I don’t think “the world is on fire,” but Lawrence Davidson’s essay does hold some relevance to the violence that we see in some parts of the world. He argues that “there are millions of people, Muslims, Jews and Christians and others who not only still idealize a religiously imagined past, but want, in one way or another, to import that past into the present – and not only their present but everyone else’s as well.” This desire for some kind of mythical, ideal past is not new. These kind of golden age myths can be found throughout history, indicating a human affinity for them. They are particularly appealing in times of trouble, and Davidson is right to call them “downright dangerous.”
The problem is that while appealing, these mythical pasts never existed. They were created by scrubbing the particular period of interest of all its blemishes while embellishing the good. All attempts to recreate a mythical past have ended in human tragedy. Just as Procrustes was made to fit his bed by chopping off his legs, humanity is made to fit in an unattainable utopian box by destroying all that does not fit the ideal.
While Davidson focuses solely on the religious versions that are particularly prevalent at the moment, but this kind of golden age thinking can be found in other types of ideologies such as nationalism. We must all resist the siren song of these kinds of golden age narratives no matter how enticing they are.