Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Will Faith Look Like In The Late 21st Century?

Surveys show that 40% of Americans claim to be young earth creationists. But, it is increasingly obvious that viewing the Bible, particularly Genesis, as a literally accurate account is untenable. It is possible to reconcile the two by describing the parts of the Bible that scientifically inaccurate, particularly in Genesis, as figurative language and by recognizing that the cosmology and origins story of the Bible don't have to be central to the "Good News" of Christian theology. One can have original sin, for example, in a theology that describes the story of Adam and Eve as a mere heuristic to help people understand how deep seeded man's sinfulness is rather than as a specific event that happened and metaphysically tainted humanity. Indeed, Biblical literalism is largely a doctrine of a subset of American Christians and the Christians who have their religious roots in American missionary efforts.

The deeper problem, however, is that science and rational enlightenment more generally, is eating away at the larger premise of a Christian worldview. We don't have the same needs that 1st century Levantines and Romans did. Rather than looking for faith healers who exorcise demons and lay on hands to bring about miraculous cures, we more timidly hope for some supernatural force to tilt the balance of fate in our favor amidst the uncertainties that come even with modern medicine. We no longer need an origins story. We have other ways of evaluating what makes the most sensible diet. Our society cares a lot about how secular authorities define marriage and family, while we are almost indifferent to religious pronouncements about it - if we don't like them, we'll find another prophet to follow. The notion that avenging angels sent by God wreck havoc on wrong doers seems absurd to a typical modern person.

It isn't that we are a society without spiritual need. We still must cope with grief, failure, heartbreak and defeat. We still must make sense of affluence and obligation, our obligations to our parents and our obligations to children. We still need a sense of right and wrong, a way of making something in life sacred, community ways of celebrating important moments and bonding ourselves to each other, ways of uniting for social justice and the common good, leadership that is accountable to something less transient than the latest opinion polls and campaign contributors. We need to make sense of our marriages, of our moral struggles, of the meaning of life and of our place in the world.

It just isn't clear than any of the currently well established religions can provide convincing answers to these questions any more. Nature abhors a vacuum. Particularly in Europe, where secularism has gone far to supplanting a historical establishment Christianity, will some new organized system of faith that is at least para-religious step in to fill the void?

1 comment:

TiradeFaction said...

My personal prediction is the future of religion in the secularized West (which I think slowly, but surely will hit much of the United States in some form or fashion) will be the equivalent of something like the "Unitarian Universalists". Currently not many people identify with the UUs, and it's essentially an organized congregational franchise for agnostics and atheists who still want to go to church. As the specific dogmas of estabished religion continue to be disproven by further scientific endeavors, and the secular west continues to retain it's liberal social progress but continues to crave the community and "spirituality" from a congregation, I believe an organization like the UUs (if not themselves) will pick up that slack. Just my 0.02.