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Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by Stephen of Wimbledon

It's time to stop pussy footing around with the dicussion on the survival value of religion.

In Rapa Nui (so called by the Polynesian people who live there - and more often called Easter Island by Europeans, and those of European descent) we have a perfect example of a people who were so isolated from other cultures that the islanders' history offers a petri dish equivalent for anthropology.

The basis - the ultimate output - for the Rapa Nui, Polynesian, society was religious artefacts. These huge stone statues and plynths exhausted the island of larger trees, and demanded a large workforce that required slash and burn to clear more forests for agriculture. This left the soil open to erosion.

Eventually, after destroying all the trees and reducing the productive capacity of the land to subsistance levels, tne Rapanuin came up with a solution - a new religion! The so-called birdman cult.

But by then it was too late. The original religion had been so ingrained in the Rapanui that they could not stop and ask each other; Where is this going to lead? At least, one would think, when the larger trees had all been used and they could no longer build canoes to connect them back to Polynesians on other islands, or to fish, they would have stopped for a breather and taken stock.

But no, instilled in the Rapanui was the conviction that their religion was right - that it was infallible - and they carried on. How else to explain that they did, unarguably, carry on?

It is far too easy to be trite, not to say triumphalist, when one considers the archaeological and anthropological evidence of a society that failed. Nevertheless, Rapa Nui stands out as a stark lesson from history.

Religion, when it goes unchallenged, may lead a society to the appearance of success in the short term - as it must have seemed for the first three, or possibly more, generations of Polynesian settlers on Rapa Nui. But, eventually, it will lead directly to the destruction of the very society that holds that religion to its bossom.

Rapa Nui is not alone. There are other societies that have collapsed despite of their established (integrated into the society) religious convictions. Whenever I read of Rapa Nui, I am also reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet; Ozymandius. Ozymandiyus, in case you didn't know, is another name for the Great Pharoah of Ancient Egypt, Ramsses.

Be moved. Read the sonnet, and it's history, here:

Read more on Rapa Nui here:

Sat, 02 Jan 2010 18:35:00 UTC | #427728