In his recent book, Future of Faith, Harvey Cox laments how the Roman Empire co-opted Christianity and pushed the ‘Age of Belief’ onto us. He looks to the spirit-filled Pentecostals of the developing world to usher in the ‘Age of the Spirit.’
I find much to agree with him about the coming age of the spirit. However, the Pentecostals of the developing world tend to be fundamentalists, the very group Prof. Cox opposes. If he’s looking to them to bring us out of the fundamentalist colors of the age of belief, he will be disappointed.
I also disagree that the ‘age of belief’ was a historical accident that did not have to happen as he contends. The historians talk of ‘Axial Age.’ It brought us out of the ‘Mythic Age’ when even the gods were criminals. Think of Greek myths where Zeus does crazy things. The first emperor of China tried to ‘bury every scholar and burn every book.’ He killed people in truly epic scale. Jaw dropping things happened back then.
In that context, Confucius came talking about the ‘will of heaven.’ He located authority higher than the people in power who were acting like criminals (stage 1). He built an elaborate and very rigid system of code of ethics and honor where everyone had their place, and everything had it’s rightful use. Confucianism is a bounded set on steroids. It was a much needed antidote to the chaos of his times.
He was not well received in his life time, but in a few generations, Confucianism became the ruling philosophy of East Asia for 2,000 years.
The ‘Axial Insight’ or ‘Axial Revolution’ refers to this period two millennia ago, in the span of several centuries, we see Confucius in East Asia, Doctrine of Karma in India, Rise of Islam in Middle East, and the Rise of Judeo-Christianity in the West.
Virtually every advanced civilization today owes it’s existence to one of these systems of ‘way of life.’ The Axial Age brought human civilization out of the chaotic, stage 1, criminal ‘mythic age’ to the stage 2 ‘age of belief.’ So, it was the historic imperative necessity that drove the development of belief-centric, code-centric, bounded set approach to faith in Christianity. I see it as inevitable development. In other words, the need to establish ‘law and order’ beyond capricious human authority was the need of the time. What makes the West so unique that they could skip this stage of development?
But since the reformation, the West has been moving towards the next age, because the struggle to establish law and order has been largely resolved without having to resort to ‘higher authority.’ But, in the developing world, the struggle continues as is evident in places like Libya. But in the West, we are experiencing the next great shift. We live in interesting times.
This might explain the great schism in the Anglican world today. The Anglicans from the developing world cannot compromise on the source of their authority in a code. The Anglicans in the developed world live in a different reality. The two are living in different ages. Therefore, it is not likely they can be reconciled.
But, this shift in age is not a bad development for Christianity. Of all the religions that arose out of Axial Age, only Christianity has the potential to break free of ‘code’ as the source of authority. We follow the risen Christ as the perfect revelation of God on earth. But for example, Islam considers a book, Koran, as the perfect revelation of God on earth. This is why the West must re-discover the stage 4 faith taught by Jesus.