I have a small problem, in that I get easily distracted. If I’m reading a book and some factoid or concept piques my interest, I immediately want to switch to a different book where I can learn about it. This happens repeatedly. But it’s much worse when I buy a book and want to read it but want to finish what I’m reading already. For this reason, Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation represents a massive temptation for me at the moment. It’s sitting on my desk, waving at me, murmuring “read me…”
The book is about the Axial Age (900-200 BCE), the period when the great religious traditions (monotheism, philosophical rationalism, Confucianism and Taoism, and Hinduism and Buddhism) came into being. I’m looking forward to it (I sneaked a look at the introduction) because of the following quote:
In times of spiritual and social crisis, men and women have constantly turned back to [the Axial Age] for guidance. They may have interpreted the Axial discoveries differently, but they have never succeeded in going beyond them. Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for example, were all later-day flowerings of the original Axial Age…these three traditions all rediscovered the Axial vision and translated it marvelously into an idiom that spoke directly to the circumstances of their time.
….The prophets, mystics, philosophers and poets of the Axial Age were so advanced and their vision was so radical that later generations tended to dilute it. In the process, they often produced exactly the kind of religiosity that the Axial reformers wanted to get rid of. That, I believe, is what has happened in the modern world. The Axial sages have an important message for our time, but their insights will be surprising – even shocking – to many who consider themselves religious today.
I’ve gotta hurry up and finish Bruce Catton’s A Silence at Appomattox. The Civil War is always a worthy subject, but I’ve GOT to find out what she’s talking about. Stay tuned…