influenced the European colonists settling in the United States and 18th-century European thinkers. Freedom, equality and brotherhood became the motto of the French Revolution and are still amongst the values many people believe societies should be based on.1

The formation of the league

Legend has it that three people made it all happen, Dekanawida, known as the Great Peacemaker, Ayenwatha, also called Hiawatha and Jigonhsasee, the Mother of Nations, whose home was open to everyone. They proposed the league to end the constant warfare between the neighbouring tribes. The warrior leader Tododaho of the Onondaga kept on opposing the idea.

Deganawidah then took a single arrow and asked Tododaho to break it, which he did with ease. Then he bundled five arrows together and asked Tododaho to break them too. He could not. Deganawidah prophesied that the Five Nations, each weak on its own, would fall unless they joined forces. Soon after Deganawidah’s warning, a solar eclipse occurred, and the shaken Tododaho agreed to the alliance.

The Haudenosaunee absorbed other peoples because of warfare, adoption of captives and offering shelter to displaced peoples. During the American Revolution, two tribes sided with the revolutionaries. The others remained loyal to Great Britain. The tribes had to take sides. They needed the favours of the winning party as diseases had reduced their populations. After the revolution, the league was re-established.

The principles of the league

The Great Law Of Peace consists of 117 codicils that deal with the affairs between the Six Nations. Major decisions require the consent of the people who are part of the league. When issues come up, the male chiefs or sachems of the clans come together at the council fire in the territory of Onondaga.

The league aims for consensus. Decisions require large majorities of both the clan mothers and the sachems. It puts pressure on individual members of both groups not to impede decision making with insignificant objections or frivolous considerations. Matters of great importance are decided in referendums.

Women have considerable influence and are entitled to the land and its produce. The clan mothers deal with the internal affairs of their tribe. They elect the sachems of their tribe and can remove them from office. Hence, the sachems heed the advice of their female relatives.

Influence

Compared to the despotic European societies of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Haudenosaunee was a liberal form of government. In the first two centuries of European colonisation, there was no clear border between natives and newcomers. The two societies mingled. Europeans could see from close by how the natives lived. They had a degree of personal freedom common to tribal peoples but unseen in Europe.1

As for the Haudenosaunee, the colonial administrator Cadwallader Colden declared in 1749 that they had such absolute notions of liberty that they allow no kind of superiority of one over another and banish all servitude from their territories. Colden had been an adoptee of the Mohawks. Other Europeans complained that the natives do not know what it is to obey and think that everyone has the right to his own opinion.

Social equality was as important as personal liberty to the North American natives. They were appalled by the European division into social classes. Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron of Lahontan, was a French adventurer who lived in Canada between 1683 and 1694. He noted that the natives he visited could not understand why one man should have more than another and why the rich deserve more respect than the poor.

Some early colonists preferred to live with the natives. The leaders of Jamestown tried to persuade the natives to become like Europeans. That did not happen. Instead, many English joined the locals despite threats of dire punishment. The same thing happened in New England. Puritan leaders were horrified when some members of a rival English settlement began living with the local tribes. As Franklin lamented in 1753:

When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return. [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, though ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life … and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods, when there is no reclaiming them.

usseal
United States Seal

European colonists had to adapt. Otherwise, they could lose their people to the native tribes. It may have helped make American society more free and equal than societies in Europe. The European philosophers of the 18th century took their ideas of freedom from the native Americans. It eventually led to the French Revolution. Freedom and equality are now basic principles of democratic nations.

The ideals of liberty and limited government influenced the United States Constitution. Equality and consensus did not. The US Seal features a bald eagle holding thirteen arrows bound together, representing the thirteen founding states reminiscent of the bald eagle and the five arrows from the legend of the Five Nations.

Featured image: The flag of the Iroquois Confederacy. Mont Clair State University website (Montclair.edu).

1. New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005). Charles C. Mann. Knopf. [link]

How Jesus became God

Before he was born, a visitor from heaven told his mother that her son would be divine. Unusual signs in the heavens accompanied his birth. As an adult, he left his home to become a travelling preacher. He told everyone not to be concerned about their earthly lives and material goods but instead to live for the spiritual and eternal. He gathered several followers who believed he was the Son of God. He did miracles, healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. He aroused opposition among the ruling authorities, and they put him on trial. After he departed from this world, he appeared to some of his followers, who later wrote books about him. This story is not about Jesus of Nazareth but Apollonius of Tyana, Bart Ehrman tells us in his book How Jesus Became God.1

In ancient times, critics used the similarities between the tales about Jesus and Apollonius to question and mock Christianity. In the ancient world, there was no chasm between the divine and the earthly realm. Kings were often called sons of the gods. The miracles attributed to Jesus are not exceptional either. There were other men of which people said that they did similar deeds. Legends about people spring up easily. You only have to observe what happens on the Internet and social media. People believe and spread ostentatiously false claims. Finding out the facts later can be an arduous task. And success is not guaranteed. It has been the work of biblical scholars for centuries.

Miraculous and virgin births occur in other religions too. Claiming to be the Son of God was not unusual either. Julius Caesar pretended to be a descendant of the goddess Venus. Of Alexander the Great, it was said that his father was the Greek supreme god Zeus. Kings in the ancient world often claimed to be descendants of the gods. That gave them legitimacy for who dares to go against the will of the gods? Jewish kings were also Sons of God. So, if Jesus called himself Son of God, this could mean the king of the Jews. And it probably was seen that way by the Jewish and Roman authorities.

About Jesus, much remains unclear. The Gospels date from decades after Jesus’ death and scholars believe that they are based on stories that are passed on orally. Oral storytelling is notoriously inaccurate but scholars believe that the Gospels at least partially describe what Jesus actually said and did. Much is plausible given the time and place in which he lived. The Gospels also tell us things that Christians would not have made up because it contradicts their teachings.1 And, the Gospels are copied from earlier sources that are now lost. The time gap between the events and these sources is smaller, so fewer errors may have crept in.

Paul could have written about what transpired. He knew several first-hand witnesses so he had insider knowledge. It seems that he did not. But why? There may have been reasons not to write about what happened or to destroy these accounts. Perhaps, the events were too disturbing. It may have taken Paul nearly two decades to come to terms with what he found out about the relationship between God and Jesus. The first three Gospels are remarkably similar and do not say much about this relationship. Scholars believe that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are based on the Gospel of Mark and another text with the sayings of Jesus. Only, the troubling insider knowledge may not have disappeared. It may have been worked upon instead to become the Gospel of John.

Jesus most likely did claim to be the Son of God. According to the Gospels, Jesus called God ‘Father’. And, he may have been the Bridegroom in a marriage representing the Kingdom of God. All the synoptic Gospels hint at Jesus being the Bridegroom. Perhaps Jesus believed that he would become king, but he never directly claimed to be king of the Jews. He did not deny it either. But why? We cannot know that with certainty as Paul of Tarsus probably invented Christianity. Still, we may get close. Paul joined the Christian movement early on. He knew the apostles and other first-hand witnesses personally. Hence, only his interpretation may stand between us and Jesus’ teachings. Paul was a devout Pharisee with knowledge of the Jewish religion and scriptures as well as Greek thought and philosophy.

To understand the following paragraphs, you are advised to read the following post:

The identity of God

The Gospels state that Jesus had a personal and intimate relationship with God. Scholars agree that the Gospels have been edited.

The Jewish religion of the imagined deity Yahweh and its scriptures may be an obstacle to our knowledge of God. To understand God, we may need to take the perspective of this universe as the creation of an advanced humanoid civilisation to entertain one of its members. Hence, there could be more to the mysterious apocalyptic prophet who felt a close relationship with God and started a new religion with over two billion followers today. Christianity began as a branch of Judaism, a religion defined by its scriptures. Religious claims have to be justified by referring to the scriptures. Their scriptures outline how Jews, Christians and Muslims see the owner of the universe. So if God is a woman who married Jesus, and Jesus had preached somewhere else, for instance, in Egypt or China, then Christianity would have been a completely different religion.

Christianity is called the religion of love. God is love, Christians claim. Christianity paints a different picture of God than Judaism and Islam. Those religions present a vengeful warrior God. So, how is this to be explained? The God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is believed to be the same. Perhaps Jesus knew God personally, and maybe God is not the deity the Jews imagined. Paul likely went at great length to bring the new religion in line with existing Jewish doctrine while being as truthful as possible. To many religious people, the scriptures are infallible. Paul could have obfuscated the most controversial parts of what he discovered by making cryptic references to the scriptures. Viewing it in this way makes sense.

Biblical scholars tend to be agnostic about God and reason from what they can establish from historical sources. Christians, on the other hand, believe that Yahweh is Jesus’ father. Both groups see Jesus within the Jewish context. And Jesus looked at himself in this way too. That may turn out to be a handicap as Yahweh is the imagined deity of the Jews, and not necessarily the all-powerful Creator of this universe. It may be better to view Yahweh as the cloak behind which our Creator is hidden. The most pressing problem for Paul may have been that God is a woman who had a romantic relationship with Jesus. Only to suggest so was considered blasphemy. And so, Jesus became married to the Church like God was married to the Jewish nation. It made Jesus eternal and godlike. That was not a great leap if he was Adam, God’s eternal husband. Jesus still lives, Paul believed, as he had seen Jesus in a vision.

The Book of Daniel comes with an enigmatic individual who will bring final judgement and start God’s kingdom. In Daniel’s vision, it was a human being coming with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13). His kingdom will be everlasting, and all rulers will worship and obey him (Daniel 7:27). Daniel did not think of Jesus, but that did not stop Christians from applying it to Jesus. Jesus himself may not have thought that he was this person called Son of Man. On several occasions, Jesus mentioned the Son of Man as if he is someone else.1 In other instances, Jesus appeared to imply that he is the Son of Man. Scholars reason that the latter is what Christians believed so that the former more is likely is what Jesus said. That is because your belief can affect how you interpret words. It was however not far-fetched to think that Jesus would be the Son of Man as Jesus mentioned him while there was no other qualifying candidate to fill this position.

Jesus may have thought himself to be in the position of Adam or perhaps even the reincarnation of Adam. Adam was God’s son (Luke 3:38) and Jesus the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15) or firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29). People understand these words in relation to the Jewish scriptures, but they may be cryptic references to Adam being born first as the son of Eve, and Jesus being the reincarnation of Adam. It may also apply to the phrase ‘born of God’ (John 1:13) as all of humanity is born of Eve if you consider Adam to be Eve’s son. They together are the mythical ancestors of humanity. From this perspective, it makes sense that the message of Christianity applies to all of humanity like Paul inferred.

The firstborn son was of importance in traditional agricultural societies for the inheritance of land and the leadership of the family clan. The Jews were no exception. The theme occurs on numerous occasions in the Hebrew Bible. The story of Jacob and Esau is well-known. King David was also called God’s firstborn son (Psalm 89:27). Far more interesting is that the Jewish nation Israel is God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22) as Israel is also God’s bride (Isaiah 54:5, Hosea 2:7, Joel 1:8). It presented Paul with an escape as God married his firstborn son in this way. In a similar vein, Jesus became married to the Church like God was married to Israel. And so Jesus may have become God as the Christians became Jesus’ people like the Jews are Yahweh’s people.

That is not as problematic as it may seem. A widely held belief among the Jews was that there are two powers in heaven.1 In Genesis, God speaks in the plural, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.’ It may reflect a polytheist past of the Jews, in which they believed that the gods created the universe. If you presume this universe to be a simulation created by an advanced humanoid civilisation for the entertainment of one of its members, then it makes perfect monotheist sense too. The beings of this civilisation are the gods and the owner of this universe is God. The Jews did not see it this way. Instead, this phrase produced speculation about the existence of a godlike sidekick working alongside God.

The Hebrew Bible claims that God appeared to people from time to time. For instance, some people saw God sitting on a throne (Exodus 24:9-10) while no one has ever seen God and lived (Exodus 33:20). Others saw the Angel of the Lord, who is also God, and survived. Abraham and Hagar are among those who have seen the Angel, and the Hebrew Bible then tells us that they have seen God. Hence, the Angel of the Lord is God but not God himself. Otherwise, they would not have survived.1 And so there must be two gods, an invisible all-powerful Creator and his visible godlike sidekick. From this perspective, Jesus could be the Angel of the Lord and the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).

Many Jewish scholars like Paul were influenced by Greek philosophy. In Platonic thinking, there is a sharp divide between ideas and matter. The spiritual world of ideas is superior in the Platonic view. God is pure spirit, the most superior being. For Platonists, ‘spirit’ can use words to produce matter. Platonic reasoning thus agreed with Judaism as God created all things by using words. And so, words must have existed before creation. The Jewish philosopher Philo lived at the same time as Jesus. He asserted that the Word is the highest of all beings, the image of God, according to which and by which the universe is ordered. Philo called the Word the second god. The Word is thus God’s sidekick. The Gospel of John starts in a similar fashion, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Here, the Word had become Jesus.

In Proverbs, Wisdom speaks and says that she was the first thing God created. And then God created everything else with the help of Wisdom alongside him (Proverbs 8:22-25). She is a reflection of the eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness (Wisdom 7:25-26). Wisdom is female because the Greek word for wisdom is female. Wisdom was present when God made the world and is beside God on his throne (Wisdom 9:9-10).1 And so, there are two contenders for being God’s sidekick, the Word and Wisdom. Or perhaps, there are two sidekicks. If the Word has become Jesus then Wisdom could be the Holy Spirit, and we might arrive at the Trinity.

Eve gave birth to Adam. What to do with this? It contradicts the Jewish scriptures. And the scriptures are sacred. So, why not claim that Jesus was born from a virgin instead? After all, Jesus was Adam, and Eve was a virgin when She gave birth to Adam. And God’s name was Mary like Jesus’ mother while God was also Jesus’ Mother. That may have been convenient for those inventing a scheme to work around this issue. And so, Jesus may have become born from the Blessed Virgin Mary instead. Early Christians may have understood Jesus’ virgin birth as code for Eve being the mother of Adam.

Virgin births were not a theme in Judaism even though Christianity teaches otherwise. Isaiah wrote that a young woman will give birth to a son as a sign that God will destroy Judah’s enemies (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah addressed king Ahaz in the eighth century BC and did not think of Jesus who was to come seven centuries later. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible available in the first century AD, ‘young woman’ was translated as ‘virgin’. The author of the Gospel of Matthew used it to forge a prophecy of Jesus’ virgin birth. In this respect, it is remarkable that the Quran consistently calls Jesus Son of Mary and not Son of God, thus implying that Jesus had no father. It could be code for God’s name being Mary.

The basis for the claims of Christianity in the Jewish scriptures is problematic at best. The facts contradicted the scriptures, and the efforts to resolve these logical difficulties helped to turn Jesus into God. It should not surprise us that early Christians disagreed on the issue of Jesus being God and that most Jews did not buy into it either. If Jesus had preached in Egypt and had claimed that his wife is the goddess Isis, the all-powerful Creator and that he was the reincarnation of her son Horus, his teachings may have been preserved unscratched, but it may not have worked for what God had in mind. Egypt was a polytheist nation that could have adopted another cult alongside the existing ones. The Jews, however, were monotheists with established scriptures. It made Christianity, and later Islam, uncompromisingly monotheist too. Converts had to renounce all other gods. That allowed Christianity and Islam to wipe out the other religions, first in the Roman Empire, and later everywhere else where Christianity and Islam became dominant. And if this universe comes with an all-powerful owner, that may have been the plan all along.

Featured image: Christ Pantocrator in Hagia Sophia. Svklimkin (2019). Wikimedia Commons.

1. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher. Bart D. Ehrman (2014). HarperCollins Publishers.

World civilisation and universal culture

The West and the rest

During the last 500 years, the living conditions of humans on this planet changed dramatically because of modernisation. Modernisation involves division of labour, industrialisation, urbanisation, social mobilisation, and increased education and wealth. Social mobilisation means organising via purpose-based groups, for instance, corporations. Expanding scientific and engineering knowledge allows us to shape our environment in unprecedented ways. Modernisation is one of the most dramatic changes in the history of humankind.

The West was the first civilisation to modernise. But why? Samuel Huntington mentions the characteristics of Western civilisation that he believed to be crucial for modernisation.1 It is not clear to what extent these features will remain important in the future, but modernisation itself affects nearly everyone in this world. And so, finding clues about what might constitute a future global civilisation and culture includes investigating which elements of Western culture could be universal rather than typically Western. According to Huntington, the defining characteristics of Western civilisation are:

  • The Classical legacy. The West inherited from previous civilisations, most notably Classical civilisation. This legacy includes Greek philosophy and rationalism, Roman law, and Christianity. The Islamic and Orthodox cultures also inherited from Classical civilisation, but not as much as the West.
  • Western Christendom, Catholicism and Protestantism. Western Christian peoples believe they differ from Muslims, Orthodox Christians and others. The rift between Catholicism and Protestantism did not change that.
  • Separation of the spiritual and the temporal. Jesus taught that his kingdom is not of this world and that his followers should respect worldly authorities, even pagan ones like the Roman Empire. And so church and state could become separate authorities.
  • The rule of law. It was often a distant ideal, but the idea persisted that power should be constrained. The rule of law is the basis of constitutionalism and the protection of human rights.
  • Individualism. Individualism gradually developed during Middle Ages. Eventually, people began to promote equal rights for everyone.
  • Social pluralism. The West had diverse autonomous groups not based on kinship or marriage, like monasteries and guilds, and later other associations and societies. Most Western societies had a powerful aristocracy, a substantial peasantry, and an influential class of merchants. The strength of the feudal aristocracy helped to check absolutism.
  • Representative bodies. Social pluralism gave rise to Estates and Parliaments to represent the interests of the aristocracy, clergy, merchants and other groups. Local self-government forced nobles to share their power with burghers, and in the end, yield it. Representation at the national level supplemented autonomy at the local level.

The above list is not complete, nor were all those characteristics always present in every Western society. Some of these characteristics were also present in non-Western societies. It is the combination of features that makes Western civilisation unique. Huntington claimed that Western culture is not universal and added that such a belief is a form of arrogance promoted by centuries of Western dominance.1

That view is not beyond dispute. For instance, liberal democracy has at least some appeal to people from other civilisations. The experiences from Taiwan and Hong Kong indicate that the Chinese may prefer liberal democracy too if they are free to choose. On the other hand, recent developments in the United States and Europe suggest that the legitimacy of democracy can still be contested. Most people would prefer food and security to political influence. So, if a dictator promises to address a real or perceived threat, he might even become popular. In any case, the West has seen an unprecedented amount of social experiments, and in the process, the West may have uncovered elements of universal culture.

The list above does not tell us why the West came to dominate the world for so long. Western culture is a product of a historical accident, but not entirely so, and therein lies the issue. The accident may be about how these characteristics emerged. Their interaction may be a different story. Presumably, there is competition between societies, and the most successful tend to win out. This process involves trying ideas and discarding less successful ones. Conquest usually comes with imposing ideas on others. And you cannot go back in time, so once successful ideas have spread, there is no going back. It is, therefore, not always clear what is typically Western about Western culture.

There are reasons to believe that the future will be entirely different from the past. Humanity is using far more resources than the planet can provide. Something has to give. If humans succeed in dealing with this issue in a civilised manner, then the world may change to the point that the present cultures have lost most of their meaning. The future is unknown, but the past is not. To explain where we are now and why Western civilisation has led the modernisation process, we can investigate the characteristics of Western culture and how they interacted.

Greek philosophy

Traditional cultures centre around an idea of wisdom reflected in belief. Wisdom was a greater good than knowledge. If you studied the teachings of the great ancient prophets and philosophers, whether it was Buddha, Confucius, or Christ, you know all you need to know.2 Traditional cultures do not pursue new knowledge for the sake of it, for instance, by studying gravity to come up with a theory of gravity. Greek philosophy was different. Greek philosophers engaged in a rational and fundamental inquiry into the nature of reality and our knowledge and beliefs. It was a quest for knowledge rather than wisdom.

Western Christendom

From Christianity, the West inherited a claim on universalism. Christianity, like Islam, claims to represent the only universal truth that everyone should accept. Christianity, like Islam, also maintains that all people are equal. Everyone could either embrace or reject the only true religion so that there are only believers and non-believers. Non-believers may be inferior to believers, but that is due to their own choice. The West inherited the principle of equality from Christianity.

Confucianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism do not claim to be the universal truth, while Judaism lacks missionary zeal. Equality was not the main concern for these religions either. Ideologies invented in the West like Liberalism and Socialism and prescriptions to organise societies promoted by the West like human rights, democracy, and free trade also came with passionate claims on universal truth. This kind of missionary zeal is not prevalent in other civilisations, except Islam. For instance, China and India do not demand other nations to copy their economic and social models.

Christianity features a division between the profane and the spiritual. Jesus allegedly has said that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Hence a Christian does not need to challenge worldly authorities. And you should give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Mark12:17). And so, a Christian could pay Roman taxes. This feature of Christianity made it possible to separate church and state so that in modern Western societies, all religions can be equal before the law. And, Christianity came with a powerful message of mercifulness and equality that appealed to the masses.

These features allowed Christianity to spread within the Roman Empire without causing wars and uprisings. As a result, Roman authorities did not consistently view the new religion as the most urgent threat to the empire as there were barbarian invasions and rebellions to deal with. Periods of persecution thus alternated with periods of relative peace for the Christians. Christians believed the Creator to be a higher authority than the emperor, and they renounced the Roman gods, but they did not challenge Roman rule. The Jews did resist, and so Roman armies practically wiped them out.

Not challenging worldly authorities allowed the Catholic Church to establish a vast network of priests, monasteries, and convents and a hierarchy to manage them. As a result of the Investiture Conflict, the Catholic Church gained control over the appointment of bishops and thus became an independent institution with political influence all over Europe. That contrasts with other civilisations. In Orthodox Christianity, the emperor oversaw the church. In Islam and Hinduism, priests and religious scholars could have considerable influence on political affairs. Only, these civilisations had no centralised independent religious institution like the Catholic Church. In China, established religion did not play a prominent role in politics.3

Rule of law and representative bodies

Law consists of the rules of justice of a community. In premodern societies, the law was often believed to be fixed by a higher authority, for instance, custom, a divine authority or nature. It made law independent from rulers, at least in theory, and to some extent also in practice. Religious law is administered by priests explaining holy texts. That applies to Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. In China, the state provided the law.3 There never was Christian law, and Christians accepted worldly authorities and their law systems.

The Catholic Church embarked on a project of introducing Roman Law throughout Europe. Consequently, Roman Law is nowadays the basis of the laws of most European nations and many nations outside Europe. Roman Law is a civil law meant to regulate affairs between citizens in a society and is not religious. The involvement of the Catholic Church in this project reflects the Christian separation between spiritual and worldly affairs. In England, another tradition of civil law called Common Law emerged.

The rule of law requires the law to be a countervailing power to worldly rulers. Feudal Europe did not have centralised states, so the Catholic Church could use its political power to introduce Roman Law. In England, a power struggle between king and nobility led the king to promote Common Law in the Royal Court to undermine his opponents who administrated the local courts.3 The king prevailed but remained checked by the rule of law and a strong aristocracy who forced him to sign a document, the Magna Carta, that guaranteed the rights of the nobility. The Magna Carta is a precursor to modern constitutions.

The rule of law often was a distant ideal rather than a reality. The outcome depended on the balance of power between the political actors in each society. These were the king, the aristocracy, and the clergy. Traditionally, the aristocrats and clergy were powerful. They had a representation in the Parliaments called Estates that decided over taxes. After the Middle Ages, centralised states began to emerge with kings trying to acquire absolute power and aspiring to decide on their own over taxes.

A power struggle between the kings and the aristocracy ensued. In Poland and Hungary, the aristocrats prevailed. These states soon collapsed because the aristocrats did not want to pay taxes for the defence of the country. In France and Spain, the king more or less prevailed by bribing the aristocracy with tax exemptions and putting the burden of taxes on peasants and the bourgeoisie, who had no representation in the Estates. This move undermined the tax base of the state. In England, a civil war broke out that ended with the arrangement that the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie represented in Parliament decided over the taxes they paid.3

It made taxation legitimate as it required the consent of those who paid taxes. The aristocracy and bourgeoisie in England had a stake in the success of the state. They profited from the colonies, for instance, via the slave and opium trade, so they were willing to pay taxes if they believed that it was necessary. In this way, England could win out in the colonial wars with France in the century that followed despite having fewer resources. England’s finances were in good shape, so England could borrow more money at lower interest rates to finance these wars than France could.

Individualism and social pluralism

In traditional societies, male family lines were the basis of the organisation of families. Families rather than individuals owned property. Family elders made important decisions. In Western Europe, individuals could make important decisions about marriage and property themselves. They already had substantial freedoms in the Middle Ages. This development started soon after Germanic tribes had overrun the Roman Empire and converted to Christianity.3

The Catholic Church took a strong stance against practices that held family structures together, such as marriages between close-kin, marriages to widows of dead relatives, the adoption of children and divorce. It allowed the church to benefit from property-owning Christians who died without an heir. For that reason, women could own property too. These individual property rights undermined family structures.3 Individual property rights later became crucial for the development of modern capitalism.

As a result, the Catholic Church could finance its large organisation, provide relief to the poor, and become a significant power. Western Europeans in the Middle Ages did not trace their descent only through the family line of their father, which would be necessary to maintain strict boundaries between families. In this way, it became harder to carry out blood feuds as the circle of vengeance was smaller, and many people felt related to both sides.3

It allowed feudalism to replace kinship as a basis for social solidarity so that social organisation could become a matter of choice rather than custom. In theory, feudalism was a voluntary submission of one individual to another based on the exchange of protection for service. In practice, this was often not the case, but with the spread of the rule of law, feudal relationships turned into legal contracts in which both the lord and serf had rights and obligations.3

In the Middle Ages, there were no strong states in Western Europe. The aristocracy was powerful and responsible for the defence of their realms. As the economy began to flourish, an influential class of merchants emerged in the cities. Many cities gained independence and became responsible for their governance and defence. Serfs flocked to cities in search of opportunities and freedom, thereby further undermining the power of feudal lords. In Northern Italy, feudalism had already ended by 1200 AD and cities run by wealthy merchants came to dominate the area.

Kinship as an organising method had largely vanished. Europeans could organise themselves for a wide array of purposes. In the Middle Ages, there were monasteries, convents, and guilds. There were also military orders, such as the Knights Templars. Later on, societies and corporations emerged. This European pluralism contrasted with the absence of civil society, the weakness of the aristocracy, and the strength of centralised bureaucracies in Russia, China, and the Ottoman Empire.1

The Renaissance

The Renaissance began in the merchant towns of Northern Italy. The elites of Northern Italy became less religious. This process is called secularisation. Wealthy merchants had money to spend on frivolous pursuits like art and literary works. Optimism replaced pessimism. Medieval virtues like poverty, contemplation and chastity came to be replaced by new virtues like participating in social life and enjoying life. The Italian cities needed the active participation of wealthy individuals to finance public efforts like defence.

The pursuit of wealth became seen as a virtue, which signalled the emergence of modern capitalism. People in traditional societies and Medieval Europe frowned upon trade and the pursuit of wealth. They believed that wealthy people must share their riches with their community. Trade often comes with questionable ethics and was seen as a necessary evil.

Building on the existing European tradition of individualism, entrepreneurial individuals came to be cherished. The Italian Renaissance tradition includes individuals like Michelangelo, who was known for his unparalleled artistic versatility, and Giovanni Giustiniani, a mercenary who organised the defence of Constantinople against the Turks and Christopher Columbus, who discovered America.

The separation between the worldly and spiritual realm reduced the obstacles to secularisation. The Renaissance started in the cradle of the Roman Empire. Italian merchants sailed the Mediterranean. The legacy of the ancient Greeks and Romans was everywhere around them. It prompted a renewed interest in classical antiquity, including ancient Greek and Latin texts. The works of the Greek philosophers and their rational enquiries into the nature of reality were rediscovered and began to affect European thought. These texts were secular and promoted virtues different from Christian virtues.

Printing and gun powder were Chinese inventions that came to Europe. Around 1450, the first movable type printing system was introduced in Europe, making it possible to print books in large numbers. From then on, new ideas could spread faster. Constantinople, the last Christian stronghold in the Eastern Mediterranean, fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks, blocking traditional trade routes with the Indies. The Portuguese then began to look for new trade routes by sailing around Africa, starting the European exploration of the world.

Double shock

Around 1500, two developments rocked Europe. The first was the discovery of a previously unknown continent, America. It uprooted the belief in traditional knowledge as Europeans discovered their ignorance. It spurred a fundamental questioning of existing ideas and a drive for knowledge2 that would lead to modern science that uses observations to produce general theories. The works of the Greek philosophers turned out to be helpful in this respect.

The second was Protestantism challenging the moral authority of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church had become corrupted by the buying and selling of church offices. Martin Luther taught that salvation is a gift of God that you might receive through faith in Jesus Christ. In line with European individualism, he made faith a matter of personal choice rather than tradition. Luther taught that the Bible is the only source of divine knowledge, thereby challenging the authority of the Catholic Church. He translated the Bible into German, making it accessible to laypeople.

The Portuguese had found new trade routes to the Indies, and Columbus had discovered a continent that promised unparalleled riches. Small bands of Spaniards with firearms overran existing empires and plundered them. After plunder came exploitation. Colonisation was a profitable enterprise that could sustain itself. It generated sufficient revenues to expand the colonies further. Enterprise and investment capital rather than state armies and taxes drove European colonisation. The resulting larger markets favoured economies of scale. After the invention of the steam engine, these economies of scale propelled the Industrial Revolution.

A revolutionary mix

In 800 AD Western Europe was backward compared to the more powerful Islamic, Orthodox Byzantine, and Chinese civilisations. By 1800 AD, China was still a match for England and France, and the Ottoman Empire was a significant power. But the Industrial Revolution was taking off, tilting the balance of power decisively towards the West in the following decades. Europeans had acquired a mindset that made them more curious, enterprising, and flexible. When the gap between industrial and non-industrial nations became clear, Italy, Austria, and Russia started industrialising too. China, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire did not. It may now be possible to identify the elements of Western culture that were crucial to modernisation and shape the ways how Westerners behave:

  • a religion with a message of equality, missionary zeal and an uncompromising claim on the truth;
  • individualism promoting flexible organisation for different purposes;
  • a separation between spiritual and worldly affairs allowing for secular law and secular pursuits;
  • a quest for knowledge and truth, for instance, reflected in science and the scientific method;
  • an absence of a strong centralised political power, but instead, an uncertain balance between countries and political actors within countries that promoted competition;
  • a rule of law that limited the powers of political actors and guaranteed individual property rights so that investments were more secure;
  • entrepreneurial spirit and a drive for profit.

The introduction of railroads exemplifies this trend. The first commercial railroad opened in 1830 in England. By 1850 there were already 40,000 kilometres of railroads in Europe. Asia, Africa, and Latin America together had only 4,000 kilometres.2 The first railroad in China was opened only in 1876. It was 24 kilometres long and built by Europeans. The Chinese government destroyed it a year later. In Persia, the first railroad was built in 1888 by a Belgian company. In 1950 the railway network of Persia amounted to only 2,500 kilometres in a country seven times the size of Britain which had 48,000 kilometres of railroads. The technology of railroads was relatively simple, but the Chinese and the Persians did not catch on. They could not do so because they thought and organised very differently.2

Until 1800, Europe did not enjoy an obvious advantage over China, Persia or the Ottoman Empire, but Europe had gradually built a unique potential. It had developed a culture of individualism, curiosity, and enterprise. When the technological inventions of the Industrial Revolution appeared, Europeans were in the best position to use them.2 They were more innovative, motivated by profit, and organised themselves flexibly for new purposes like building and maintaining railroads.

On the back of these advantages, European ideas spread over the world. Ideologies invented in Europe like capitalism and communism inherited the missionary zeal and uncompromising claim on the truth from Christianity. Similar thoughts were formulated elsewhere, for instance, by Chinese philosophers, but not as a coherent ideology. A few Chinese philosophers proposed that theories require the support of empirical evidence, but they did not develop a scientific method. Science was at the basis of European inventions. Science produced results, which promoted European power and fostered European superiority thinking.

The culture of the future

As the first civilisation to modernise, the West has led in the culture of modernity for over four centuries. During that time, the West could impose its will on other civilisations and often did so. Western ideas and values have spread over the globe. As other societies are catching up and are acquiring similar patterns for education, work, wealth, and class structure, there may be a universal culture in the future, possibly based on Western culture.1 That is by no means certain, but there is at least one issue to consider.

Hegelian dialectic sees history as a battleground for ideas. Revolutions like the French Revolution illustrate this point. The old order tried to undo its achievements but failed in the end. Indeed, the French Revolution was why Hegel came up with his concept in the first place. It suggests that more powerful ideas replace weaker ones in a survival-of-the-fittest-like competition. Nearly all the ideological struggle has taken place in the West so the surviving ideas from the West could be superior. It might explain why liberal democracy is a success, to varying degrees at least, in countries with different cultures, for instance, Japan, India, Botswana, Turkey, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Thailand, Uruguay, South Africa, Ukraine, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

The future may be different from the past, so existing cultures may not last. Humanity must face issues like the limits of the planet and poverty as one civilisation. And modernisation does not have to mean Westernisation. Japan was the first non-Western country to modernise. Today it is one of the most advanced countries in the world, and also, a liberal democracy. At the same time, Japan has retained its unique culture and identity. So far, non-Western cultures have been modernising without disappearing. In many ways, Chinese, Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu cultures reassert themselves. As the wealth and influence of non-Western societies is increasing, they are becoming more confident about the merits of their cultural heritage and may be less likely to Westernise.1

Furthermore, the West may not be in the best position for the future as the future could put different demands on societies than the past. There still is competition between countries. Other countries, for instance, China, may now be better positioned to deal with future challenges so that other civilisations, including the West, may have to adapt to China, most notably with issues regarding government effectiveness. That does not necessarily imply dictatorship, but other nations may increasingly copy features from Confucian societies. For the West, it may mean that individualism and individual rights will be reversed to some extent. And charging interest on money and debts may promote wealth inequality, financial instability, excessive government interference in the economy, and short-term thinking so other societies may have to adapt to the Islamic civilisation and abolish interest on money and debts.

People from different cultures interact more often, so a global culture may emerge in the longer term. In any case, the West cannot impose its ideas and values upon others in the future. Often people from other civilisations are resentful of the West’s imperialism.1 The Chinese speak of one hundred years of national humiliation when referring to the period between 1850 and 1950 in which Western powers broke the Chinese Empire and plunged it into civil war. Among Muslims, similar sentiments exist. The West’s recent military interventions in Islamic countries stirred up these sentiments.

These feelings may subside over time, and non-Western peoples may develop a neutral stance towards the West and its past. In the process, they may discover that at least some elements of Western culture have universal appeal. Societies from different civilisations have much in common because human nature does not depend on culture. There may be concepts, for instance, democracy, that can work in other civilisations. The West has tried out more ideas than other civilisations, so it more likely has uncovered elements of a possible universal culture in the process than other civilisations.

Barring a collective challenge coinciding with the emergence of a universal religion that inspires people from all backgrounds, global culture is unlikely to emerge anytime soon. A universal religion has not yet arrived, but this universe could be a virtual reality created by an advanced humanoid civilisation for the personal entertainment of someone we can call God. And so, the advent of a new religion is a realistic possibility. This religion could provide a plausible explanation for our existence, promote a shared destiny, and allow for a greater degree of diversity than currently existing religions and ideologies.

Featured image: Map from Clash of Civilisations, Wikimedia Commons, User Kyle Cronan and User Olahus, GFDL.

1. The Clash of Civilisations and the remaking of world order. Samuel. P. Huntington (1996).
2. Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.
3. The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. Francis Fukuyama (2011).