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Zoroastrianism in the 21st Century -
Preparing Ourselves for Mass Conversions


From a speech given at a conference at The Californian Zoroastrian Center, Westminster, CA, May 1998.

Alexander Bard



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Ideas travel slowly. At least if we look at how ideas cross over from one field of thought to another. Counting from a scientific hypothesis, which first has to be tested and proven empirically correct within its specific field, the effects of a major scientific discovery on the rest of society can take more than a century to sink in.

Even though we often feel technological change is progressing at a breakneck pace, there are few if any signs that the process of paradigm shifts is speeding up. Rather the contrary. Since many of the scientific discoveries of the 20th century challenge our old worldview in such a dramatic fashion, paradigm shifts seem to travel slower now than before.

But travel they do. Therefore, there is no doubt that the implications of the scientific discoveries of the late 20th century will eventually reach every corner of our society. Science influences philosophy. Philosophy influences the arts. The arts influence popular culture and the media. And through mass media like television, film and music, we will all eventually be influenced in our every-day thinking by the major discoveries and paradigm shifts that have changed science so dramatically in the last 30 years.

I became a Zoroastrian in 1983. Although I have since learned to understand and love both Iranian and Gujarati culture, my conversion was entirely the result of reading and studying The Gathas. This wonderful scripture, this magnificent combination of intelligence and intuition, struck me as the perfect, timeless platform for a modern world religion.

Better than anybody else before or after him, Zarathushtra understood the timeless mechanisms that define the human condition. But he also understood the mechanisms by which the whole universe operates and considered the two systems, both the spiritual and the physical, to be one and the same force. Zarathushtra called this system of laws Asha.

The amazing thing is that modern science has reached exactly the same conclusions that Zarathushtra put forward some 3,700 years ago. Namely, that the universe operates, although also incorporating the element of chance, within definite laws of physics that are timeless and ever existent and that these laws have a specific purpose, namely the upholding and expansion of the universe.

Zarathushtra based his spiritual laws on his perfect understanding of the human condition. Interestingly, Zarathushtra's concept of Asha and the newly discovered laws of physics are, as we shall see, one and the same. Zarathushtra's 3,700 year-old religion is therefore not only correct in its observations of the human condition, but also in 100% agreement with the achievements of modern science. No other religion can make a similar claim.

Zarathushtra studied the human condition and reached his existentialist conclusions, which he characterized as Asha. Modern science has studied the universe both from its macro and micro perspectives and reached similar conclusions. It is therefore safe to say that the validity of Asha is reinforced on both fronts. Asha is the law according to which the universe operates but it is also the law according to which we should live our lives to be constructive and harmonious.

The fact is that if we were to invent an entirely new world religion based on modern science and in accordance with what we now know about the world, we would end up inventing something that already exists, namely Zoroastrianism. There is therefore no need to invent a New World religion. Our mission is instead to raise Zoroastrianism to its proper status as the world's dominant faith and the way forward is to go back to its roots, the message of Zarathushtra, and show the world the genius at work in The Gathas.

So what then is all the fuzz about in modern science? Which are these massive breakthroughs we hear about and what effects will they have on our worldview, on the way we think? We shall not only look at that but we shall also study the consequences the new scientific paradigm will have on the different systems of thought competing within the areas of religion and philosophy today.

I have chosen to divide current thinking into nine different alternatives and we shall look at the effects of the upcoming paradigm shift on each of these systems. We will study these effects from four different scientific perspectives, three of them discoveries within physics and cosmology and one within sociology, namely the arrival of the network society. My theory is that only an alternative, which is compatible to the changes taking place in all these four areas, can compete credibly once the paradigm shift is complete.

The new worldview taking shape within science will have a dramatic effect on the status of religion and philosophy. We are about to experience some dramatic changes that will shake the established faiths and ideological systems at their very foundations. And we are in for some surprising consequences.

The nine alternatives I have chosen fairly well cover where modern thinking is. First, we have the four Abrahamic religions, all monotheistic and founded in the Middle East. These are Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai. Then there are the two main for as of eastern thinking, Hinduism and Buddhism.

We add two modern Western alternatives which both have their roots in the Enlightenment of France in the 18th century. I have chosen to refer to these systems of thought as Western Humanism and New Age. The ninth and last alternative is Zoroastrianism, based on The Gathas, written by Zarathushtra 3,700 years ago.

Western Humanism is essentially all the ideologies trying to keep Christian values intact while subtracting the Christian god. This process started with Voltaire and reached its zenith with Nietzsche.

Personally I regard Western Humanism, as a house without a basement, bound to implode once the lack of a foundation becomes obvious. But it is nevertheless a formidable alternative as it features all the dominant political ideologies of our society, like Marxism, Liberalism and Conservatism. Western Humanism requires an atheist or, possibly, an agnostic worldview to make sense.

New age is essentially the western adoptions of Eastern thinking in all their variety. Since Rousseau in 18th century France, Nature as God, and the pantheistic approach towards existence, has had a great attraction on Westerners as an alternative to the collapsed Christian hegemony of the middle ages. Its modern-day equivalent is the crystals and pyramids crowd of environmentalist fundamentalists appearing everywhere from California to Germany.

Any serious religious or philosophical alternative set to attract attention in the next 50 to 100 years can easily be referred to at least one of these nine alternatives. So we should be fairly well covered within this framework.

Cosmology was long based on the assumption that time was somehow an illusion and that there was therefore no physical limits to the concepts of time and space. The universe had neither beginning nor end but had always existed and would always exist keeping basically the same characteristics. The same would be true about space, which was assumed to be endless. Even Albert Einstein subscribed mainly to this worldview.

In the 1920s, scientists began to challenge this paradigm. If the universe had always existed and had always had the same properties, should it not then be full of light and radiation, as these are the by-products of stellar explosions? How come the universe contained so much dark, empty space? Perhaps instead the galaxies moved away from each other and the universe was expanding rather than standing still?

If the universe were expanding, it would have had to progress from a smaller, more concentrated form to its current status. In the early 1950s, a Russian-Jewish woman named Vera Rubin was the first to see the full consequences of an expanding universe. The universe was indeed a prisoner of time. It had to have a beginning, a big bang, in which both the universe and the dimensions of time and space were born, and the whole thing has expanded at a rapid pace ever since.

The big bang theory was proven correct in all its details over the next 30 years and the vast majority of physicists and cosmologists now take its validity for granted. Most theories now instead refer to how the big bang occurred and the nature of the important following events and what effects these events had on the shape of our current universe. Through the study of far-away galaxies (which also happen to reflect a much younger universe than ours) and the background radiation in space we can learn about the origin and the properties of the world.

Looking at the concept of time, there are historically two assumptions competing. One is called circular time universe (CTU) and assumes that the universe has always existed and all events will therefore, sooner or later, return to the same position as from where they began. Time is merely an illusion. Science up to Einstein subscribed to CTU which means Western Humanism (and its alternative to religion, atheism) is based on this assumption. So are Hinduism, Buddhism and their Westernized equivalent, New Age.

The competing concept is linear time universe (LTU). The universe has indeed a beginning and possibly also an end. Time is a part, or a dimension, of the universe, rather than an illusion. Events never return to the same position again but existence is instead a constant evolution. Zarathushtra actually founded this concept and it has since been applied to the Abrahamic faiths. Therefore, these five alternatives all survive the implications of the big bang theory on their intellectual credibility.

If the universe and the dimensions of time and space were born at the big bang and this happened as a result of pure chance, the whole thing would by now have gone through billions and billions of likelihood to collapse. Instead, the universe and its dimensions operate within exact physical laws, laws that exist outside and before the big bang, laws that are as valid today as ever, laws that were apparently created to avoid a collapse. It is therefore impossible to stay an atheist while accepting the evidence of the big bang and its consequences. Atheism was basically an historical parenthesis between Nietzsche and Marx. It died intellectually with Vera Rubin.

The second major discovery in modern science is that the laws of physics appear to be identical everywhere we look into the universe. If we look far enough we also look far back in time since the light we study is as old as the number of light years it has traveled. Even when we study the young universe we see from the remotest distances, the laws of physics are still identical to those valid in our own, current neighborhood.

If the laws of physics are identical everywhere in the universe and have been the same since the very creation of the universe, there is no room for exceptions. That means parallel truths can not be valid. Two statements that contradict each other can not both are true.

Applied to religion, there is no room for polytheism. Hinduism is based on polytheism and consequently does not survive this scientific finding. Neither does New Age which is based on and thrives on the notion of parallel truths. The reality is that two assumptions that contradict each other can not both be true.

Let us now move on from macro to microphysics. Quantum mechanics is a concept we have all heard about but few of us understand. Basically, quantum physics deals with the atomic and subatomic particles, their properties and how they interact. Quantum mechanics has been studied since the beginning of this century but has only recently begun to be applied to technology and influence our view of the world.

One of the most interesting phenomena in quantum physics is that when we observe and register the movement of a particle as small as an electron, we find that we can not determine the position of the particle and its movement simultaneously. This has a dramatic consequence, namely that the activity of the very foundations of our universe can not be predicted even when we have perfect access to information.

The world is therefore indeterministic rather than deterministic. We can never with certainty predict what will happen, only make more or less accurate speculations or design fields of likely outcomes. If God exists, not even God can know, in advance, exactly what will happen.

The Abrahamic faiths are all four based on the concept that God knows everything, including what will occur in the future. Nothing can be hidden from God, not even the future. When Judas kissed Christ, he did so because this had already been determined. It was Judas' fate to kiss and betray Christ. There was nothing Judas could do to change or alter his fate. Neither could Christ avoid his crucifixion. It was determined.

The same goes for Judaism, Islam and Bahai, in which telling the future is an integral part of religious beliefs and without which the very foundations of the religions collapse. Modern science, especially quantum physics, has proved this assumption to be incorrect.

If we can not predict with certainty the movements and positions of the smallest particles in the universe, there is no way we can predict anything bigger with certainty either. Of all the five monotheist religions founded in the Middle East only one, Zoroastrianism, is indeterministic and therefore compatible with the consequences of quantum physics.

If we can not predict even the very next second with certainty, we certainly can not predict that the current universe will return to the same position as its current status somewhere in the future. Therefore, the circular time universe dependent systems of thought also have a major obstacle to overcome staying credible following the breakthroughs of quantum physics.

We live in a rapidly changing world where the effects of technological invention are dramatic. The world is becoming one global village. Through new fast and cheap electronic media we can all have constant access to perfect information. The network society evolving can not be controlled by any individual or organization and staying out of the network revolution means total exclusion from every aspect of modern society, including trade and economic and technological development.

The revolution that overthrew the Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe became a possibility through the widespread use of fax machines in those countries. The Rodney King trial in Los Angeles would never have caused so much controversy were it not for the videotapes authentically showing the behavior of the LAPD. New network media are popping up everywhere, registering everything that happens or is said, and the world can study just about everything that happens in detail. We move into a transparent society. Nothing important can be hidden from the masses any longer.

Every aspect of social behavior, from family life to corporate structures, will be affected. Your boss can no longer close the door to hold secret meetings. Information will be out and for all to know within minutes anyway. Hierarchies will have to go and freedom of information and freedom of choice will reign. Even dictatorships like those in Communist China or the Iran of the mullahs must change due to technological change. 50 years from now, there will be no more dictatorships in the world.

How do these changes affect our nine alternatives? Well, belief systems that require obedience to a specified divine truth, no matter what, can not survive. A belief system has to be able to handle constant questioning, analysis and the freedom of choice. The very foundations of a faith have to be credible intellectually with every follower to be an alternative. Which of our nine alternatives survive this upcoming test?

Islam states that Allah rules and that there is no other god than Allah and Allah must be feared by everybody although often not understood. In Bahaiism, the House of Justice decides the rules and regulations for every aspect of life for all Bahai followers without allowing being questioned. Christianity and Judaism have similar concepts of God and with The Pope in charge of all Catholics in the world, giving them orders what to think and how to act, their pattern is similar although possibly not as strict as that of Islam and Bahai.

Among religions, only Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Hinduism allow for individuals to find out and understand for themselves how things work. Naturally, Western Humanism and New Age are also tolerant enough towards individual thinking to be able to survive the test of the network revolution. But the Abrahamic religions will not be able to keep their foundations and survive the open society revolution simultaneously.

If we look at all the nine alternatives from the four perspectives I have discussed above, we will soon find that Zoroastrianism, as presented by Zarathushtra in The Gathas, is the only alternative which survives all four tests and therefore has a future to prosper in.

My question is can the Zoroastrians of the world comprehend this and do they realize the responsibility that goes with this finding? Or do truth seekers outside the Zoroastrian community have to invent a new credible, modern world religion borrowing Zarathushtra's ideas while turning their back on the traditional Zoroastrians?

I believe that question is up to the Zoroastrians themselves to answer. But nothing can be more important within the Zoroastrian community today than living up to the fact that we and we alone, carry the eternal truth from pre-historic times to the modern age. It is an enormous responsibility. Can the Zoroastrian community live up to it? Are we ready for mass conversions?