All of the world's contemporary religions arose in the axial age--in response to it, really. (And this includes Greek philosophy.) They all amounted to not just religious changes, but whole new modes of thought, with new media of communication--intellectual revolutions. Why were revolutions necessayr to deal with the axial age? It was the age of true empires; of social hierarchy, monumental architecture, and money. All these things create (now) obvious problems. Why couldn't they deal with them?
They could solve them, because for a long time, they could only react by thinking of changes in the specifics of their society. THe overriding concern, because it was so hierarchical, was the king/emporer/god -- whether he was good, doing the right things, etcetera. The normal response to a bad king is to replace him; say "We need a new king. A good one this time. Maybe one from my tribe." But you're still always talking about a king. A more radical solution is also found: do away with kings completely; blow the whole system up; make peasants kings! In a short term sense, this was often already done, through fool-king rituals, which helped blow off steam. The problem is, even a political revolution of this sort still ends up putting either an idiot on the throne, or being obsessed with negating the throne without knowing what to do instead; still obsessed with kingship, and locked into it, even as a negative.
The revolutions all overcame this intellectual vortex by going at the problem indirectly. Instead of the imperfect kings of the world, they all imagined perfect kings elsewhere. Often this meant dieties that took the role of king; but it could also mean elements of kingship were elevated to a quasi-religious status with a life of their own, like universal law -- normally the king's perogative.
Basically similar things happened in earlier religious-intellectual revolutions. To overcome ineffective action (and the hunger or death that might cause) paleolithic people invented ritual actions, that justify and have meaning in themselves. To fight the feat of forgetting, being forgotten, or having a life with no purpose, humans created stories, where memory can live on -- along with ur-story dream-time. In each case, the greatest problems and fears of the day are themselves transformed into a more perfected, imaginary version. This is inevitably within the domain that is of greatest import to that epoch -- a domain inheritted from the last intellectual revolution.
We are inheritors of the post-axial revolution, which brought us theory -- thinking about thinking -- on the back of writing. The sphere that any reaction will take place in is inherently related to that. It will not be in the realm of social organization, or memory, but of thinking itself: it will at least begin with the 'internal.'
I argue that out specific problems are all framed by a form of dualism, and that when we try to fix them we have two choices. On a proximate time-scale, we say "I need to optimize better; analyze more; be smarter." This is the theoretical, rational, agent side. On a more distance timescale, we say "I need different desires. Perhaps no desires. Or desires for only what is ideal." This is all that is left of our emotions, on the other side of the divide. We can guess that we are trapped when two viable options are opposites: fulfill all desires through technical maximization, or reach enlighsnment and eliminate all desires. We oscillate between these extremes, or stand befuddled in the middle, with no possible resolution.
This mode of being we find ourselves in is an example of a class. But we cannot perceive exactly what this class is from within it; and so we cannot know what the true, radical alternatives are. Finding out is tantamount to the revolution itself. This is how it was in the axial age too: they did not know they were in an oppressive social system, because they did not perceive social systems as such. All they could do was know there was a king; and when they were clever, they could push the idea of king off into a metaphorical realm.
What, then, is the element for us that must be transformed into a perfected, imaginary version of itself, so that we are freed from our conundrum?