FOSSIL SOCIETIES?-1 (part 2) (Post No.8669)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8669

Date uploaded in London – – – –12 SEPTEMBER 2020   

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R. Nanjappa


One of Toynbee’s basic propositions was that at the end of the 20th century, four civilizations/societies would contend for survival if not supremacy: Western Civilization, Islamic , Hindu  and the Far East. He did not predict the outcome but merely hinted at what might happen. One possibility is that the Western Civilisation might become global!

 Today we know that Islam is aggressive all over the world, and militant in many areas.. But the West is not exactly Christian any more! Most states consider themselves secular, and nearly 30% of the people consider themselves atheistic, while an equal number declare themselves “spiritual but not religious ” i.e. they have no affiliation to any organised church. It is mainly with such secular entities that Islamists are fighting! The major Western countries like the US, UK, Germany, France are not engaging Islamic fundamentalists to defend Christianity (as the Christians did during the Crusades) but merely to survive as secular societies where religion would not dictate public life ! [The basic virtues of decency and elementary morality that  cultured Westerners display is undeniably derived from their religious sources, but religion is not admitted as motivating the State.] We may now realise what tremendous observation Toynbee made ! It is the general Western ideals and model that are getting globalised now.

The Far Eastern civilization is mainly Chinese and smaller Buddhist societies. China has its own religions but today it is irreligious as a State. But it has become a dominant economic and military power, with major ambitions, challenging even the US and it is the virtual master of the Far East, with a vast ethnic Chinese population in many countries..

The Far East

In the light of these, one can see how prescient Toynbee  was- he came so close to the reality  that prevails today, writing  over 60 years ago. After him, Samuel Huntington considered the post-cold war world as a clash of civilizations. Though he numbered 7 contestants, the real factors are just 4: the West, Islam, Hinduism and China. 


There is another important fact which Toynbee pointed out. In the very first volume, writing in 1934, he wrote:

There remains the case where victims of religious discrimination represent an extinct society which only survives as a fossil…. by far the most notable is one of the fossil remnants  of the Syriac Society, the Jews.

When this was written, the modern state of Israel was not yet created and the Jews were living scattered in many lands, their home land having been occupied by Christians and Muslims successively. The Jews were one of the most intelligent and creative communities of the world and they were [and still are] a force, wherever they lived. For this very reason there was wild prejudice against them in most countries where they lived and they had to live in ghettos.

But what about their religion? It had ceased to grow once they were driven out of their homeland. They merely survived, still waiting for their saviour.

Modern Israel was created in 1948 and many Jews of the world went and settled there. But still, more Jews live outside Israel! [The Jewish population of Israel is around 6.3 million; there are about 8 million Jews in other countries of the world!] And Israel as a political entity is surrounded by hostile neighbours [which will not end till the day of Judgement!] and it is  perpetually preoccupied with self preservation. Defence indeed has become their religion. Their religious faith is stagnant! Their genius and creativity are focussed on survival and other areas of human endeavour.

(Look at the number of Jews among Nobel Laureates!) How then can they flourish as a civilization? Judaism is just a remnant- that is the meaning of fossil. Remnant of the past, refusing or failing to grow, in the absence of new creative inputs!

Every living system has to keep growing or it decays! A living religion has to undergo perpetual renewal. Where a religion looks to a golden past and seeks to restore it, it means that it has lost its vitality and become a mere fossil!

We can see this clearly demonstrated in the glorious history of Judaism. It was kept alive by a succession of Prophets. They did differ among themselves, in spite of the core teachings but so long as they flourished in their homeland, they kept growing, reconciling all the differences. That was the sign of living vitality. But they were overtaken by the Christians and the Muslims, and were driven out. Since then, survival as a community became the issue, not growth as a faith. This continues to this day, as they are still waiting for their Prophet to come!

This is the state of the three of the four civilizations that Toynbee wrote about, and the fossil society, the Jews. What about the fourth civilisation that he stated-Hinduism? This has to be dealt with separately.

tags– fossil societies-2


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