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The Future as a Zarathushtrian Invention[1]



Pearlstein, Arthur



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Thinking about God and man and our place in the world changed enormously after Zarathushtra. Up until his teachings, ancient peoples viewed human history as an endless series of cycles, set in motion by the Gods. The course of the world was immutable: there were periods of security, of fertility of the land, of victory in war; but these were always followed by flood, drought, plague, and defeat. The cycle of recovery and decline offered no real hope for the future. Many ancient peoples explained these cycles by referring to one or another of the various combat myths: stories of divine warriors that enabled humanity to survive by always fighting the demons that troubled the world. This was a very static view of things: the idea of progress did not exist. The future was distrusted.

Zarathushtra presented a completely different view. He taught that Ahura Mazda is a creative force and nature is a process in time with limitless potential for renovation and transformation. Spenta Mainyu, the universal force of creativity, is the “self-generating energy that leads to the creation and evolution of the universe” (F. Mehr, Introduction to the Gathas). Thus, the process set in motion by God and continued with the cooperation of humans is one that finds its ultimate meaning and expression in an endlessly expansive future. Questions of justification are referred to the future. Our role in this world is to work at creating a human future that is continuously better and better.

This view of the future and our responsibility in building it has had the most profound consequences in the history of civilization. When humans do not understand the reality of progress and the possibility of the future, they have no motivation toward social action; no enthusiasm for righteous behavior; no inclination to improve the conditions of life.

In the world that Zarathushtra described, humanity could build confidently and feel justified in making provisions for the future. Struggle and sacrifice to help create a good society made sense. Education to develop humanity in developing this world became increasingly important.

Although Zarathushtra opened people’s minds to the future, this radical idea has been interpreted and reinterpreted in many different ways throughout history. Zarathushtra inspired thoughts that were often quite different from his original teachings. Christianity, for example, embraced the idea of progress but aimed toward the Kingdom of Heaven and not at transforming this world.

Zarathushtra’s rejection of the static world-view and his introduction of the idea that our future can be made better than our present has had such powerful consequences through the ages that they are impossible to calculate. Religious movements, philosophical and theological speculations, political parties—so many have arisen from Zarathushtra’s inspiration. Yet his original message of future hope is more simple and more profound than any that have followed: the humanity of the future will be better than the humanity of the present in ways that we cannot now even imagine. The God-given capacity for self-creation means that human beings can make their own world and, indeed, have a responsibility to do so. Despite frequent and tragic setbacks, we are on a forward course.

[1] Article featured in the Winter 2002 issue of the FEZANA journal. Reproduced with permission from the author and the guest editor of the FEZANA issue, Dr. Mehrborzin Soroushian.