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The Future Religion - Student Ideas

Sunday, June 13, 2010 9:59 PM

(2) The question of the short-term future of religion, addressed from a purely
sociological and historical standpoint, looks less than promising. The recent historical
trend of secularization gives little indication of subsidence, and it seems perfectly
plausible that this trend continue, at least into the near future. We argue, however, that
the short-term decline of religion may advance rather than impede religion’s ‘long-term
Let us examine (from the perspective of religion) the worst case scenario. It would
look something like this: science continues to overshadow religion until the latter is
rendered entirely irrelevant to human life and relegated to mere cultural artifact.
Nonetheless, although specific religions are cultural inventions, and as such, are
vulnerable to irrelevancy as much as any other cultural invention, the basic motivation
for the existence of religion is not a cultural invention, but a rather a fundamental
aspect of human nature. Tillich would affirm this analysis. Religion, Tillich argues, is a
(redemptive) response to ultimate concern, and ultimate concern is an inflexible
feature of human consciousness. Specific religions may become irrelevant, but
ultimate concern as the basic motivation for the existence of religion may not.
If we accept that there a basic human need for religion, then even if science renders
religion in its current forms obsolete, and eliminates the presence of the sacred in
modern life, a new religion may—and must—‘rise out of the ashes’ of spiritual decay.
We might even propose a dialectical relation in history between secularization and
religion—the one keeps the other in check. The excessive presence of religion in
social and political spheres yields social retardation, as Russell argues, speaking
specifically to Christianity, in “Why I am not a Christian,” and in a similar vein, as one
might argue, excessive secularization yields a spiritual gap. The probability of a new
religion rising in response to secularization is significant, and is in fact, a necessary
expression of human nature. We may imagine that this new religion will further the
process of the dialectic between religion and secularization.
Jeremy McKey

Swami Vivekananda, Frog, wells and Schelling

Religion is going nowhere. It may change, grow and evolve but it will never become
insignificant. This idea is proved most elegantly perhaps by Paul Tillich and the idea of
ultimate concern. Ultimate concern, Tillich argues, is inherent in all human beings and
is a manifestation of the human fear of finitude in the face of a world that is infinitely
large and complex. This fear and anxiety is caused by the conception of something
greater than an individual person or group of people. Ultimate concern then becomes
that which a person would sacrifice his or her life for. While science and politics has
devalued the idea of ultimate concern by enumerating both the world at large and
human anxiety, it has done nothing to treat it or understand it. The only thing that can
even deal with it is religion. Thus religion, in some shape or form, must exist so long
as society exists. As we move forward, though, what that form is becomes more
In his discussion of Hinduism as a world religion Swami Vivekananda details an
allegory on wells. There is a frog who lives alone in a well and has done so for his
whole life. When another frog from the sea comes to him and informs him of the sea’s
magnitude the first frog scoffs claiming that none can be so big as his well.
Vivekananda explains that the well is significant of each religion’s lack of
understanding outside itself, the implication being that no progress towards worldwide
religious unity can be made until each religion tears down their well and regards the
world outside as equally legitimate to the one within. What this speaks to is a

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world outside as equally legitimate to the one within. What this speaks to is a
dichotomy in understanding religion. On one side is an understanding of one specific
religion as an ultimate entity, which, if considered correctly, could lead to a full
knowledge that could not be gleaned any other way. On the other side is a more
multicultural understanding of religion as a multiplicity of views wherein the same
Truth is being grappled with, it is merely the cultural viewpoint that changes. While
neither of these sides alone can become the basis for a contemporary notion for
religion, a mediated understanding of both of them can.
Too much focus on a specific religion as the only mode of truth can lead to can lead to
harsh divisions that cannot be repaired. Never will every person believe in the same
thing just as not every person’s ultimate concern is the same. What’s significant about
this discussion though is that historically and politically the greatest divides are
between religions that share many things in common. The war in Israel takes place
between two traditions, Judaism and Islam, which share a common text. In Northern
Ireland one of the bloodiest civil wars in the history of Europe raged for a very long
time between two sects of the same religion, Christianity. In contrast Hinduism and
Buddhism in the East are very willing to accept Western religions that are seemingly
very different. Perhaps the way to a ‘new’ or ‘world’ religion in light of this is to abolish
the idea of such completely and allow pluralism to run rampant. On the other hand
though too much of emphasis on tolerance and letting each person consider their own
individuality in spirituality can take away from the seriousness of the task of religion
and leave followers without a firm basis in which to believe. To counter this perhaps it
is still important to build the wells around the religions, even if pluralism within them is
attempted. Together these two goals could allow for religion’s continuous growth as
people search out their own ultimate concerns and deal the shared anxiety of human
Corey Switzer

Science, Epigenetics and the Future of Religion

Despite the fact that liberal academics are an extremely small minority, it is interesting
to entertain the fantasy that they are at the frontier of a new movement. The academic
disciplines will come crashing down, and with them the barriers between humanities
and conventional science, and spirituality and rational thought. I’ve observed the
budding of this phenomenon in recent books such as Healing the Soul In the Age of
the Brain, and the Biology of Belief. These authors are writing at the intersection of
science and spirituality, and finding that maybe they are a false dichotomy; they are
not so different after all. I think these texts and ideas may be arising due to the up-
and-coming field of epigenetics. A good number of scientists are finding evidence that
it is not our genes that control our destiny, but electrical signals coming from outside
the cell, that control our genes’ function. These electrical signals come straight from
our thoughts. This field, being called “New Biology” rejects what scientists have
previously affectionately called the Central Dogma of Biology, and leaves more room
(at least more than scientific materialism) for the view of ourselves as spiritual beings.
Whether or not this field will continue to grow is beyond my prophetic grasp.
Environmental and economic factors (and possible major changes coming) will
indefinitely also effect religion. In capitalism especially, if our economy shapes our
consciousness, and our consciousness shapes our religious selves, religion will shift
and be revolutionized in ways I cannot predict or even imagine.
Cassie Seltman

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