Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The end of God as we know him?

So, they found the god particle. The media just broke (yet another) story of the Catholic church- this time in Australia, covering up hundreds of child abuse reports. Recently, the Islamic world has been up in arms over the irreverent video posted on YouTube. It is a wild, wild time to be moderate, say-my-prayers-and-try-to-do-right believer. 

For better or worse, religion is primarily responsible for shaping the modern world. Colonialism was only justifiable to the populace as a God-mandated mission. The USA has asserted its might on the world under the guise of ‘Manifest Destiny’. The Jewish nation’s claim to modern Israel is based on the biblical notion of Zionism. Add to that list the extremists who kill in the name of religion, churches that are the backbone of many nations' philanthropic sector, and dictators who hold demigod status resulting in them never being challenged etc.

Yet, there is an undeniable movement away from religion as it has been known for the past few thousand years. Places of worship are somewhat emptier than they used to be, several previously held values are now watered down and compromised by reason and modern knowledge. A recent poll suggests that more than half of Americans would vote for a ‘well-qualified’ atheist for President- something that would have been inconceivable a few decades ago.

The ongoing shift away from an understanding of God and religion that has been cultivated over millennia is one deserving of a second look. What is it about that ‘ol’ time religion’ that people today find a little less appealing? Here are a few reasons why religion has lost its luster

1)    Scientific Advancements
Science has, without a doubt, been the biggest factor in challenging the status of religion and its influence. With scientists finding more and empirical evidence supporting theories like the Big Bang and evolution, the very basis of most traditional religions is being confronted and brought into doubt (if not debunked)
In addition, several prominent scientists have been unable to reconcile their fields of study with religion, thus creating a scenario where religion seems to be science's number one impediment and science is leading the charge against religion.
2)    Information Transfer
There was a time when only the elites could read, and the common man did not know much about anything outside his immediate environment. Such a society made it easier for religious institutions to dictate what was known and, thus, believed.
With globalization and its many facets (travel, the internet), people are learning more about what else is out there. For every doctrine available, there are a million others questioning it, and a million more alternatives. For example, church scandals are becoming increasingly harder to sweep under the rug. As the world continues to move towards universal access to information, the omniscience once reserved for religious institutions continues to be dispelled. 
3)    Stronger civil liberties
     Closely linked to the previous point is the idea that people in liberal societies are ‘freer’ than they have ever been: civil liberties now hold higher precedence than they have done at anytime in the modern world. This is not to turn a blind eye to the billions still living under tyranny; a lot of folk still have no options in religious inclination. An emphasis on ideas such as separation of church and state means that while the moral code of many nations still has roots in a religious code, it is governed more by norms and ‘greater good’ principles. In the past, there was legal penance for sinning (as sin and crime were virtually synonymous). One can skip religious functions, dress as they may etc, and still claim allegiance to a religion. One can now get certified online and be within rights to officiate a wedding, jobs have people working 24/7, and the idea of excommunication from the church is not as intimidating as it used to be due to liberal society and several denominations and religions one could move to. In addition, several influential people in politics, entertainment, sports, and science have openly declared their lack of faith in a deity.
The result is, on top of religion losing its ancient appeal; it has also become easier and more convenient to do without several of its defining aspects. 
4)    Emphasis on Spirituality.
All things having been considered, stripped down and reconsidered; there has been a definite shift away from being religious to spirituality. Thus, you get the surge of Eastern forms of meditation in the West, you get prominent believers who don’t necessarily attend services. To take it a step further, there are alternative forms of spirituality that shift away from identifying God as he has been known, to emphasis on self-actualization, karma, the environment, humanity etc. Many societies have found these to achieve the purpose of living amicably within your environment and being the best person you can be without the constructs of organized religion. In short, people are getting less and less compelled by rites, rules, and rituals, and more and more by a fundamental, universal idea of ‘right’. 

The last one is particularly key in projecting the shift in which organized religion is moving towards. Advanced technologies, the globalization of pop icons, and the never-ending schools of thought that are appearing everyday are resulting, and will continue to result, in fragmented religious movements where faith (or lack thereof) becomes more and more person-based. What this will mean for the continued existence of organized religion on a larger scale remains to be seen.

In all this, it is important to acknowledge that the advancements, changes and diversity upon which this analysis is based are only universal in their imminent inevitability: the reality on the ground is different regions/cultures/ religions have been affected by these phenomena in different ways and at different paces.

                ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’- Voltaire. 

While the outlook may be gleam for traditional religious practices, people in their numbers will always seek answers to questions that science cannot fully explain: the soul, the afterlife, and the idea that comes from knowing that ‘bad’ people could possibly get away with it if the earthly systems don’t catch up to them etc. 

So, to be fair, God- and the human pursuit of him/her- looks set to be around for a while: This is just the end of how we have known him. 

(‘God’ in this article refers to the notion of a deity as perceived by different groups of people, and the study here is purely an exercise in social study and not an expression of the writer’s own religious views and inclinations)

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