Modern Influences On The Future Of Religion
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Modern Influences On The Future Of Religion
It is obvious that religions in the modern world face both challenge and inevitable change. Numerous social and technological developments are responsible for bringing about change. Women are demanding roles in arenas traditionally dominated by males—including institutional religions. Scientific advances in such areas as reproduction, genetics, and organ transplantation pose ethical questions that people in earlier times never had to answer. Many Western cities are homes to religions, such as Hinduism and Islam, that not too long ago were considered exotic and foreign. Finally, television, the Internet, cell phones, immigration, and travel expose human beings worldwide to new cultures and religions.
Change is happening so quickly that we must wonder about the future of religion. What if we could return to earth a few hundred years from now? Would the religions that we know now have changed a great deal? What religions would even still exist? Would there be new great religions?
In ways that weren’t even imagined a few decades ago, today’s political, religious, and economic movements are spread by technology—and involve people who were previously overlooked.
Page 510We cannot know exactly how the religious landscape will look in another several hundred years, but we can make a guess based on the influences at work today—influences that are pulling religions in different directions. As we’ve seen throughout this book, religions in general tend to be conservative and often change more slowly than their surrounding societies. But, indeed, they do change. They change as a result of forces both from within themselves and from their surrounding cultures.
In this chapter we will first look at a few of the modern developments that are shaping our future in general and the future of religions in particular. We will consider the recurrent theme of change in religion. And we will look at two alternatives to organized religion. The first is the environmental movement and its almost religious view of nature. The second is what has come to be called eclectic spirituality, a union of various sources of inspiration, often expressed through art and music, which are frequently associated with spirituality.
The New World Order
A century ago the great majority of people lived rural lives, and many people were ruled by monarchs. Now the majority of people live in cities, and monarchs are in short supply. The economic and political landscape has changed rapidly. The Berlin Wall fell, uniting Germany, and Communism ended in the Soviet Union. Although China remains Communistic in name, it is now a major force in world capitalism. International companies are becoming as powerful as nations.
Page 511Once people had to travel far to experience different cultures. Now people in large cities have their pick of international cuisines—Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, Vietnamese. And contact with people of different cultures is a daily occurrence. In large cities one can watch television programs in many languages, attend religious services of different cultures, and visit community centers of varied ethnic backgrounds.
We cannot help but wonder how this rich cultural change will affect religion. So far, most of the world’s religions have remained fairly separate traditions—even those that have spread to different countries and cultures. But globalism may make it impossible for individual religions to remain separate.
Modern capitalism will also challenge religion, primarily by exposing relatively broad segments of populations to its promotion of financial success as a means to attaining personal satisfaction. In the past, many religions preached the values of poverty, simplicity, and detachment—values that at one time were consistent with life as experienced by the vast majority. Now, many religions are influenced by capitalist ideals, which esteem individual and group betterment; but it is a betterment that can be measured in material terms and can be paid for with money. As Robert Ellwood, a noted scholar of religions, has commented, the “idea that poverty could be a state of blessedness in itself, a favorite of preachers as recently as a century ago, is now hopelessly discredited. … Even the most conservative pulpiteers nowadays exhort their poor to get ahead, but to do it by nonviolent means.” 1 We know that money can be used just as selfishly in the modern world as it was in the past. But money is not always used for selfish and useless reasons; take, for example, scholarships, contributions to disaster-relief projects, endowments to the arts. The modern culture of money-based betterment will increasingly challenge religions to produce what material cultures value. It will challenge the religious idealization of poverty and will question religions carefully about how much they contribute to measurable human betterment. 2
The global economic crisis that began in 2008 will be a further challenge to religious thought and action. Religions may be influenced by the crisis to develop a new approach to the financial world, and religions could conceivably offer help by providing both theoretical and practical solutions.
Globalism will also challenge any incomplete visions of reality offered by traditional religions. Finally, urbanism will challenge traditional religions to confront the tribulations of large-scale city life and to take advantage of urban opportunities, such as a wide choice of educational and career opportunities.
Multiculturalism and Interfaith Dialogue
The new world order makes cross-cultural contact practically unavoidable, as television, radio, film, travel, books, and the Internet all work to narrow the gulfs that once separated people, nations, and even religions. It will thus be very difficult in the future for any religion to belong to a single culture or to be unaware of the teachings and practices of other religions. With awareness often comes adaptation, a phenomenon we have already seen with current religions. For example, certain forms of Pure Land Buddhism outside Japan have adopted the use of hymns and the Christian tradition of Sunday school. In Western forms of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, married laypersons sometimes take leadership roles that have traditionally been performed by monks. African and Native American forms of Christianity now deliberately make use of native art, music, and dance. Roman Catholicism, which only a generation ago celebrated its rituals in Latin with uniform prayers and music, is today often as much a reflection of its specific community as it is of Rome. Some Christian monasteries and other religious groups have adopted Zen meditation. Moreover, entirely new religions may frequently blend elements from several religions. We see this, for example, in the Unification Church, which began in Korea and blends Christianity and Confucianism, and in some new Shinto religious offshoots, which blend elements of Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity.
Another response to the growing awareness of cultural multiplicity can be seen in the increasingly frequent meetings held by representatives of different religions. The fact that these interreligious meetings are now being held is really a hopeful new direction. (It was not typical in the past.) Although religions have too often battled each other, they all preach human harmony and offer visions of peace. They have much to gain from and share with each other.
One of the earliest examples of modern religious dialogue was the first World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893. Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), a disciple of Ramakrishna, brought the inclusivist Hindu approach to the attention of the world through his insistence at that conference that all religions value holiness and love. And in 1993, Chicago hosted a second World Parliament of Religions, with simultaneous meetings of religious leaders at many places around the world. Yasumi Hirose, an interfaith representative of Omoto, has used the language of several religions to speak of his hope. “Unless we awake to the love and compassion of the God who created the heavens and earth, and realize that all creatures are filled with Divine Spirit and live by the grace of Amida Buddha, it will be impossible to change history to bring about a new century of co-existence.” 3 There is ongoing dialogue as well in less spotlighted circles, such as the Ecumenical Institute at Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota, where scholars of different faiths spend months in conversation, study, and reflection. These dialogues may well chart a new path for religion in the future.
Women’s Rights Movements
Some of the most significant movements of the past hundred years have sought to liberate women from oppression and inequality. Just as the nineteenth century is seen as the century in which slavery was abolished worldwide, the present century may well be seen by future generations as the century in which women worldwide achieved real equality and political freedom.
In many societies, women have been restricted by tradition in multiple ways. They have been kept from acquiring an education, owning land, having professional careers, traveling, marrying and divorcing as they wish, voting, and holding office. But education and women’s political movements—along with scientific advances that produced contraceptives and minimized the complications of pregnancy and childbirth—have slowly changed attitudes toward women’s roles and rights. As a result, women are now indispensable in the workplaces of many cultures; they are earning their own incomes and making use of their new economic power. This new independence has led women closer to equality in government, business, and the arts.
Young monks share school desks with female students, an uncommon occurrence in Buddhist cultures even today.
Page 513Many religions, following traditional patterns, have been slow to allow women to assume leadership roles. But there have been notable exceptions; this has been especially true of smaller, more charismatic groups, such as some of the New Religions derived from Shinto and those Christian churches (such as the Christian Science Church and the Foursquare Gospel Church) whose founders were female. Christian churches in the Lutheran and in the Episcopal and Anglican traditions now ordain women priests and bishops. And in 2006, the American Episcopal Church elected a female bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, as its presiding bishop.
Resistance to allowing women in key roles is, however, still strong. In Christianity, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches so far have staved off pressures to ordain women or otherwise allow them full participation in decision making. In Judaism, females have been ordained in the Reform and Conservative branches; the Orthodox, however, still will not accept the notion of a female rabbi. Buddhism is seeing stirrings in its communities of nuns, who traditionally have played only a small role in leadership.
Women’s gains have been broader in areas that don’t affect a religion’s basic power structure. Thus we find new translations of sacred literature and prayer forms that attempt to be more gender-neutral. For example, words such as Ruler, Creator, and Parent are used in place of the exclusively male terms Lordand Father in some translations of the Bible. Unity Church congregations address God as Father-Mother—a term used as early as 1875 by Mary Baker Eddy (see Chapter 9 ), the founder of Christian Science, in her explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.
Page 514There is also heightened interest in religions that envision the divine as being female or that value its feminine aspect. This explains the renewed attention paid to early nature religions that worshiped a major female deity (such as Astarte) or in which women have had an important role. As discussed in Chapter 11 , Wicca worships the Goddess in nature and in all women. In Judaism and Christianity, research into the contributions of women is common and even encouraged. Bible studies now talk of the great matriarchs, as well as the patriarchs, of Hebrew history. In Christianity, there is growing interest in medieval female mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen (see Chapter 9 ), Margery Kempe (c. 1373–1438), and Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1210–1285). Likewise, Hinduism is being appreciated not only for its female divinities but also for the many female gurus it has produced; Shinto and shamanistic religions are being studied for the important roles women have played in them; and Daoism is receiving attention for its female imagery.
Much of this new insight still remains theoretical. Whether male-dominated religions will be able to stand firm against the momentum of women’s movements is anyone’s guess. But many observers assume that women’s liberation efforts, at least in industrialized countries, will eventually succeed.
Reassessment of Human Sexuality
Scientific developments and the economic and ideological developments that we have already discussed in this chapter have all broadened our understanding of human sexuality to include more than procreation as its purpose. Psychology has contributed an understanding of sexuality as being essential to the makeup of human beings. Biology has demonstrated the human connection with the animal world and its great variety of sexual expression. Anthropology has raised awareness of the variety in attitudes toward sex among different cultures and across historical periods. At the same time, through its development of artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, science has expanded the possibilities for reproduction and, as a result, transformed reproduction into a more intentional event—and even forced the rethinking of the purpose of marriage. The growing availability of medicine, clean water, and public sanitation has led to an explosion of the world population.
These advances and findings have all contributed to our new understanding of sexuality. Many people now grant that sex has key functions in human existence beyond the creation of children; among these functions are intimacy, pleasure, self-expression, and even self-understanding. The acknowledgment of these functions has led many to question traditional sexual ethics and to rethink the appropriateness of sexual prohibitions in religious traditions.
The ongoing clash between traditional views of sexuality—views often codified in religions—and modern outlooks on sexuality probably will not be resolved anytime soon. What we are likely to see, however, is greater tolerance for beliefs and practices that are somewhat contradictory—as is evident in teachings about the indissolubility of marriage as compared to the actual toleration of divorce or annulment.
Another area of controversy exists regarding same-gender sexual expression and relationships. Some religions hold that all homosexuality runs counter to divine or natural laws. Although some religions and denominations accept homosexuality as an orientation that occurs naturally in some people, they say that acting out that orientation in sexual behavior is wrong; still others value compassion and privacy more than any traditional judgment of sexual acts and thus accept gay men and lesbians as full members. Of course, for heterosexual men and women, with full membership come the rights to a religious marriage and ordination. Few religions, however, have yet to extend the same benefits to gays and lesbians. Nonetheless, as the contradictions in a partial acceptance of gay members become more obvious and even painful, religions are beginning to reconsider past practice. Same-gender commitment ceremonies are celebrated in increasing numbers of religious congregations—examples are to be found among Jewish congregations, Unitarians, Quakers, the Metropolitan Community Church, Unity Church, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. In 2003 the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated as bishop a man who is in a gay relationship, but this has caused conflict with other branches of the Anglican Church, particularly in Africa.
Although debate over what constitutes legitimate sexual expression will continue, there is no denying the impact that the sexual revolution has had on religion. Traditions that emphasize conservative principles will be most challenged by the changing views on sexuality.
Some countries, some states, and some religions recognize and perform same-gender marriage ceremonies.
The orbiting Hubble telescope captured this image of the Carina Nebula.
Science and Technology
One of the engines that powers to some degree all of the movements that we are analyzing has been science. Modern science made great early progress in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the work of Copernicus (1473–1543), Galileo (1564–1642), Kepler (1571–1630), and Newton (1642–1727). At first, the developments were theoretical, without much practical application. While theoretical science continued to advance, applied science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to many practical benefits, including the invention of machinery that could do the work that human beings had formerly done by hand. Scientists investigated the mysteries of lightning and electricity; inventors made engines powered by steam and coal; researchers made advances in understanding and preventing diseases; engineers designed train tracks that linked large cities to each other; and the telephone and electric light became commonplace. In the next century came the airplane, radio, television, and computers. Over these same centuries, scientific theory advanced, resulting in the theory of evolution, molecular theory, the theory of relativity, and theories regarding astronomy and quantum physics. These accomplishments have transformed both our physical world and our view of the universe.
Some religions have tried to reject or even ignore the contributions of science, arguing that science displaces God, questions religious belief, and undermines morality. Scientists, however, argue that science gives us a valuable view of the universe that should be appreciated. It represents, they say, the collective work of thousands of people over many centuries. If we think about how long it took for human beings to draw a map of the whole earth, we can admire the efforts of science to give us an even grander “map”—a general view of reality.
Page 517The current scientific view of reality can be summarized quickly. Scientific theory and research state that our universe emerged in a great explosion approximately fourteen billion years ago. (What came before the explosion is not and possibly cannot be known by science.) In fact, the universe is still expanding from that explosion. As the universe cooled, galaxies formed; there are at least a hundred billion galaxies, each containing about a hundred billion stars. Our planet, earth, is about six billion years old, belongs to a galaxy we call the Milky Way, and travels around a sun whose energy will be exhausted in another six billion years. All physical things are made of smaller units, called molecules, which in turn consist of even smaller units, called atoms; and, ultimately, the physical world can be seen as various forms of energy. Phenomena such as lightning and earthquakes have natural causes. Carbon-based life-forms—possibly assisted by lightning, volcanic eruptions, and matter from comets—began to emerge on earth in one-celled form several billion years ago and, growing more complex, evolved in many directions on land and sea, finally producing the plants and animals we know today. The human being, which appeared in early form several million years ago, is part of the same evolutionary process but is the most complex life-form known so far.
Just as science has advanced our understanding of reality, so it has replaced earlier worldviews. For example, we now see the earth not as a flat surface but as a sphere, in orbit around the sun; and we know that earthquakes are generally caused by the movement of tectonic plates. Just as surely as electricity, television, and basic literacy are penetrating to the far corners of the world, so also will the scientific model of reality. Prescientific religions may continue to exist in the remotest cultures, but major religions will have to accommodate the scientific view of reality. It is the anvil on which all religions will be hammered and tested.
Science and Ethical Issues
Science and technology have broadened our knowledge and enriched our lives. In addition, they have given people new choices. In some cultures and religious traditions, having choices can pose ethical dilemmas that force people to examine their most basic philosophical positions.
Following are some areas that may raise ethical questions in some of the religious traditions we have considered in this text:
- Fertility assistanceThrough fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization, medical science has made conception possible for some women who in earlier times could not have conceived. But fertility drugs often produce multiple births and the potential for some of the babies to die. Is the survival of one or a few babies worth the potential loss of the others?
- Birth controlThe number of contraception options for women and men is growing all the time, including a contraceptive pill for men that will be available in the future. However, in some religious traditions, divine will, not contraception, determines the number of children born.
- Ethical termination of pregnancyAt what point in its development is an embryo or a fetus to be considered a human being and thus accorded basic human rights? Is there a moral difference between early abortion and late-term abortion?
- Ethical termination of adult lifeDo individuals have the right to end their own lives? Do they have the right to end the lives of others, such as spouses, relatives, or friends?
- Organ transplantationHuman body parts that have failed can sometimes be replaced by organs from another human being. Among the organs that are commonly transplanted are hearts, kidneys, livers, and corneas. Do we have an obligation to donate our body parts for transplantation? Is it ethical for people to sell parts of their bodies before or after death?
- Genetic manipulation and stem-cell researchScientists are hopeful that research on the human genetic code will result in heightened intelligence, extended life spans, and new treatments for disease. What kinds of experiments are ethically acceptable and on whom should the experiments be performed?
- Species rightsMost laws derive from an assumption that human beings have basic rights. But some thinkers assert that animals, trees, and other elements of nature have rights of their own. Some argue, for example, that all animals and sentient beings have the right to not suffer from human infliction of unnecessary pain.
The founders of the major religious traditions never had to address these issues specifically. That does not mean, however, that their followers today should not concern themselves with these issues. At the same time, some would argue that these issues should be decided not in churches and temples by religious authorities but rather in secular courts by representatives of civilian governments. Deciding who should determine what is ethical and how ethics should be expressed in law are themselves important issues for this century.
The scientific approach to reality generally has helped—at least potentially—to make the earth a more interesting and pleasant place for human beings to inhabit than it was in past centuries. Granted, applied science has done a great deal to alter the landscape for the worse. Applied science has damaged nonindustrial cultures and polluted the environment. But science has also done much to help. Through advances in sanitation and medicine, in particular, it has reduced infant mortality, extended human life spans, and made human life generally more secure. Today, life spans in industrialized countries are double what they were two hundred years ago. People now routinely expect to live 80 years or more. Scientists are working on life extension, and someday it may be common for people to live 100, 110, or even 120 years. (We know that this is at least possible, because Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who died in 1997, lived to be 122.) And scientists will attempt to extend human life even further. When this happens, death and the afterlife will seem increasingly distant, and the earth will seem more like our permanent home. The resultant feeling of security that has grown up among people of industrialized countries may have helped them place a new value on the earth and on earthly life. It has helped foster an approach to living that is secular, rather than traditionally religious.
Embryonic stem cells can potentially be used to repair damaged tissue in diseases such as Parkinson’s and insulin-dependent diabetes. However, most research using stem cells is controversial because it requires the destruction of a human embryo.
The word secular is often used as the opposite of sacred. As mentioned in earlier chapters, secularism refers to the modern tendency to separate religion (which deals with the sacred) from everyday life (the secular). In earlier centuries, as we have seen throughout much of this book, religion and everyday life were quite commonly intertwined. Today, they remain intertwined mostly in societies that have one predominant religion.
The impetus to separate religion from public life found its greatest support in Europe. Primarily because of the horrific religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, influential thinkers there began to envision a type of nation in which there would be no state religion. They wanted individuals to be free to practice their religions as they chose. This model was drawn on in the creation of the new United States and was detailed in the Bill of Rights, which was appended to the Constitution. Because the model is based on a general separation of church and state, it has led to a secular type of government. 4
Furthermore, the model of no established religion has encouraged a secular style of life. After all, if people are free to practice any religion, they are equally free to practice no religion at all. Secularism thus has come to refer to a way of looking at life in which human values and rules for living are taken from experience in this world, not from divine revelation, from a world beyond this one, or from religious authorities or religious traditions.
As science finds ways to extend human life and make it more secure, secularism seems to be gaining ground. For many people, traditional religious worldviews have lessened in influence. Religions of the future will continue to be challenged by the secular vision, particularly when they have to work within secular political entities. To survive on a large scale, they will have to add to and give greater meaning to the modern secular world. This may not be impossible, however. After all, science seeks to describe reality, but religions seek to describe and create meaning. As the philosopher K. N. Upadhyaya has explained, “Religion is not antagonistic to science. … The antagonism comes only through a misunderstanding. It has to be understood that science deals with the physical. Religion, on the other hand, deals with something that is beyond the physical. But the methodology of the two is—or should be—exactly the same: observation, experimentation, and verification.” 12 We might note, too, the many contemporary scientists, such as physicists Russell Stannard (b. 1931) and Paul Davies (b. 1946), who have shown considerable interest in religion.
Molloy, M. Experiencing the World’s Religions. [Bookshelf Ambassadored]. Retrieved from https://ambassadored.vitalsource.com/#/books/12603967
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The background and significance of the problem and a clear statement of the research purpose is provided. The search history is mentioned.
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Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is little integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are included. Summary of information presented is included. Conclusion may not contain a biblical integration.
Content is somewhat organized, but no structure is apparent. The use of font, color, graphics, effects, etc. is occasionally detracting to the presentation content. Length requirements may not be met.
The background and/or significance are missing. No search history information is provided.
Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is no integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are not included in the summary of information presented. Conclusion does not contain a biblical integration.
There is no clear or logical organizational structure. No logical sequence is apparent. The use of font, color, graphics, effects etc. is often detracting to the presentation content. Length requirements may not be met
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Modern Influences On The Future Of Religion