Desert memory. After a few hours on the trail in the Mauritanian desert, I saw an old herdsman traveling with his family. His young wife and his mother-in-law rode camels; his sons and daughter were on donkeys. The group carried with them everything essential to survival – and therefore to life. The sight of them gave me the impression that I had encountered a contemporary of Muhammad. Burning white sky, scattered, scorched trees, uprooted thorn bushes blown by the desert wind across unending vistas of orange sand… the spectacle evoked the geographical and psychological background of the Koran, in the turbulent period of camel caravans, nomad encampments, and clashing desert tribes.

I thought of the lands of Israel, Judaea and Samaria, of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, of Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. Places where the sun bakes men’s heads, desiccates their bodies, afflicts their souls with thirst. Places that generate a yearning for oases where water flows cool, clear and free, where the air is balmy and fragrant, where food and drink are abundant. The afterlife suddenly struck me as a counterworld invented by men exhausted and parched by their ceaseless wanderings across the dunes or up and down rocky trails baked to white heat. Monotheism was born of the sand.

Michel Onfray, preface to Atheist Manifesto

After suffering a heart attack aged 28 and being advised to change his diet, Onfray replied that he “preferred to die eating butter than to economize [his] existence with margarine.” Biographicon

5 Responses to “The Religions of Dust”

  1. AndrewFinden Says:

    Onfray hasn’t done his homework. Nazareth & Galilee aren’t the deserts he describes, they ARE oases. Take, for example what Josephus writes about Galilee:

    its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty; its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there; for the temper of the air is so well mixed, that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts, which require the coldest air, flourish there in vast plenty; there are palm trees also, which grow best in hot air; fig trees also and olives grow near them, which yet require an air that is more temperate. One may call this place the ambition of nature, where it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together; it is a happy contention of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country; for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruit beyond men’s expectation, but preserves them a great while; it supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually, during ten months of the year and the rest of the fruits as they become ripe together through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is also watered from a most fertile fountain.

    (Jewish Wars III 10:8)

    Why would they make up a religion on the basis of longing for what they already had??

    1. franc hoggle Says:

      Longing for what “some” had. He is describing the yearning of the “have nots”, and in that sense it Abrahamic theologies make sense. It is the ancient equivalent of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.

      1. AndrewFinden Says:

        I don’t understand – Onfray argues that being in a place like Galilee would make one yearn for an oasis, yet Galilee is that oasis, so again, why would being in Galilee make people yearn for an oasis as Onfray argues?
        I am assuming that you are trying to defend Onfray’s argument, btw.

      2. franc hoggle Says:

        I just like Onfray’s passage. If you nitpick, then you are correct, and Onfray is not. He is painting a larger scene though, and I think the respites the dust dwellers had in places like Galilee were the seed that helped them conceptualise heaven the way they did. I would guess that is where his mind was roaming. It is just an intro to his book, which IMHO is one of the better godless rants out there.

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