Religion | Graham Hancock’s religion
Man, the comet, and Atlantis.
Graham Hancock is a popular author and journalist whose work concentrates on finding evidence from archeological sites around the world that suggests, following a great cataclysm, probably a comet or meteor impact, thousands of years ago that a greatly advanced civilisation – perhaps the fabled Atlantis – was destroyed. The survivors of this cataclysm spread out across the world and ended up living with hunter-gatherer communities, since hunter-gatherers, being primitively robust, could deal with the chaos caused by the impact more easily than people involved in a more technologically advanced society. Hancock reasons that if a similar cataclysm happened today the only people equipped to be self-sufficient are hunter-gatherers. Advanced technological civilisation would probably go to the wall.
This explains, according to Hancock, why primitive human communities seemed to make great leaps forward at about the same time in deep history. They may have received knowledge or technical advice from the survivors of the advanced technological society. While this advice was not complete (how many of us could invent electricity from scratch?), it was enough to help the primitives develop innovations like agriculture and, perhaps, explains the building of the pyramids and sites like Göbekli Tepe in Turkey.
The mythological and moral story that Hancock conveys through his factual account is that man will be punished for his wickedly greedy and exploitative technological ways by a comet or meteor impact that, despite all his advanced technology, he will be unable to anticipate or deal with. Hancock comes as a prophet to warn us to mend our ways, spend money on comet detection instead of warfare, and to reconnect us to a wider consciousness of the Earth through psychedelics – particularly South America’s “mother ayahuasca”. Indeed, he hints that primitive peoples use these psychedelics to access a power and deeper understanding of the world that has been lost to us.
If we heed Hancock, then we will give all our resources to a new psychedelically empowered non-hierarchical and democratic priesthood who, by reducing our high technology society to a less hubristic level and redirecting its focus, will allow us to survive any future impact from outer space.
We must change our direction or else we will suffer the fate of Atlantis.
This is the essence of the message Hancock brings.
This is a religion, not a scientific or historical theory. This doesn’t mean it is untrue, though I don’t think it is very likely to be true – precisely because it recapitulates a mode of thought that is very common in human history.
The moral and mythological message about the collapse of civilisations, the wisdom of nature, and the destructive greediness of the Western world is the real thrust of Hancock’s work. So it is pointless to ask, as sceptics and scientists do, whether the evidence Hancock produces conforms to the scientific method or activities of mainstream archeology. The point of Hancock’s work is to generate a sense of wonder and also to chastise us for the way we live now. He is delivering a modern sermon for people who can no longer believe in God as conceptualised in the Abrahamic religions.
The supernatural is too unlikely for us, but we can imagine that there was a lost civilisation with advanced technology greater than our own – just as we can imagine space aliens. There is nothing implausible or impossible about this from our materialistic and scientific outlook – it is just unlikely and not supported by evidence yet. Similarly, we struggle to believe in miracles as reported in the Bible, but we can just about believe that a change in our consciousness through ayahuasca use could put us in touch with other, possibly wiser, forms of consciousness.
Hancock’s religion is basically very similar in its thought process to another secular religion – an ideology since it has no supernatural elements – the religion of climate change. Hancock’s thought has a comet impact instead of global warming, but the basic message is the same: dismantle or radically alter your technological society and give more power to the priestly or ideological elites. If we do this, then potentially world destroying war and conflict will come to an end – or at least be greatly curtailed, and man will live in harmony with nature. In this moral universe, simple hunter-gatherer man is morally good and Western technological man is greedy and cruel.
This, in turn, is very similar to the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th century philosopher who claimed that civilisation was a corrupting process and popularised the term “noble savage”. We have been idealising non-technological societies for a long time. The claim is that if we could peel back the layers of corruption, we would return to a purer state without the enslavement that civilisation demands to feed itself. These ideas informed the French Revolution, and, though he did not influence him directly, Rousseau’s message, all dressed in a scientific garb, is also present in Marx’s work.
The refrain is eerily similar: the current order is materialistic and destructively infatuated with technology, and we must, under the authority of new “priests”, repent for our crimes or else face oblivion.
The results are also eerily similar: the collapse of the economy, social chaos, and widespread persecution of people who will not conform.
This is the type of ideology you would promote if you wanted to seize power for your priestly elite. An elite composed of, say, journalists – like Hancock and Marx —or lawyers and academics. The people, in other words, who, in a secular society, serve a priestly role.
I’m not suggesting that this is a conscious process or power grab on Hancock’s part or on the part of people who advance the theory of climate change or Marxism. It’s just that humans tend to instinctively tell stories that justify our actions or magnify our importance. Consequently, people of a priestly mien tell stories of the type outlined above. Stories that magnify their importance.
We are not evolved to seek the truth.
We are evolved to maximise our status – possibly by warning the tribe that they are about to die.
The new priests are, they promise, completely democratic and non-hierarchical. They are not priests, except, from Robespierre to Lenin, they always are. In fact, they’re often worse than the old priests, especially during the perpetual “adjustment period” before utopia.
I think that some people have a natural priestly disposition – perhaps it is in the genes. Even an avowed atheist like Nietzsche came from generations of Protestant ministers, and his fervour and outlook was quite priestly – even as he preached atheism. He couldn’t help himself, and he certainly preached his own mythology with complete fervour. Similarly, Karl Marx had a grandfather who was a rabbi and his account of communism is not dissimilar from a secularised account of the Jewish mythology, with the working class as the chosen people instead of the Jews. Finally, Graham Hancock also comes from a priestly background, his grandfather, like Nietzsche’s, was a church minister.
The desire to preach, mythologise, and moralise is, quite possibly, in the blood. If actual supernatural religion has died in you, then you will do it anyway with the material to hand: the overman, the working class, and ayahuasca.
There are even people, called “sceptics”, who have made a religion of disbelief – notably, they are often former members of religions, and they are just as fervent in their new religion: the religion of scepticism.
The priestly type, perhaps large sections of the population in general, is susceptible to the thought process that I have outlined above, and so we find that the same basic structure of the thought process crops up again and again in history in different garb.
Humans have a great need for wonder and a purpose beyond ourselves. We live in an age where everything has become disenchanted through technology and the scientific method. Our world is mundane and cynical. It is full of “snark”, not the sacred. Men like Hancock help us to imagine, in a non-supernatural way, that the world is still enchanted. In their story, there is a lost civilisation out there. Who knows what it discovered? A cure for death, perhaps…(trust me, this lies at the bottom of your fantasies of Atlantis).
All we need to do is smoke ayahuasca, take some weed, and maybe do some mushrooms.
Then it will all make sense.
All we need to do, like a Catholic at Mass, is to participate in the rituals.
The problem is that this priestly thought process has caused terrible disasters over the last few centuries. It has provided the ideological justification for events like the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Nazi Revolution. Lawyers, journalists, and other priestly types used this thought process to rile up the masses and plunge their states into catastrophe. After all, this thought process suggests that apocalypse beckons without radical action; and, further, this thought process demonises technology, capitalism, and those people associated with them – people who, being too “materialistic”, must be destroyed.
Graham Hancock’s version is pacific and, frankly, people who regularly use cannabis, ayahuasca, and mushrooms are not going to be a threat to anyone; but his outlook still contains the germ of more terrible ideologies.
We can re-enchant ourselves with the world, but we can do so through meditation and alternatives (not necessarily drugs) that break the established patterns of our mind. It’s tempting to break our disenchantment with an imagined utopia or apocalyptic mythology – nothing concentrates the mind like death. The problem is that these mythologies can destroy everything that sustains life if they get out of hand (you see, I can moralise too). As for drugs, natural or otherwise, there’s always the risk of addiction.
Enchantment really just means to lose your illusions, including your illusion that technology and science have made everything mundane.
You only need to drop that illusion to feel wonder.
You don’t need to add anything.