Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The End of God as We Know Him pt 2

    The inevitably shifting dynamics of international religion

A few months ago, we published “The End of God as We Know Him”, a rather controversial piece that discussed the waning lure of traditional organized religion and the rise of a more attractive secular-spiritual global culture. We hereby continue our analysis of this shift in paradigm, with the papal selection looming over our heads.

Last month, Pope Benedict 16th broke rank when he resigned from his redoubtable throne as Pope of the Catholic Church. Broke rank because, not since Gregory XII in 1415 had a pope resigned: usual protocol is to die in office. Although he is resigning for purported health reasons, many observers have cited his scandal-dogged tenure as having worn him and his reputation down, thus subsequently contributing to his relatively brief papal career.

In keeping with the theme of Vatican rarities, there is a strong chance that the next pope may not be European. As recently as the later decades of the 20th century , popes were almost always Italian, and the idea that Benedict 16th’s successor may be from Africa, Asia or Latin America speaks volumes to the metamorphosis of not only the Catholic Church, but international organized religion at large.

Yet, even in the largess of the ceremony surrounding the coronation of the leader of the world's largest religious group, there is an undeniable air of cynicism and what would seem to be apathy on the part of several communities that would have previously been rapt in the proceedings. All this, as we hinted in our first article, speaks to the general global decline in the appeal of traditional organized religion. Using the Catholic Church as proxy, there are two absolute reasons that have led to this modern dynamic.

  •  Infallibility debunked
Challenging religion is an institution as old as religion itself. In fact, one can probably argue that the plethora of religious groups that exist today were born out of dissatisfaction with those that existed already, and so it goes. Wasn't Christ crucified in that very context (perceive it as either him challenging existing traditions or the traditions trying to stop this new religion)? Also ancient as religion are its shortcomings.
What is relatively new, however, is the idea that religious shortcomings are now being brought to late much sooner after they are committed, and to a much larger audience than ever before. Not too long ago, religious leaders were perceived as the very faces of the gods on earth. From the Pope to the local Rabbi, it was unheard of for the layman to confront their humanity. Not so much anymore.

 The internet and the 24 hour news cycle have made sure that everyone in the world knows about the injustices perpetrated by extremists in the name of Islam, the Catholic sex abuse scandals, and whatever Scientology does, to the rest of the world. Thus, when we are looking at the Pope for example, we no longer look at a demigod, but a man with the frailties as well.
With that in mind, religion has lost the appeal of belonging to something infallible; something representing a level of perfection not possible outside of its confines.

  •  The end of the Fear monopoly
The growth of the modern international system cannot be separated from its strong religious foundation. Whether it is colonialism, slavery and the various forms of nationalism, the global status quo was created, in large part, by religious (or religious-backed) ideologies. With the rise of the powerful state, a massive and all-encompassing global economy, the international influence of institutions such as sport and entertainment, big business and, most of all, the internet, religion is no longer an object of fear. Comedians everywhere poke fun at religion, and scholars do not give a second thought about confronting it. With that at the core, the average man is a little less compelled to fall under the thumb of religion than he has in the past.
This image represents the end of the fear monopoly on a number of levels (The internet prowess, cynicism about the church, and feeling that revered religious figures are 'touchable)

         We are definitely witnessing a shift away from the traditional confines of religion toward its more appealing cousin; spirituality. The emphasis on secular spirituality or religion focused solely/primarily on spirituality arises from the two factors listed above: realizing that religion as an institution is faulty, and that it is becoming harder for it to maintain a grip of terror on its adherents. That said, people would rather invest in spiritual philosophies governed by an intimate understanding of right and wrong and the pursuit of self actualization.

As for organized religion, groups are having to devise new ways in which to appeal to their modern day audience through recognizing this self-based emphasis on spirituality. Thus, there is an increased focus on philanthropy, networking, and other such facets of spirituality that go beyond 'the fear and perfection' mode that had since been established.

As I noted in the first installment, the analysis here does not aim to downplay the enduring influence of religion across the world. Indeed, there are communities that will never be the same because the Pope paid them a visit. "God Save the Queen" is still the rallying cry of the British. Across Africa, Christian prophets are in the media daily for creating ‘miracle money’. Communities in Europe have recently been taking to the referendum ballots to fight for/against rules regarding Muslim women wearing traditional face-covering clothing. Even in these instances, there are vociferous, well-respected voices beginning to speak up in protest.

While parts of the world will watch with intent for the history-making smoke that will soon rise from the Vatican, most others will have their work cut out, focused (for better or worse) on the new religion of the making: the self-centered cultivation of one’s own spirituality.

God? Sure. Just not as we used to know Him.

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