Religion is dying. Masses of people are walking out of churches, aren't kneeling in mosques, others are outright denouncing their religious upbringings altogether. So, is this the end of religion? Not exactly. It's the death of one kind of religion and the emergence of another. We are going to explore whether or not humans can do without religion. I'm not sure this is possible. It will find another name from which to emerge.
Before we go any further, its crucial that we define some terms.
Belief is the acceptance of an idea that informs how we see and act in the world and eventually will take on a life of its own. This is why it's imperative that beliefs evolve, change and alter or we end up with either dogmatism or fundamentalism which then drives one's narrow view of reality.
It is cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek who elucidates the inner workings of belief and its dynamic relationship to our actions. He makes the clear point that beliefs take on a life of their own and begin believing for us, and we can see what someone truly believes by how they act.
A man can preach a message of love and equality in marriage and then behind closed doors mistreat his spouse in a violent and misogynistic way. Someone can be philanthropic and reject the acceptance of poverty in society and yet be working with officials and politicians to ensure that the economic divide remains. Or quite possibly, he is tearing down essential housing for those who might not be able to afford it, all the while, being part of the very issue he is against in word, but not deed. Beliefs inform us on how we should act and interact in the world. What we believe about ourselves, others, and ethics matters. Beliefs matter. So, in short, beliefs tell us what we think about the world.
God. In reality, there is no way we could include every belief or religious concept of God; for the sake of this article, we will address the Western approach to religious belief. God tends to be depicted as the "White Santa Clause" who gives us everything we desire, or the causer of wars, terrorism,pain and poverty. God tends to be depicted as "He", which naturally marginalizes a whole series of gender possibilities, and re-instils the archaic practices of patriarchy, which in simple terms keeps identity politics in an endless circuit. Since the Enlightenment, rationalism and science has emerged as a new kind of deity, as of late, technology has joined that trinity.
It seems the West is constantly looking for a way to get rid of God but it erupts in other ways. This is not to prove that some transcendent being exists beyond our reality, on the contrary, it proves something else entirely, we like to be controlled. I know that's not going to sit well with many Westerners who have been indoctrinated to believe (there's that word again!) we are free and we need to fight for freedom. The fact that we angrily chant, march and protest against inequality and have yet to change the system that it inhabits, means we still believe we deserve it. We still have this religious mindset that says we need to guiltfully earn our pain, indifference, and ill-informed politicians. We pay for ours sins, even when we don't believe in them. We find reasons to justify our un-freedom. The West is constantly haunted by religion. We create daily rituals and justify them with beliefs that endorse our own enslavement to a system that is hell-bent on snuffing out any nuance of a creative flame.
With the strong emergence of technology as the new messiah to take away our tears, our mourning, and now promising eternal life, religion as we know it will definitely go through a chrysalis stage. Does that mean we will not have a belief in a metaphysical being? Metaphysics is why we are all in the mess we are in. This struggle for knowing why we're here, what got us here, what is reality, coupled with the myths of wholeness, identity, and idealism has hurt us more than its helped us. We don't realize that we are all already one and that we are connected to one another, which ironically is what a lot of the major religions espouse when investigated deeper. It's as if they were all saying: "Pssst...you don't religion...it's already there...inside of you!"
You have Jesus, a Rabbi, (Sorry, he did not start Christianity) who said to pray without ceasing, another way to see this would be: Realize your never-ending connection with the divine). According to Buddhism, "At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment."
So, will religion change in the next century? Most definitely! With the entrance of science and technology, religion will change its form. If we absolve the need for a metaphysical being who teeters on being either a cosmic Santa Clause or a cosmic Hitler and begin seeing the importance of the interconnectivity that already exists between us, than we no longer have excuses to keep the blame game going, we then have to be more vigilant in our responsibility towards one another. Then, and only then, can we begin to realize that treating each other with an ounce of equality might actually change things for the better.
Utopia is a dream. What is a dream? Not reality. Will we ever get a place, either here or there, where we will always be equal? I'm not sure there is an easy answer. Many people throughout history have given possible methods for achieving this, especially religion, but the only way we can ever no, is not wait for it. I think if we lived in a place with full equality, the end of desire would be imminent. But, to believe in heaven makes us irresponsible humans. Why? Metaphysical religious belief, with its desire for perfection has us brainwashed to believe that utopia exists, either here or somewhere over the rainbow.
This is the problem with metaphysics, it imposes the 'rose-coloured glass syndrome' whereby we live our life and impose our will on others to build the city of perfection, like in the book of Revelation. But all this does is cause more strife, more wars, and more indifference. It doesn't mean we don't try for something better than our God-given right to exist WITH one another. It does mean its going to take a lot of work and a lot of communal agreement that things need to drastically change. This is what some of the major religions refer to as love, compassion, unity. It's embedded within us, we have this potential, with or without religion.