The evolution of religion

We all know that things will change in the post apocalypse. Even if you’re living under a rock, that rock is going to change (and possibly disintegrate) after the world ends. Aspects of our lives will change. Politics, social structures—all that will change. And…religion will change too. (Possibly not for the better.)

You might be wondering why I’m thinking about religion. It’s because I’m currently taking a religious studies class, which is, unfortunately, full of the ultra-super-conservative types. Also unfortunately, they are driving me freaking insane. And even more unfortunately, it’s only been a week.

Since I had to…I don’t know, share my not-so ultra-super-conservative views with someone, I bugged Ann on Google Talk this morning. Not so she could feel the pain with me (though misery does love company), but so we could discuss how religion might evolve in a post-apocalyptic society.

Because we love you, dear readers, here is an excerpted (and grammatically cleaned up) version of our chat.

*Warning: The following conversation may be considered controversial. But that’s kinda the point.*

Ann and I started off with a basic discussion of how religion will evolve. You’ll notice Ann’s answering all the questions (which is usually what happens when we chat, hehe).

Char: Right now I’m wondering how well religions like Christianity will survive the apocalypse. Will there be bible thumpers then? Will bibles even make it?

Ann: The major religions will have survivors. The smaller ones, not so much. And I reckon over time the message will become a little… distorted. New ones will sprout of course.

Char: What about “alternative” religions like the Pagan religions? I wonder if the Christians who make it will become more fundamentalist. Will it shift in that direction? Or will people become more liberal?

Ann: As they’re based in personal interpretation so much more they’ll live but evolve in strange way.

Char: How so?

Ann: Well, religions of all kinds evolve in line with human development, right? Religions that are held on a deep personal level, rather than being dictated by a large organisation, will evolve and learn with a person’s experiences and personality. Modern Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all more modern faiths, if you ignore the frightening ones.

Char: The current incarnations of them are more modern, yes.

Ann: Post apocalypse, a lot of people will start thinking that God- whatever god is- took revenge.

Char: Like another Noah’s ark of sorts?

Ann: Yep. With the big religions, people will be able to find others of the same faith and gather.

Char: And form communities.

Ann: Yep. I think there could easily be a lot of religious communities, slowly but surely changing what the books say to fit in with the new world. And in some cases a charismatic con person COULD in theory take over and warp them.

Char: Well, it’s happened before.

Ann: But the more personal faiths won’t have that. They’ll have the mind of the person who believes them, and all sorts of fun could happen in there.

Char: I really wonder how the fundamentalists will handle it. More religious moderates will have an easier time adapting, I think. But I’m not sure about the very conservative.

Ann: The very conservative will go nuts. Not only will it prove them right, that god is vengeful, but they may consider themselves prophets.

Char: Hmmm you’ve got a good point there…the fire and brimstone type will feel validated.

Ann: But they also might feel abandoned by god. Were they not righteous enough to be saved? Could make for some fun mythology.

Char: I think some people might think the Rapture had happened.

Ann: Yeah, they would.

Char: And then they’ll be looking for the Antichrist.

Ann: Oh yeah. And it’ll be anyone they disliked beforehand.

Char: Hehe. Yeah, I could see that. I wonder if there’ll be a new kind of witch hunt… The hunt for the Antichrist? And they’ll be looking for anyone who ISN’T Christian.

Ann: Yep, it’s a worry.

Char: Especially if a large number of them survive.

Ann: Oh god. A lot of the preppers out there are super conservative Christians.

Char: Oy, then we’re doomed. Hmm… I remember in the Tudor era people converted to whatever religion the monarch was to stay alive. Think something like that could happen?

Ann: I would totally pay lip service in order to live, then teach my children about science in the dead of night.

Char: Me too. Haha, that’ll be us, giving science lessons at midnight by candlelight.

And then we started speculating about what we’d actually say to our children during these dead-of-night science lessons. (Assuming, of course, that fundamentalists have taken over the post-apocalyptic world.)

Ann: “No, sweetie, it’s evolution that made the animals. They changed to suit their environment over millions of years. Everything is made of chemicals. The universe was made by a big bang. We aren’t the only planet out there. But don’t tell anyone.”

Char: “We evolved from apes.”

Ann: “Shh. This is an important one. You can’t say something’s true without evidence. You need proof and a double blind study with at least 100 participants, preferably 1000 or your results can’t be held to be accurate.”

Char: “And it must be repeatable with the same or similar results.”


Char: “AND DON’T WRITE IT DOWN. What if they find it?!”

Ann: “If you must write it down, write it in code. And when there are enough of us, SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION. Also, your quest is to find the abandoned laboratories and rediscover their research. Shouldn’t be too hard.”

Char: “But make sure no one sees you or knows what you’re really trying to do.”

Ann: “Mama, I’m five!”

Char: “That doesn’t matter, sweetie. We need to find the labs before the Christians blow them all up. Now sleep tight. Don’t forget, keep this to yourself, or the Christians will kill you. Good night, sweetie. I love you.”

(As a total aside, yes, I’m Christian.)

Now, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to join Ann’s and my conversation. (And join it NOW. You know you want to.) In your opinion, how will religion evolve? Will every religion evolve in a similar way? And if, God forbid, the fundamentalists DO take over the post-apocalyptic world, would you “convert” to stay alive? If you do, would you teach your children about science and evolution at midnight by candlelight? What would you say?


12 thoughts on “The evolution of religion

  1. Great discussion! I think that at first, after the Apocolypse, people will view it as the rapture and be really bummed. “Why wasn’t I chosen?” But folks will get busy surviving and killing lots of folks who may or may not (in all likelihood: NOT) be the Anti-Christ. Things will quiet down for a while, but after two generations the survivors will have a huge change of thought. Instead of thinking “Why wasn’t I chosen?” they will begin to believe that the “chosen” were actually killed by God instead of whisked away to heaven. Which means that the survivors will believe that they are the true “chosen” ones, picked by God to recreate civilization and all that. Naturally, this will all be fueled by various “prophets” and “messengers of God” that will pop up all over the place. Expect a lot more fundamentalism.

    As for me and my family, while everyone else is busy worrying about surviving and finding the Anti-Christ, we’ll be busy building a totally awesome science-loving compound where we can live as normally as possible. But with an outrageous amount of firepower, for when the fundies come a-knockin. Good times!

  2. Oh, very interesting.

    If the fundamentalists or zealots of today are any indication, I’d be very frightened of a religion-driven future.

    I would definitely feign grace or piety or whatever virtue you can feign to be seen as not to be persecuted. I’m definitely the type to swear allegiance to whoever promises not to murder me and is most likely to renege on the deal. I’d join the cult but I’m too lazy and sardonic to be really culty and brainwashed. and I just don’t listen well enough to fall for a prophet.

    However, I’ve always been a big fan of Science, Technology, History (all of it) and the like. I’d probably fall for the crazy prophet who plans to build a light bridge to a safe colony on Mars.

    I’d remember bits and pieces of the bible and bits and pieces of Stargate SG1 and make stuff up to fill it in and my kids would grow up to be some zaney little outliers not welcome in any camp.

  3. The fundies scare the ever-loving hell out of me. I would most definitely feign piety and convert to whatever new state religion popped up if it meant living (I’m just not martyr material, I’m sorry). I doubt I’d join a cult, unless it’s the cult of the crazy prophet who wants to build a light bridge to a that safe Martian colony.

    As for the post-apocalyptic world, I think I’ll be hunted down anyway, either for not being Christian enough, or not being atheist enough. I’ll have a better chance of living if the scientists make a resurgence, since I heart science and other geeky things. Amanda, can I come live in your science-loving compound?

  4. I know, right?! I terrify the hell out of myself at least once a week thinking about stuff like this. If I had the money, I’d already be in my science-loving compound. All science-lovers welcome! And those who bring chocolate/dessert get to move to the front of the line. 🙂

  5. I reckon dramatic divides of opinion between survival groups, and even within survival groups. You’re going to have people who think that their survival of this monstrous thing proves that not only is there a god, but that go dloves them, specifically. On the other side you’ll have people convinced that such a thing happening proves that no loving god could exist.

    And the whole thing will leave a lot of people very unsable- the shock, the grief will break peoples minds. I can easily see repressive religious compounds AND compounds where any mention of faith is ground out.

  6. [This is mostly dealing witht he far-flung future of an apocalyptic scenario]

    Well, in my opinion there’s already been a similar situation that we can look to for a reasonable amount of precedence on the matter – the Black Death. In and of itself, the Black Death was pretty much a minor apocalypse, reducing the population in Europe, the Middle East and Asia by as much as a half, and fundamentally shook the faith of people in many regards to religion (particularly the alienation they felt towards the clergy), which lead to people looking into causes outside of God.

    Ok, sure, the main theory was miasma, but baby steps.

    Now, the problem is that this faith shaking will also affect science as it currently stands – most people take science and technology for granted, and will probably feel ‘betrayed’, to an extent, that it wasn’t (and, perhaps isn’t) able to help us. Given a significant apocalypse scenario, there simply won’t be the infrastructure to support production (resourse -> manufacturing -> distribution) nor scientific research and preservation (communication -> education). Any technology that can be salvaged will quickly stop becoming ‘technology’ in the sense that we see it, simply tools of survival. We don’t see ploughs as high technolgoy, but for a while it was the (pardon) cutting edge, and more importantly there will be no immediate reward in having those preserve and pass on knowledge that is not essential to survival to the community as a whole. Even today, look at the derision that is pointed at those with degrees such as English or Philosophy as opposed to a more ‘practical’ (in that it gives greater oppurtunities to gather the materials necessary for survival, e.g. money) degrees. Now, if there is a situation where you can keep either the biochemist or the farmer, you’re going to keep the farmer, as they have the greater means to ensure the survival of the community.

    Now, how this relates to religion requires a certain amount of buy in to how RELIGIONS (as opposed to FAITHS) are formed, and I’ll get back to the Black Death in a moment. i’m a personal believer that religons as an institution were created to stop the perpetration of taboos – most religions have taboos, to a greater or lesser extent, about killing those within the community, cannibalism, incest and so on. In basic, religions (again, as instiutions, not faiths) could be seen to have been formed to stop people doing that which damages the communities; you don’t throw rocks in the river because the river god gets angry, we know this because the river floods when its dammed with rocks. In essence, many of the laws of religions were created to communicate and educate what not to do, though not necesssarily why, in reasonably simple ways. Many of the kashrut laws could be seen to have practical significance for tribes of people who live primarily in hot, arid areas, as a lesser example.

    Now, the Black Death had a very interesting effect on religion by the creation of a minor religion – the flagellants. These folks would wander from town to town and stay away, for the most part, from major cities, as they were decadent and sinful places. Now, while they nade a LOT of mistakes, mostly due to the fact that they didn’t have the knowledge that we have today, they did know to stay away from cities, which were crowded and dirty (though not through sin), and that made them very vulnerable to the disease. Stay away from the city (through bad and sinful), stick to the country (it’s pure, untouched and the land of god) and whip yourselves bloody (I…uh… I got nothing).

    TO summarize this bizarre and rambling thought process, the role and formation of religion after an apocalyptic scenario is going to be in the same vein – they will be there to pass on knowledge of what not to do and what to do to ensure the survival of the community. I’m not as quick to jump to the conclusion that fundamentalists of any stripe will be going around blowing up laboratories or there’s going to be some underground scientific resistance group, because fundamentally they are both trying to educate. Intially, there will be some violence between groups – both religious and secular – because people will be scared, but eventually knowledge that is useful to survival will be passed down and turn into taboo laws which are the foundation of religious doctrine, with the major difference being that we are starting from a position of at least some base knowledge beforehand.

    “The machine spirit sayeth to press the rune of awakening to bring forth its holy light!”

    (“Hit the ON button to start up the generator.”)

    After that, you’ll have the same situation that pretty much all religions go through – the formation of the heirarchy, the mutation of ideology, and the creation of sects.

    (As a side note, I say this as a Non-theist Quaker, so I’m pretty much screwed no matter how it goes.)

  7. Will, I’m guessing you played WH40K at some point…

    I think that crazy post-apocalypse cults of the “God has turned his back on the sinful world. Our only hope of salvation is to purge it of sinners” are likely as a shattered populace try to make sense of what’s happened – but maybe that’s because I play too many computer games. In the aftermath of the Apocalypse there would be (presumably) very little in the way of government, so there would be a power/organisation vacuum. Small churches/congregations have a potential to be “seeds” for the human nature to find/create a power structure – these are people who are already used to working/worshipping together.

    Mind you, if the Apocalypse was the Archangel Michael plunging the Sword of Eternal Fire into the polar ice cap to melt it and trigger another flood then all bets are off ;->

  8. Sometimes I do wonder that the fringe cases will happen – like the world will be plunged into Fimbulwinter and the Astaru are going to get all ‘I told you so’ as we’re dodging the flood of Jotun…

  9. I might fall into the ultra-conservative category (I don’t think I do, but that doesn’t mean a lot.) and definitely a Christian but I fear your analysis is more than probability. In an apocolypsesque disaster scenario, you will find all of the nuts ready to stomp on anyone they disagree with in the name of religion. I have a church history class (at an ultra-conservative bible college) and it is amazing to see how charasmatic people can use any religion to control a large group of people for personal gain.

    I may disagree with your origin theory, but I do request a desk in your science classes. I’ll bring my own candle. (Or maybe I’ll be spying on you for the New Inquisition! 😛 )

    1. You’re more than welcome to join our midnight science classes. But if you’re actually spying on us, we’ll feed you to the zombies. Or throw you into a collapsing building. Just sayin’ :-p

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