"...most people cannot really imagine any system working which is 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
Updated: 11/16/2020

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".

The transformations 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 that transformation.

"Why is it important to consider this question, of why the Industrial Revolution occurred? [#]

"It is 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 28, 2016

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 century. [*]

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, "conservative" 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 authority. [*]

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 granted. Thus:

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:

N. America            469.1 million            about 83.5% Christian or 392 million
Europe                   739.6 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 comparison.

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, 2002
[**] 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 formalized religion.

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