"...most people cannot really imagine any system working
very different from the one they are used to. Hence, they find
rationalizations for it. Even slaves often do this." –Poul Anderson
Human Condition of Change,
Religious Diversity and Instability
This "look" at the issues of religious change, diversity and
instability is an overview and it is generally
valid and true, but hopefully it is not an oversimplification.
The invention of movable type and the printing press, in the fifteenth
century, was a technological development that spurred mass
literacy in the vernacular languages–and accelerated the
forces of religious change. In the near future, many
believe, the electronic media will have a comparably
powerful impact on our ways of being religious.
Yes, indeed! Before the invention of the printing press, most families did not even
own a book. Before the development of mass communication in the form of
telegraph, radio, newspapers, and later telephone, most people were only
exposed to the religious ideas that came from their own religion and its
local leaders. Even then these later media were largely confined within
individual countries and cultures.
Before WWI most people even in the USA had never traveled in their
entire lifetime beyond 50 miles from where they were born. WWI, mass
transportation, and especially WWII inaugurated sweeping changes in the
geographical, cultural and religious ranges of exposure that people
experienced. In WWII, suddenly many American service personnel found
themselves in Europe, Africa, the Orient, or on tropical isles, and with
new companions from all over the country and all over the religious map.
Some were even exposed to the
great cities, for examples, London and Paris with their staggeringly
diverse cultures, their extensive ranges of foods, music, arts, entertainment, and
intellectual content, their multifarious values and ethics, including
various modes of lifestyles, occupations and behaviors.
Now we have movies, television and the internet which have all but
entirely breached sovereign
borders and become international. The only significant inhibiting factor, outside of
certain countries that control and limit access and the content, is the
language difference, but these three media were largely developed in the USA
where the language is almost exclusively English. Even before these media came into
prominence, English had already become the de facto language of
international science and commerce.
Along with all this has come to the world the introduction of formalized
science and the scientific method, resulting in a veritable explosion of
scientific investigation and knowledge in every possible discipline.
This has literally blossomed into scientism, the world's now dominant
religion, a religion which exists in conjunction with and resides
somewhat uncomfortably right
alongside the others, but to which all others must pay obeisance and
usually surrender for disputed issues and cases of conflict.
Along these lines it should be
noted that many (most?) of the oldest and most prestigious universities
in the USA were founded as religious or theological colleges and have
transitioned to being secular centers of learning, almost always with a
strong science component. It isn't the Language and Literature, Arts and Music,
Math, Engineering, History or Homemaking departments that are the main force pulling these
universities away from religious control, and this separation is never promoted by the founding denomination.
Yet more of these transitions are on their way.
What this means is that before these developments came about, the
typical person in the world was only exposed to the local religion and
philosophy. His religious options were essentially just three: 1) default
to and settle into the religion of his local culture and family and
become as best he could a devout believer and practitioner, or failing
that, 2) become a careful and circumspect agnostic and thus be somewhat hypocritical, or
lastly 3) become an outcast or pariah to some degree.
Given that these religions only offered explanations of what went wrong,
and usually why we are to blame for it not getting fixed, alongside of
limited coping mechanisms in the meantime; given that
none of these religions ever have delivered major aspects of what we naturally need and want,
and proposed only the promise of "pie in the sky in the bye and bye",
any real motivation came in negative essence, primarily from anxiety and fear.
Needless to say, the major
limiting influences on the lifestyle, behavior, and pattern of life of
those in the first two categories would have been peer pressure and societal
norms instead of any inspirationally compelling vision or inner and
solid, self-derived convictions. For the "believer" a major focus in
life would be "fitting in" socially along with the continued programming of
indoctrination and reinforcement through sermons and participation in services, symbols, rites, and ceremonies
oriented to otherwise largely irrelevant
beliefs, greater and greater amounts of the spiritual opiate. For the agnostic
the focus of life would have been on not being squeezed out, mundane success and probably ill-concealed hedonism.
Any significant religious change and diversity for the eastern
hemisphere in this older world came about primarily through invasions
and alien political conquests and takeovers. For quite a time in Europe
and Western Asia the two
side-by-side dominant empires of Rome and Parthia were the major vectors
of different religious influence because of their necessary need for
police, military and political control of their far-flung territories.
Of course, a certain level of international trade via caravans and ships
was the other vector, especially in the outer areas.. Before Christianity, outside of military conquest
there was almost no evangelistic outreach to other cultures and peoples.
In contrast, currently, those persons in the world with access to all the mass media
are confronted with an overwhelming welter of religious and scientific
paradigms, ideas and beliefs. Supposedly, there are over a billion
websites now, billions of book titles in print, and the global community has now been
spiritually fragmented into over 100,000 different identifiable
religions. There seems to be no discernable sign that it is going to get less complex, no
sign of any crystallization around any one religious philosophy.
Today as in the sixteenth century, an absolute conviction that one is
fighting for God's cause makes moot the laws of war.
And so yes, using this as a metaphor today we have drones and laser-guided missiles pitted
against religiously programmed suicide bombers! Christendom and Islam are actually flirting around with the possibility
of an out and out global religious war and there are those in both camps
that would like to see this happen. As a consequence of "celebrated" but
unhealthy diversity, how would that suit you?
...current thinking is challenging almost all the doctrines by which
Christianity was constituted as a religion in its own right. Even among
those who continue to affirm them there is a widespread feeling that the
Church has let Christ down, not only because of its differences and
disunity, but because of its abject failure to convert mankind to the
ways of peace and righteousness. p. x. -
Schonfield, Hugh J. Those Incredible Christians, Bantam Books, Inc., 271
Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Within Catholicism, the largest Christian denomination, long standing
and major diversities have been accommodated and institutionalized. The
various groups are denied as being cults or sects by being stylized as
"orders", a useful label that covers a certain level of denial. Even
within a small and ostensibly monolithic denomination like Seventh Day
Adventism–which makes some effort to keep everyone on the same page
with a creed, central control, and its own parochial educational system–there are
significant regional differences and the diversity of belief is ever so
much greater than the organization leadership can be willing to admit. In the
Christian seminaries, there are certain subjects and questions that the
theologians won't even talk to each other about, partly because of the
futility regarding agreement and partly because of the fear of being branded a heretic
or worse and the attendant career risk.
Given that there are two major scientific frameworks for much of
what concerns religious thinking, uniformitarian and catastrophic, the
gulf between these two is extremely wide and contentious. As is the gulf
between two other frameworks, creationism and evolutionism. Creationism
is generally thought to be aligned with the catastrophic, and evolutionism
aligned with the uniformitarian. Yet what further underscores the diversity
is that there are any number of hybrids and combinations. Just in terms
of chronology and dating for the earth the gulf is between a few
thousand years and "millions and billions".
wrought in the human psyche by the Reformation and by the
Counter-Reformation it helped to provoke continue to play themselves
out. This complex historical episode, which is now often referred to
simply as "the Reformation," touched everything. It altered not just the
practice of religion but also the nature of society, economics,
politics, education, and the law. [*]
Partly because of the revolt of Protestantism, the Reformation, partly because of the
Renaissance, partly because of the French and other revolutions and the
Enlightenment, partly because of
the emergence of the United States and both its humanistic Declaration of Independence
and largely Iroquois Nation-derived Constitution, and partly
because of the travesty of the modern wars–primarily the two world wars
and the horror of atomic weapons, and partly because of the challenge and
influence of science–Judaism and Christianity have been rocked,
revolutionized and conditioned by humanism and infused with it. Islam has yet to undergo
"Why is it important to
consider this question, of why the Industrial Revolution
a question that needs to be asked if we want to know how we
became what we are. The 19th and 20th
centuries are in many ways the most transformative centuries in
all of human history. Until about 1800, the vast bulk of people
on this planet were poor. And when I say poor, I mean they were
on the brink of physical starvation for most of their lives.
"Life expectancy in 1750 was
around 38 at most, and much lower in some places. The notion
that today we would live 80 years, and spend much of those in
leisure, is totally unexpected. The lower middle class in
Western and Asian industrialized societies today has a higher
living standard than the pope and the emperors of a few
centuries back, in every dimension. That is the result of one
thing: Our ability to understand the forces of nature and
harness them for our economic needs....
"Between Columbus’s voyage to
America in 1492 and the death of Isaac Newton in 1727, the
agenda of research in Europe changes. For much of human history,
people studied science and natural phenomena, not to make us
materially better off, but just to satisfy curiosity. The
ancient Greeks made fantastic scientific progress, but there are
few instances in which they use it for anything. In fact,
Aristotle says science shouldn’t be used, because work is
something for the lower classes. Learned people didn’t work, and
working people didn’t learn.....
"Aristotle famously thought that
a vacuum was impossible. Then one day, Europeans build a vacuum
pump. The only conclusion they could reach is Aristotle is
wrong. If he was wrong about that, could he be wrong about other
things? You bet. Aristotle thought all the stars in the heavens
were completely fixed; nothing is added and nothing is
subtracted. In 1573, a Danish astronomer called Tycho Brahe
observes a supernova. There was a star there before, and now
it’s not. So people start being skeptical, and skepticism leads
to what I call contestability. Arguments are usually or ultimately decided not on
authority, but on evidence, logic and mathematical proof.
"That seems perfectly normal to
us, but it's something that had to be learned. It's something no
other society pulls off. In other places, wisdom and knowledge
were revealed to our forefathers, and if you want to know the
truth, you have to study their writings, whether it’s the Bible,
or Confucius, or the Koran, or the Talmud...."#
[#] Ana Swanson, The Washington Post, Oct
The Industrial Revolution was certainly a major factor that laid the
foundation for such change. The significant increase in wealth and
associated leisure time undergirded the blossoming of much more learning
and more widespread education, travel, and exposure to diversity of
experience and thought. Stir in the more recent Technological and
Information revolutions and you have a further eruption of mind and soul
affecting content, and all but destabilizing information overload.
The fact is, we are at a moment as epochal
as the Reformation itself–a Reformation moment not only for
Catholics but for the entire Christian world. Christianity as a
whole is both growing and mutating in ways that observers in the
West tend not to see. For obvious reasons, news reports today are
filled with material about the influence of a resurgent and
sometimes angry Islam. But in its variety and vitality, in its
global reach, in its association with the world's fastest-growing
societies, in its shifting centers of gravity, in the way its values
and practices vary from place to place–in these and other ways it is
Christianity that will leave the deepest mark on the twenty-first
Nietzsche and the existential philosophers have also been
a significant wake-up factor for western civilization, and
the "God is dead" movement for Christianity. The dramatic
development of the "science of the soul"–Psychology–initiated by the
great psychoanalytical philosophers, Stekel, Freud, Adler, Jung, Rank, Velikovsky,
et al, has had an emphatic influence. Advanced education in the
enlightened world–because of several disciplines, not the least of which
is psychology–has lessened the belief in a literal Devil and the
influence and hold of the "God or the Devil done it" thinking.
That has left "western", "humanistic"
society more inclined to look at ourselves for being responsible and
more and more leaving God out of the equation.
However, one cannot deal with religious diversity without remarking about
the MONUMENTAL development of Christian growth primarily in the continents
of the southern hemisphere excluding Australia. This increase
has happened through both "conversions" and the exploding population
growth. What is pertinent about this elephant in the living room is the
less intellectually responsible,
nature or flavor of this Southern hemisphere Christianity. In general
this is in stark contrast to the ever more "liberal" and humanistic
brand of the Northern hemisphere, and moving in the opposite direction.
During the early modern period Northern and
Southern Europe were divided between the Protestantism of the word
and the Catholicism of the senses–between a religious culture of
preaching, hymns, and Bible reading and one of statues, rituals, and
processions. Today we might see as a parallel the impact of
electronic technologies which is being felt at very different rates
in the Northern and Southern worlds. The new-media revolution is
occurring in Europe, North America, and the Pacific Rim while other
parts of the globe are focusing on–indeed, still catching up
with–the traditional world of book learning. Northern communities
will move to ever more decentralized and privatized forms of faith
as Southerners maintain older ideals of community and traditional
One of the perspectives on this most significant diversity between the
Northern hemisphere Christianity and that of the South is that in the North
people live in relatively stable governments, are not poor by world
standards, and have access to better nutrition and modern medical care,
better education, more extensive travel,
as well as a greater variety of entertainment and diversion. These
latter factors actually even have a marked effect on population growth and control.
On the other hand,
Nowhere in the global South
do the various spiritual healers find serious competition from modern
scientific medicine: it is simply beyond the reach of most of the poor.
The most successful Southern churches preach a deep personal faith,
communal orthodoxy, mysticism, and puritanism, all founded on obedience
to spiritual authority, from whatever source it is believed to stem.
Mysticism in religion opens the door to all kinds of intellectual chicanery.
Many of the more humanistic, "liberal" Christians of the North have had
quite enough of the above referenced "preaching" or focus on the arcane
aspects of a literal Devil, exorcisms, witches, demon possession,
primitive orthodoxy, rites, ceremonies, sacred iconography, bogus miracles, faith
healings**, etc., as well as spiritual authorities that use political and base
psychological maneuvering, pressure, power and control.
Again, on the other hand,
Disease, exploitation, pollution, drink, drugs, and violence, taken
together, can account for why people might easily accept that they are
under siege from demonic forces, and that only divine intervention can
save them. Even radical liberation theologians use apocalyptic language
on occasion. When a Northerner asks, in effect, where the Southern
churches are getting such ideas, the answer is not hard to find; they're
getting them from the Bible. Southern Christians are reading the New
Testament and taking it very seriously.
Many of the Southern hemisphere Christians live in situations or whole
cultures where they cannot count on the corrupt civil authorities to give them the kind of
basic physical, legal, and property ownership security that the Northern Christians take for
Looking at the success of
Christianity in the Roman Empire, the historian Peter Brown has written,
"The Christian community suddenly came to
appeal to men who felt deserted ... Plainly, to be a Christian in 250
brought more protection from one's fellows than to be a civis Romanus."
Being a member of an active Christian church today may well bring
more tangible benefits than being a mere citizen of Nigeria or Peru.
The somewhat current population and percentages of Christianity for
these two hemispheric arenas, excluding both Asia and Australia, are
estimated to be:
about 83.5% Christian or 392 million
about 65.9% Christian or 487 million
S. Hemisphere 1624 million
about 69% Christian or 1121 million
Although disadvantaged in terms of modern media influence, as can easily be seen with the above numbers, the Southern hemisphere
Christians are in a clear majority of 56%. Because these two general versions are
so incompatible, there IS a looming conflict of great moment, a
confrontation that may make the Sunni versus Shiite struggle pale by
Of course, American reformers also dream of a restored early Church,
but whereas Americans imagine a Church freed from hierarchy,
superstition, and dogma, Southerners look back to one filled
with spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces
that cause sickness and poverty. And yes, "demonic" is the
word. The most successful Southern churches today speak
openly of spiritual healing and exorcism. [**]
What are we to make of this unseemly spectacle of confusion, diversity
and darkness in understanding the ultimate realities of who we are, our
origin and our destiny? How much immediate, effective healing IS
available regardless of its source, and how SHOULD we then live? No comfort can legitimately be
found by being in a majority because there IS NO majority! And the trend
in Protestantism seems to be further denominational fragmentation if not
stagnation in the North.
Since most of them are somewhat uncomfortable with the diversity, disunity or
disarray, and understand that their masthead, the J-person, made a pronounced
and profound call for unity, Christian leadership lives in a somewhat anxious
state because of the lack of it. In Northern hemisphere Christianity there are
periodic calls for it and surges of discussion,
but what has been the result? Not much more than further denominational and congregational fragmenting.
What should be abundantly clear about the above overview of religious diversity is
that truth–partially at least: identifying the proper metaphysical and
epistemological principles, learning the salient information from the scientific
findings, sorting out the theological issues, and philosophically
dealing satisfactorily with the ultimate issues–has very little if any impact on these rather mundane
sociological or "practical" developments in formal religion, be it either
Northern OR Southern.
One further point of fundamental context is that we remain still being pushed around
in the back by Thanatos, the avoidance of death, and still being pulled
around through our noses by Eros, the seeking of fulfillment. There seems to
be almost no one willing to conclude that this situation is NOT acceptable
to any God worthy of the term; no one willing to take this issue by the
throat and wrestle it to the ground of understanding. Therefore, an apt
analogy for humanity would be a dog chasing its own tail. The human condition, characterized by the
utter failure in both of these enterprises, reigns supreme with no end in sight.
A partial list of questions that can and should be asked:
1. Why do we need any "religion" beyond humanism?
a. Because we were programmed by family and peers?
b. Because of societal or peer pressure?
c. Because we
"discovered" the presence and/or existence of God?
d. Because we just need something to fill a hole in our psyche?
e. Because of the fear of death?
f. Because of the fear of punishment?
g. Because we need a belief system as a psychological coping
mechanism, whether the beliefs are valid or whether they just more or less work?
h. Because of social needs that are not met otherwise?
i. Because of a universal although repressed awareness that
something is drastically wrong, that evil is afoot in the world and in our lives?
j. We don't "need" one but inadvertently accumulate one along the way?
k. Because it's just foolish not to take Pascal's wager, the gamblers position of
nothing to lose by having a comfortable-to-wear level of belief?
2. Given that there IS singular truth, paramount questions hang there
for us like gravid clouds in an oppressive, stormbound sky:
a. Are we afraid the actual truth about ultimate issues is
beyond our reach and that we are doomed to remain in darkness?
b. Or is the level of our spiritual perversity still too great and
the level of good will, rationality, logic and reason resident in
the human race still too little for us to even begin
to discover and realize the truth that is actually available and come into unity?
c. Or do we not have the stomach for it, or is the level of our intellectual responsibility
still too low for us to make this even a secondary priority?
d. Or are we weak, fallible, inadequate humans so intimidated that we might fail in any endeavor to reach the
truth or come into unity?
e. Or are we so used to the drama, so spiritually "challenged" that we can't
even see that this kind of unity would be efficacious, maybe more than we
can usually see, and maybe even more than we can imagine?
How about those ___________? (Fill in the blank with the name of your
favorite sports team diversion).
[*] Philip Jenkins, "The Next Christianity", The Atlantic Monthly,
[**] This is not to say that all paranormal "miracles and faith healings"
are bogus. The bicameral brain-mind of humans is a powerful thing and
its capability and potential are dimly understood. No doubt that throughout history there
HAVE been actual paranormal phenomena including "miraculous" or
paranormal healings. The question is whether God is ever effectively
involved, and/or to what degree, and whether God's involvement is encouraged
and effectuated by devotion to and practice of this or ANY type of