Religion, voluntary poverty, and cultural survival in an age of collapse
Or actually, what I present here are quotes of the day, plural. Both are from John Michael Greer, he of the liquid prose and fearsome erudition, and one of the most important writers about the civilizational trajectory we’re pursuing right now.
[Toynbee’s insight] that religion very often serves as the conduit by which the cultural treasures of one civilization reach the waiting hands of the next. . . is true much more often than not. It’s easy enough to see why this should be so. In a time of social disintegration, when institutions collapse and long-accepted values lose their meaning, only the most powerful human motives can ensure that the economically unproductive activities needed to maintain cultural heritage will be carried out in the teeth of the difficulties. Religion is the only cultural force that consistently provides motivation strong enough for the job; the same sense of transcendent value that leads martyrs to sing hymns as they are burnt alive can just as easily inspire scholars and scribes to preserve and transmit knowledge to a future they will never see.
— “Religion and the Survival of Culture” (2008)
The Christian monasteries that preserved classical culture through the last set of dark ages were not staffed by people trying to preserve some semblance of a middle-class Roman lifestyle while the world fell apart around them. Quite the opposite — the monks and nuns who copied old texts, taught at abbey schools, and kept the lamps of Western civilization burning, voluntarily embraced a lifestyle even more impoverished and restricted than that of the peasants among whom they lived. The same point is equally true of the Buddhist and Taoist monastics who accomplished the same vital task in other places and times. Arguably, it’s precisely this willingness to embrace extreme poverty that frees up the time and effort needed for the economically unproductive activities needed to keep the heritage of a civilization alive.
— The Long Descent (2008)