We Imagined it: The Ordeal of Civility without religion/ethics.

Philosopher Will Durant wrote “The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than their minds.”

We have been living in a time of hope. Hope that we would all live together as “one.”  The sixties brought us that great hope and it was immortalized in music.Remember the lyrics of John Lennon:

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We do want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution . . .

credit: Twitter.com

Today, celebrities like Ariana Grande,  think holding hands and singing about love at Grande’s One Love concert will change the world.

We have evolved. Approximately 3,500 years ago a people crossed the Red Sea and, though filled with fear and trepidation, they wandered in the wilderness and were reborn.  It was in this vast unknown that the greatest revolution in human history took place: the revelation of the Word of God at Mount Sinai.

We can discuss whether or not this revelation took place as written, but there is no doubt that the document has been bequeathed to us.  A people enslaved for centuries were freed by this document of ethical monotheism.  It was the greatest gift ever given to humanity, at any time, because it freed all of us from the constraints of capricious and malevolent gods, from tribalism, and from delusions of entitlement.

It was this document that demanded that we behave in a way that is anathema to the instinctual preservation of the self.  It demanded that we sublimate our animal survival instincts and open ourselves to the needs of others, outside family, clan, and tribe.

It is a document that teaches the importance of universal compassionate action and empathy, which it turns out are needed to live in a vibrant and diverse civilization.

There may be other documents expressing the same ideals, but it is ethical monotheism given to the Israelites in the Sinai desert that is the foundation, the very underpinnings of Western culture. Our social, political, and judicial systems are rooted in the teachings of the Hebrew Bible from the organization of the Supreme Court, to the ethics of business and law, our political systems and social justice—caring for the stranger, the weak, the poor, the sick and downtrodden.

There are those who say that religion is the root of all evil, that we are naturally good in our humanistic hearts.

Imagine there’s no heaven . . .
No hell below us . . .
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace.

We don’t have to imagine. The Enlightenment of the 18th century introduced us to new philosophies claiming the end of theism, the arrival and departure of deism, and the reign of atheism.  That new religion was Reason.  An objective reality of God was pursued. Voltaire proclaimed,

“With the decline in the strength of religious creeds . . . there would follow a concomitant decline in human hatreds, in the urge to destroy another man”

because of his religious beliefs. Over time, one would become indifferent to religion and this indifference would lead to tolerance.

Paul Heinrich Dietrich, Baron d’Holbach wrote in the early 19th century,

“If the ignorance of nations gave birth to the Gods, the knowledge of nature is calculated to destroy them.”

By the late 19thcentury and early 20th century, the theories of Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx were devoid of God.

Nietzsche proclaimed the birth of a new Superman, an enlightened, powerful man who would declare war upon old Christian values.  Jungian psychology was questioning monotheism and turning towards the mystery cults of antiquity that Jung believed would free people from the repressive mask of civility imposed on them by monotheism, which he believed alienated them from their natural roots, their connection to the instinctive and intuitive natural man.

Removing God did not lead to peace.  Instead it released the human race from the ordeal of civility—the ethics and morals revealed to us by God—and we reverted to tribalism, our innate instincts of selfishness.  We let go of the onerous commandment to care for the other, for the stranger, for the weak and the sick.  We returned to caring only for the family, the clan, the tribe.

The death of religion let us release the ties that bind us together, one to another, and latch on to the new holy grail: a world without boundaries, without restraints, which allows us to behave according to the animal within away from the path of kindness and compassion.

I grew up with the Beatles.  I still have my Beatles memorabilia.  Lennon’s  lyrics continue to speak to so many.

Who would have imagined in this post-religion enlightened era the horror that would be unleashed on the innocent: from Mao in China to Stalin in the USSR; Hitler in Europe, to the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

credit: Sources: National Geographic, Cambodia Tribunal Monitor, The Guardian

The massacres in Rwanda.

An orphan stands among massacre victims. credit: BBC News.

Many of those killed were tossed into the Kigera River at Rusumo Falls. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The subjugation and starvation in North Korea, and the atrocities that took place with the breakdown of Yugoslavia into tribes, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya  by the Buddhists in Myanmar.

credit: hatefsvoice – WordPress.com

In Syria.

Internally displaced Syrian children. credit BBC.


And the never ending terrorizing of the West by Islam.

Flowers in Manchester. credit: Getty images.


And London, on June 4, 2017


credit: Daily Star

Those of us who believe in religion imagined it. We knew that ethical monotheism was a great revolutionary gift in the evolution of humankind; that abolishing the belief in this ethical God could lead to a reign of terror.  Left to our own devices we fall back on tribal behaviours.  It takes time to internalize civility, and the morals, values, and ethics that teach us to behave with compassion to others.

The revolution of 3,500 years ago has only just begun.

First published at Diane Bederman.com


Check Also

Yes, truly, Israel is not Canada- Opinion

We, like you, treasure democracy, humaneness, justice, and civil and human rights. We are not …


  1. Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis reflected on the three Islamist terrorist attacks in England within ten weeks, saying that we must not let the terrorists poison our communities – implicitly meaning our faith communities. And, UK Board of Deputies Chief Executive, Gillian Merron echoed his remarks when she said, “People of all faiths and none must come together to defeat this evil.”

    Today, an evil very similar to the worst evils of the 20th century plagues us all, against whose ferocity an enfeebled and spineless EU and other western governments often appear quite willing to accept dhimmitude for its second-class constituent citizens. It may not be difficult to see the influence that the Enlightenment had in shaping certain godless 20th century regimes or, in how the indifference to and rejection of religion led to a moral decay and the complete disregard for the sanctity of life in the Gulags and the Death Camps.

    But, like you ask, who would have predicted all this evil? Who would have predicted this new evil which appears even more baffling and its links to the demise of western religion less obvious? The irony is that the secularisation of western society with its almost total rejection of ethical monotheism has left it weak and vulnerable, unable to face the threat of modern global jihadism rooted in an extreme ideology of a monotheistic religion, namely Islam. (For clarity, my personal understanding is that most Muslims abhor this perversion of their faith and consider themselves threatened by it every bit as much as the rest of us do.)

    However painful it may be – and it is – when we ask incredulously how something as evil as this could possibly emerge from, or be related to a religion we need to accept that both Stalinism and Nazism were the bastard children of Russian Orthodoxy and German Lutheranism, at the very least their stepchildren. This is meant not as a condemnation of religion, still less ethical monotheism. I agree that we have gone astray, and that we can and must start again until we get it right, until we repair the world. My (im)perfect faith tells me that undoubtedly (some) men have clearly intended evil, but G_d will eventually work things out for our good. Even this. Shalom.

    • John, I hope you are correct, but it won’t be easy.

      • Shirlee, I don’t imagine for a minute that it’ll be easy – and we will have to help ourselves of course. Our governments will have to wake up and smell the coffee, and wake up very quickly. My worst fears are heard in echoes of Enoch Powell’s words back in the sixties, you know his Rivers of Blood speeches? It may come to that if we Brits don’t soon do something about the 23,000 known extremists in our country by imprisoning them and/or deporting them. They are, after all preaching treason when all is said and done. Their hatred will have to be removed somehow, otherwise it will fester and grow, and things could easily descend into a race war or something similar.

        That said, I do sense among many Muslims a genuine fear of these terrorists (and, no doubt a backlash from the rest of us) and, like it or not, we are all in the same boat together, people of different faiths and of none. Many Mancunians seem determined not to hate their fellow citizens, and, after all there were many Muslim kids at the Manchester Arena the night of the bombing too. We are all victims in this. There is hope and I believe good will come out of all this eventually. May HaShem give our leaders the wisdom to do what is right and what is needed to eradicate this evil.

  2. Governments waking up is a whole other issue. They are too intent on being PC like our PM. Though Theresa May seems to have woken up, I can’t say the same about our dhimmi PM.

    Our premier finally did the right thing today, albeit by the leader the opposition pushing her, by agreeing to ‘shoot to kill’ laws to go to State parliament. This was a recommendation by the coroner of the Lindt cafe massacre. Apparently the NSW police commissioner has possibly the highest level of authority in the world in siege situations.

    Yes Muslims are victims too, but loathe to condemn. We have a very outspoken moderate imam here but he is in big strife having death threats from his own. He now has police protection and stupid idiots have had his Facebook and Twitter accounts closed. We’ve been working hard to get them put back up.

    If you are on Facebook he is imam tahwidi