Despite this, religion is not disappearing on a global scale — at least in terms of numbers. Muslims would grow in number to match Christians, while the number unaffiliated with any religion would decline slightly. Modern societies are multicultural where followers of many different faiths live side by side Credit: Getty Images. Religion will continue to grow in economically and socially insecure places like much of sub-Saharan Africa — and to decline where they are stable. That chimes with what we know about the deep-seated psychological and neurological drivers of belief.
When life is tough or disaster strikes, religion seems to provide a bulwark of psychological and sometimes practical support. In a landmark study, people directly affected by the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand became significantly more religious than other New Zealanders, who became marginally less religious.
The traditionally religious both belonged and believed; hardcore atheists did neither. The research suggests that the last two groups are significant. In interim results released in May , the researchers found that few unbelievers actually identify themselves by these labels, with significant minorities opting for a religious identity. But what does it actually mean? In , Linda Woodhead wrote The Spiritual Revolution , in which she described an intensive study of belief in the British town of Kendal. Today, Woodhead says that revolution has taken place — and not just in Kendal. Organised religion is waning in the UK, with no real end in sight.
US megachurches bring in thousands of worshippers Credit: Getty Images. In poorer societies, you might pray for good fortune or a stable job. But if your basic needs are well catered for, you are more likely to be seeking fulfilment and meaning.
Traditional religion is failing to deliver on this, particularly where doctrine clashes with moral convictions that arise from secular society — on gender equality, say. What do these self-directed religions look like? Many religions have syncretistic elements, although over time they are assimilated and become unremarkable. Festivals like Christmas and Easter, for example, have archaic pagan elements, while daily practice for many people in China involves a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
The joins are easier to see in relatively young religions, such as Vodoun or Rastafarianism.
An alternative is to streamline. New religious movements often seek to preserve the central tenets of an older religion while stripping it of trappings that may have become stifling or old-fashioned. But without the deep roots of traditional religions, these can struggle: the Sunday Assembly, after initial rapid expansion, is now reportedly struggling to keep up its momentum. But Woodhead thinks the religions that might emerge from the current turmoil will have much deeper roots.
The first generation of spiritual revolutionaries, coming of age in the s and s, were optimistic and universalist in outlook, happy to take inspiration from faiths around the world.
Their grandchildren, however, are growing up in a world of geopolitical stresses and socioeconomic angst; they are more likely to hark back to supposedly simpler times. In the European context, this sets the stage for a resurgence of interest in paganism. Paganism also often features divinities that are more like diffuse forces than anthropomorphic gods; that allows people to focus on issues they feel sympathetic towards without having to make a leap of faith to supernatural deities.
Similar movements exist across Europe, such as Druidry in the UK. Not all are liberally inclined. These are niche activities at the moment, and might sometimes be more about playing with symbolism than heartfelt spiritual practice. But over time, they canevolve into more heartfelt and coherent belief systems: Woodhead points to the robust adoption of Rodnovery — an often conservative and patriarchal pagan faith based around the reconstructed beliefs and traditions of the ancient Slavs — in the former Soviet Union as a potential exemplar of things to come.
A woman dances as druids, pagans and revellers gather at Stonehenge Credit: Getty Images. While the world religions are likely to persist and evolve for the foreseeable future, we might for the rest of this century see an efflorescence of relatively small religions jostling to break out among these groups. But if Big Gods and shared faiths are key to social cohesion, what happens without them? One answer, of course, is that we simply get on with our lives. Munificent economies, good government, solid education and effective rule of law can ensure that we rub along happily without any kind of religious framework.
And indeed, some of the societies with the highest proportions of non-believers are among the most secure and harmonious on Earth.
What remains debatable, however, is whether they can afford to be irreligious because they have strong secular institutions — or whether being secular has helped them achieve social stability. Religionists say even secular institutions have religious roots: civil legal systems, for example, codify ideas about justice based on social norms established by religions. The likes of the New Atheists , on the other hand, argue that religion amounts to little more than superstition, and abandoning it will enable societies to improve their lot more effectively.
Connor Wood is not so sure. Financial exchanges, where people meet to conduct highly ritualised trading activity, seem quite like temples to Mammon, too. In fact, religions, even the defunct ones, can provide uncannily appropriate metaphors for many of the more intractable features of modern life. The pseudo-religious social order might work well when times are good. But when the social contract becomes stressed — through identity politics, culture wars or economic instability — Wood suggests the consequence is what we see today: the rise of authoritarians in country after country.
He cites research showing that people ignore authoritarian pitches until they sense a deterioration of social norms. Perhaps one of the major religions might change its form enough to win back non-believers in significant numbers. There is precedent for this: in the s, Christianity was ailing in the US, having become dull and formal even as the Age of Reason saw secular rationalism in the ascendant.
The parallels with today are easy to draw, but Woodhead is sceptical that Christianity or other world religions can make up the ground they have lost, in the long term. Once the founders of libraries and universities, they are no longer the key sponsors of intellectual thought. And their tendency to claim we sit at the pinnacle of creation is undermined by a growing sense that humans are not so very significant in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps a new religion will emerge to fill the void? Again, Woodhead is sceptical. In the secular West, such support is unlikely to be forthcoming, with the possible exception of the US. In Russia, by contrast, the nationalistic overtones of both Rodnovery and the Orthodox church wins them tacit political backing.
The theme of God's relationship with his chosen people is expressed and explained in numerous ancient word pictures throughout the pages of Scripture. Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Dr. Timothy S. Laniak (ThD, Harvard Divinity School) Finding the Lost Images of God (Ancient Context, Ancient Faith) Kindle Edition. by Gary M. Burge (Author, Editor).
Online movements gain followers at rates unimaginable in the past. MeToo started out as a hashtag expressing anger and solidarity but now stands for real changes to long-standing social norms. And Extinction Rebellion has striven, with considerable success, to trigger a radical shift in attitudes to the crises in climate change and biodiversity. None of these are religions, of course, but they do share parallels with nascent belief systems — particularly that key functionalist objective of fostering a sense of community and shared purpose.
Some have confessional and sacrificial elements, too. So, given time and motivation, could something more explicitly religious grow out of an online community? The full proposition is a complicated logic puzzle, but crudely put, it goes that when a benevolent super-intelligence emerges, it will want to do as much good as possible — and the earlier it comes into existence, the more good it will be able to do.
An artificial super-intelligence could have some of the qualities of a deity Credit: Getty Images. Their case was not helped by the fact that many Rationalists are strongly committed to other startling ideas about artificial intelligence, ranging from AIs that destroy the world by accident to human-machine hybrids that would transcend all mortal limitations. Such esoteric beliefs have arisen throughout history, but the ease with which we can now build a community around them is new. The 17th-Century French mathematician suggested non-believers should nonetheless go through the motions of religious observance, just in case a vengeful God does turn out to exist.
Now there is, comes the reply. Levandowski, who made a fortune through self-driving cars, hit the headlines in when it became public knowledge that he had founded a church, Way of the Future , dedicated to bringing about a peaceful transition to a world mostly run by super-intelligent machines.
Finding the Lost Images of God It went hand-in-hand with the demotion of nature itself. Some of then could also seem to modern readers antiquated and even offensive to contemporary perceptions about family life and social roles. Like I said, Fr. Then She gave the mixture to the generation without their knowing, and those who have received it are in the perfection of the right hand. The broad idea that a shared faith serves the needs of a society is known as the functionalist view of religion. At Kobo, we try to ensure that published reviews do not contain rude or profane language, spoilers, or any of our reviewer's personal information.
We plan on doing so by keeping track of who has done what and for how long to help the peaceful and respectful transition. Levandowski is not alone. Other fledgling transhumanist religious movements focus on immortality — a new spin on the promise of eternal life. Still others ally themselves with older faiths, notably Mormonism. Are these movements for real?
But as missionary religions know, what begins as a mere flirtation or idle curiosity — perhaps piqued by a resonant statement or appealing ceremony — can end in a sincere search for truth. The UK census found that Jediism, the fictional faith observed by the good guys in Star Wars , was the fourth largest religion: nearly , people had been inspired to claim it, initially by a tongue-in-cheek online campaign.
Ten years later, it had dropped to seventh place, leading many to dismiss it as a prank. Each chapter ends with a recapitulation of the main spiritual values presented in the chapter and their relevance to contemporary Christians. The images chosen by Laniak are found frequently throughout Scripture.
Some of then could also seem to modern readers antiquated and even offensive to contemporary perceptions about family life and social roles. The author is aware of these issues and presents the cultural reasons for the predominance of these concepts, encouraging the reader to enter the biblical world and discover the way these concepts continue to be relevant to a contemporary believer.
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