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✞ Christianity's Butterfly Effect

Michael Dean
Michael Dean
8 min read

If it wasn’t for Christianity, mankind could have landed on the moon by 1200 AD.

This bizarre alternate reality stems from a unique kind of “Butterfly Effect” meditation. We all know the mantra: “every little action we take echoes forever into the future.” But what if the biggest event in human history never occurred?

This vision comes from one of Terence McKenna’s infamous mushroom trips. In a 15-second flash, he saw a vision of how history might have unfolded if the Immaculate Conception or the Resurrection never occurred.

There’s nothing wrong with Christianity itself (I’m a Greek Orthodox Christian), but the way it was radicalized by militant Roman emperors paralyzed the world. We often fail to consider how the early church stamping out the flame of antiquity led to a chain-reaction that altered many facets of our history:

  • Our timeline of technological development
  • The success and failure of empires
  • The fusion of cultures
  • The collective psyche during the scientific revolution

McKenna’s timeline saw the emergence of a Greek and Mayan partnership. These two colossal empires were separated by an insurmountable ocean in our timeline, but not in Terence’s vision. Their exchange led to the synthesis of science and religion, giving them a unique perspective that is missing from our materialistic, almost Faustian lens towards progress.

The 21st century finds itself in a strange predicament. It’s as if we’ve woken with the superpower to develop both angelic and destructive technology. But we’re missing the perspective or moral compass required to make the right decisions.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from this alternate reality.

Skipping the Dark Ages

It took 300 years for Christianity to evolve from a small persecuted following to the guiding religion of Roman emperors. That seems like a painfully long time, but it's a historical flash. For 70,000 years, humans were animistic, polytheistic, and pagan. An infinite wellspring of ritual and experience suddenly converged into state-mandated monotheism.

In the grand scheme of things, Greek religion was a flourishing scene - not just in science, but in religion. Hundreds of mystery schools were in operation, allowing citizens to build a well-rounded interpretation of spirituality. It was the early phases of a decentralized network of religious institutions, but it was confronted by the most powerful military in the world before it could grow into maturity.

The conversion of emperor Constantine began the systematic destruction of the ancient world, all under the name of Christ. Temples were raided, icons were desecrated, and libraries were burned. Private rituals and invocations were banned, effectively supressing the Greek mystery schools. Discussing Neoplatonic or hermetic philosophy, the edges of modern thought, were the basis for trial and murder.

McKenna's flash of an alternate timeline showed a version of history where the advances in Greek spirituality, philosophy, and science got to continue un-interrupted.

He painted a different fate for, Hypatia, the first recorded female mathematician, who he deemed an "unsung hero." She was a pagan building on the ideas of Diophantus, and on the brink of a mathematical breakthrough. Although she supported all religions, she was brutally stoned and killed by a Christian mob. McKenna speculates that, had she lived and worked for another decade, we could have had a calculus in the year 420 AD that would have gone undiscovered until Newton, over 1,300 years later.

Though the collapse of Rome can't be solely attributed to Christianity, it is factored in as one of the main causes. Perhaps in a timeline without Christ, the Empire would have been able to repel the barbarian invasions of the 5th century AD and continue on its course.

There's a potential version of humanity where the entire Dark Ages were avoided.

The whole premise of the Renaissance and Enlightenment was to cast back to antiquity, to revive the ideas and methods that we've cast aside in order to revive the human spirit. In McKenna's vision, instead of a millennia-long fall and return to the ideas of ancient Greece, there would have been a feedback loop, accelerating the rate of technological progress.

The unrestrained combination of ideas would have led us to make certain discoveries centuries ahead of schedule. For example, with accelerated astronomy and ship-building programs, we could have discovered the new world in 850 AD instead of the 15th century.

Instead of the Greek and Romans civilizations fizzling out, they could have found an unexpected collaborator.

Symbiosis with the Mayans

In the 1520's, when Hernando Cortez and the Spanish conquistadors came to the Mayan civilization, they arrived with the goal of spreading Christianity. The Mayans were already near collapse from their own internal issues, but they still resisted for almost two centuries.

In McKennas vision, when the Greeks and Romans arrived in South American in 850 AD, it was the peak of Mayan civilization, and they immediately recognized their genius. The Greeks themselves were polytheistic, and had no intention to impose a single ideology on a newly discovered, advanced, and exotic civilization. Instead of domination, there was a partnership.

In our own timeline, each culture burned out. But in this alternate history, these two civilizations grew stronger together.

The symbiosis between Europe and the Mayans lead to a Trans-Atlantic Silk Road.

Consider how the Silk Road fused Europe, Asia, and the Middle East over centuries, not just with tradable materials, but culture. This same kind of fusion happened, except it was a blender of Neoplatonic philosophy, hermeticism, mathematics, calendars, science, psychology, and astronomy.

And of course, this wouldn't be a Terence McKenna trip without psychedelics saving the planet.

This kind of Silk Road was more like the Bitcoin Silk Road in the sense that it brought mind-altering substances to Europe. This partnership gave the Greeks access to the biodiversity of the South American rainforest, paired with knowledge on their applications from the Mayans. In our own timeline, these plant medicines were considered demonic by Christian missionaries, and were outcast to indigenous tribes outside of history.

McKenna didn't cover this, but consider how the integration of psychedelics into this fictional Europe of 900 AD would have differed from 1960s Christian America. In our timeline, LSD, a form of "instant mysticism" (unearned wisdom), was illegally mass-produced through, spread through the streets with ease, and reverberated hysteria through electronic mass-media.

It was a chance that flopped.

In contrast, the Greeks, with a history of animism, would've found resonance with the psychedelic experience. Additionally, the supply of ayahuasca and mushrooms from South America would have been limited, making the integration of them into society more deliberate. Imagine if scientists, mystery schools, and Neoplatonist philosophers had tools to systematically transcend ordinary brain chemistry? Slowly, over decades and centuries, these substances would've accelerated the understanding of the mind (as they're doing now), and found their way to the populace through rites and rituals.

It's strange to imagine a society in touch with their subconscious and the mysteries of existence, perhaps centuries before industrialization. Where as the contribution of Carl Jung are somewhat outcast to an academic community these days, imagine if they were engrained into the fabric of society? How would the scientific revolution have unfolded if Carl Jung came 200 years before it, instead of 200 years after?

A Different Foundation for Science

McKenna comments on how the whole program of modern science would have had a radically different ethos if it were developed from the foundation of a Greco-Mayan culture.

"Now one of the influences which the Mayans brought into Europe around the year 950 was their extremely sophisticated psychopharmacopeia, and shamanism.

And this mated with Neoplatonism and Hermeticism, so that rather than science developing as it developed in our world, a kind of magical, psychopharmacolytic technology of thought and understanding was what was developed over the centuries.

And then in later centuries, centuries before it happened in our world, they contacted the Orient, and the dynastic influence of the Sung poured itself into the creation of a global civilization.

Such that, by around 1200 AD they were able to land on the moon, and create a cybernetic global civilization similar to the kind we have now.

They continued evolving, with all this psychotronic and shamanically-derived… and by now you can imagine it was an unbelievably exotic and alien civilization compared to our own."

Consider how the historical context present during the foundations of science played a role in shaping it.

Perhaps our strict and rational "Cartesian" version of science comes from the shadow of Christianity. Science was developed as an act of rebellion against the church. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the "Faustian bargain," or, progress at the cost of your soul, is often shown as a literal deal with the devil. Religion was the main thing holding science back, so it's natural to reason how soul, psyche, emotion, beauty, and sometimes morality itself were left out of its foundations. These traits were outcast to the realm of art and architecture.

But in the Greco-Mayan daydream, the imagination, mysticism, altered states, and the subconscious would have been key areas of interest, and perhaps cast into the same paradigm as the scientific method and machine building. The institutional model of psychiatry in the early 1900's is perhaps the only proof we need to show how out of touch western civilization was with the nature of the psyche.

It's strange to imagine a timeline, where by 1200 AD, we're on the moon, using Twitter, and exchanging goods with cryptocurrencies. We associate 1200 AD with feudal kings and cathedral building. In McKenna's vision, by the year 1990, Earth is the home base for an inter-gallactic civilization, spread over 11 planets in different solar systems. He paints Earth as a kind of "Mecca," the Cradle of humanity, where people venture back to once in their lives. This is on par with our current vision for the year 3000 AD.

Our idea of technological progress is so anchored to years and time periods, that we often forget how influential history is in effecting the expression of our potential. Before this daydream, I've never stopped to consider that we're potentially a thousand years behind where we could be.

Again, the culprit here isn't Christianity itself, but the trauma and stunted growth caused by its militarized implementation. A peaceful ideology was wrongly interpreted as a tool for power, which threw a wrench in our most important cultural feedback loops.

While it's interesting to daydream about the radically different rate of technological expression, the most critical thing Christianity stunted is our psyche.

McKenna mentions that by the year 1,000 AD, we could've had a psychology, morality, and ethos that's more advanced and integrated than anything we can imagine. It points to one of the most pressing problems of our times, which can be summarized in this quote:

"The real problem of humanity is the following:

We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology."

  • Edward O. Wilson

Maybe we can blame militarized Christianity and the Dark Ages for the fission between science and religion. After the Renaissance, we emerged from our slumber with runaway materialistic progress, but a stunted ability to integrate the soul and the psyche into that train.

Regarding medieval institutions, perhaps decades of blockchain development and power struggles will bring us to the kinds of democratic institutions that early America dreamed of.

But how do we deal with our Paleolithic emotions?

While Christianity, and any of the other major or minor religions could be the root to this solution, we've been traumatized by the way our history unfolded. So many people are allergic to the word "religion," confusing the core pillar of our soul with bureaucracies that have long forgotten the point.

We're in an age where the Internet is corroding the foundations of old institutions, and individuals have more reach and historical influence than ever before. Perhaps a Renaissance of the Internet age, focused on reviving elements of Greek mystery schools, Christian mysticism, indigenous psychedelic rituals, Jungian psychology, and Hermeticism, could be high-speed enough to make up for centuries of lost-time, re-orienting a culture that is propelling itself into space while still scarred from the Dark Ages.

Original videos from Terence McKenna talks


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