What is the Future of Religion?
The confident prediction that religion has had its day, heard loud since the nineteenth century, has proved premature. In Europe and the United States the numbers of believers have undeniably dropped, but this doesn’t mean that God is dead.
Religion at the start of the twenty-first century may be changing, but it shows no sign of fading away. Indeed, around the globe, in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the numbers of those claiming a formal religious allegiance are on the increase. So what is up with Europe and America?
There is a negative viewpoint for many that sees an adherence to religion only in terms of the security it allegedly provides people who fear for themselves and ultimately for the end of the world. For these folk, religion survives only because the world is in such a mess. Between the scientists telling us the planet is facing environmental disaster and the divide between rich and poor nations growing wider, we must ask ourselves how do we fix the problem. And notwithstanding these issues, the worlds randomness of horrific suffering and savage terrorism continues to puzzle us.
One of the great objections to organized religion in the West has long been the political and social power it commands. It appears the era of Church and state jointly shaping lives in their own image with God’s blessing appears to be over, certainly in Europe and increasingly in the United States. Today the complaints raised by Christian teaching, and angrily offerings by Christian leaders to homosexual relationships, contraception, race relations and, especially the issue of abortion, seems to have become the keystone test of morals and ethics. Those objections have been overruled by legislators and increasingly by public opinion.
So where does that leave religion, especially in the West? The material and the spiritual, God and money syndrome, seem to overlap. Sadly a lot of money doesn’t provide a cure to all problems. It can provide a path to greed, wastefulness, and morally tainted souls. But regardless, many believers see this development as a positive thing, an opportunity for religion to return to serving humanity. Is this a good thing or a bad omen? Only time will tell. But within both Christianity and Islam, there exist a minority who feel threatened by the modern world or by its secular values and even by it freedoms. The results being, they turn increasingly to their sacred scriptures to find reassurance, which is good, but they are being frightfully selective regarding specific passages and teaching by God and ignoring his overall teachings and commandment’s. Sadly this could lead to disastrous consequences for the giver and the receiver.
Ours is often characterized as the age of religious extremism. It is hoped that dialogue, tolerance and understanding will ultimately overshadow the extremists. The actions of fundamentalists with Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are attempting to force their views on others who have a different theology then their own. Their view is that if you don’t agree with their theology then you must be condemned. This will eventually prompt a reaction from the majority to reclaim their faith and restore the true principles of religion.
The search for God, or gods, or enlightenment will continue all around the world among billions of people. The vast majority of the world’s population will choose to remain within institutional religion. But others will choose to explore their faith outside the mainline faith traditions.
Ultimately it is about the same thing .. human beings, God’s children, trying to reach out and touch their God through religious systems to find the meaning and value in human life.