Your talk of a "bias" is a projection, isn't it? Having written your comment, you know that two thirds of it consists of quibbles which you yourself keep reducing in size, by pointing out how complicated some of those historical questions are, since I get it right here, but I get it wrong over there, and so forth.

Your bias emerges when you move from quibbling to strawmaning what the article says about Christianity. Before I address some of this directly, I should point out that I'm trained in philosophy and I've branched out to writing on religion and big-picture history. I've written dozens of articles on Christianity in particular, and it's just lazy to say my criticisms are "biased." Indeed, that's as lazy as the kneejerk wokeness you condemn. How easy would it be for me to say that rather than being biased against Christianity, I've investigated the matter and discovered that the religion holds no water? Of course I'd say that, though, so the proof is in the pudding, which is why these sorts of personal attacks are instead signs of your emotional reaction to the article, of your mental projection, as I said.

I don't say the axial elites were full-blown modern individualists. I call them spiritual individualists, since they identify the inner self we have in common with the substance of divinity, whereas modern individualists begin to secularize the self, as dictated by scientific objectivity. But individualism was especially strong in the “Axial Age” in the rebellious, antisocial, ascetic traditions, as in Hinduism, Daoism, and Cynicism, for example. So that nicely disposes of your contention that the ancient world was subject, rather, to all-encompassing collectivism.

Regarding your quibble about my comparison of early civilization to Kafkaesque bureaucracies, this was based on the well-established fact that although hunter-gatherer tribes did have cults and religiosity, as you suggest, they didn’t have organized religions, did they? They had shamanism and couldn’t afford the social specialization and class differentiation that sedentary societies could, right? Because they had no means of storing private property. So that’s where the rise of bureaucracies comes from, from the later ability to hoard wealth and to rationalize the growing and entrenched social inequalities (see the first link for more on this aspect of early civilization).

You object to my talk of the “noble lies” of pantheists, since you suggest the elites were true believers after all. How are we supposed to know for certain what went on in their minds, one way or the other? What we do know is that their religions conveniently mapped onto and justified their social divisions, as the historian Kurt Noll explains (second link below). The higher gods ruled over the lower ones just as the royals ruled over the peasants.

You say the ancient monuments weren’t built by slaves but by paid workers and that these workers felt at home in their polity, contrary to squishy wokester bleating about human rights, no doubt. But there are different kinds of slavery, aren’t there? Those societies were patriarchal, and they did have slaves and peasants who were often oppressed. I agree that the lower classes couldn’t have imagined much of an alternative, but the objective fact is that they lived in tyrannies resembled our North Korea. Would you prefer to live in the postindustrial, liberated West or in North Korea under the Kim dynasty?

Where do I say Rome is the only empire that squelched axial spirituality? That’s a strawman. I merely focus on Rome because the article is about Christianity. And contrary to your next strawman argument, the Christian betrayal of axial spirituality is worth focussing on because it was so clever. The trick was to hide the truth in plain sight, to pretend that psychic or second-tier enlightenment was the complete pneumatic level.

You say Christianity preserved rather than buried axial spirituality. But what the Christian institutions did was preserve the shell so that the flock wouldn’t bother looking any longer for the core. That was the technique of the ruse and of the deadening of Christian faith. The spiritual core was preserved not by Western religious institutions but by the Christian mystics and Gnostic heresies which went underground and which were secularized by the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, leading to modern individualism which has its own benefits and weaknesses.

What was missing from mainstream Christianity, of course, was the spiritual knowledge that confirms the insights behind Christian symbols. That knowledge is supposed to come from religious experience, specifically from the Eastern identification of the self with God. By literalizing Christ, the Western Church separated divinity from the Christian believer, pushing off the spiritual oneness until the Second Coming and the afterlife. That was the ruse, the double-cross, the dumbing-down of axial, perennial “spirituality” (which I think of rather in naturalistic, existential terms, as indicated by the third link below).

That’s enough of that, though. I actually agree with much of what you say in this comment. Your point about how polytheistic projections derived from the “agency attributions” of animism is consistent with Daniel Dennett’s theory of how theism originated from the intentional stance, which I talk about in various writings (fourth link). Also, I’ve written in opposition to wokeness (fifth link among others, and some more are on the way).

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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