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The Axial Age

Is another Axial Age occurring today?

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Is another Axial Age occurring today?

We appear to be undergoing a religious and spiritual transitional period today, that is comparable to that experienced during the Axial Age. Once again, a radical change of the old forms of religious thinking seems to be happening. As Neale Donald Walsch wrote: yesterday’s God cannot serve tomorrows world. Any influence the established religions have is rapidly diminishing in much of the west. We appear to lie again on the cusp of an important religious experiment. 1,2,3

There are different views on what a new Axial Age could be like. A repeat of the "teacher-disciple relationship" seen in the past is doubtful. 3 We can be certain of one thing: If there will be a new Axial Age, there definitely will be emphasis on rationality. Post-modern religious thinking may play a substantial role. Communication will be vital. The new religions will need to make the new truths available to all. 3

If and when it comes, the next Axial Age will not be an age when most people will be peasants with only very limited access to education and culture. It will be an interval of intense communication. The current wide dissemination of eastern writings, which brought ideas from religions outside Christianity to the general public in recent decades, shows that the needed level of communication is possible.

If the new religious concepts are to become part of our collective consciousness, it must be well disseminated, interpreted and understood by the public. Delivery of new concepts to the potential user must be matched to his or her cognitive needs. The next axial age will be global. Due to the advancements achieved in information technology hardware, there is no possibility of isolated change.  Currently, knowledge is accessible to almost everyone; everyone can make a contribution; change will depend on achieving a general consensus.

The Axial Age of 800 to 200 BCE has left a major legacy. It has played a key role in the development of religious and social matters. It has provided guidelines that exert major influence now and will also decisively affect the near future. We have no idea what can be said about the expected contribution of Axial Age thinking to what will happen in the distant future, when our descendants may be around for billions of years.

We know from experience that the further back a critical event occurs, the more powerfully can it influence the present. For example, there is a powerful random character to the evolutionary process: A cosmic ray striking a different gene, i.e., producing a different mutation, may have small immediate consequences. However, profound consequences may show up at a latter stage. 4 Similarly, a current event may influence the future the more forcefully the more distant this future lies.

In spite of all such considerations, to paraphrase a well-known Mao Tse-tung quotation, the Axial Age was probably "only the first step in a long march of ten thousand li." 5 It was a period that has produced magnificent results, but these results will have to be further extended.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Lambert Yves: Religion and Modernity as a New Axial Age: Secularization or New
    Religious Forms?
  2. Armstrong Karen: The Battle for God. HarperCollins, 2001.
  3. Cupitt Don: Emptiness & Brightness. Polebridge Press, 2001.
  4. Sagan Carl E.: Cosmos. Futura, 1983.
  5. A "li" is a traditional Chinese unit of distance which is now standardized at 500 meters or about 1,640 feet. It is also called "a Chinese mile."

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Copyright © 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-SEP-28
Latest update on: 2006-SEP-28
Author. Vladimir Tomek

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