Magazine article The Futurist

Finding Faith in Humankind: A Humanist Is Spreading the Gospel of Godlessness, Respectfully

Magazine article The Futurist

Finding Faith in Humankind: A Humanist Is Spreading the Gospel of Godlessness, Respectfully

Article excerpt

A modern look at religion and spirituality yields a mix of potentialities. On the one hand, there's testimony and evidence that religion and spirituality can benefit people. After all, there's an obvious social and political benefit in adhering to the beliefs of the majority. And there are also indications that both psychological and physical health are stronger among the faithful. On the other hand, spiritual faith has been a source for conflict and authoritarian control. Disputes, terrorism, and war are rarely rooted solely in religious disagreement, but such conflict surely fans the flames of such conflagrations. And faith is also a tool used by those in power to retain their control. As we look to the future, we see that traditional spirituality may bring us both good and harm. But will it persist?

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From Friedrich Nietzsche to H. L. Mencken to Christopher Hitchens, many who were convinced of religion's negative impact falsely predicted its demise. Those whose worldviews are solidly built with a frame of logic upon the firm foundation of knowledge often forget that they are in the minority. Just because faith requires adherence to unproven and unprovable assertions does not mean that such ideas will be abandoned now, or even over time. Much more likely is that the human need for resolution, the tendency to hold on to what's desired, and simple inertia will maintain spiritual faith indefinitely.

While religion and spirituality may persist, it will certainly not be as it is today in the future--not 10 years from now, and not into the more distant decades. History has shown the evolution of religion from tribal animisms and other polytheistic faiths to monotheistic ones. A few religions, including some modern schools of Buddhism, New Age worldviews, and religious philosophies, are even in the realm of "post-theological."

One steady change we've seen is the lessening impact of traditional religion on richer societies. Where once religion held equal sway over political, social, and spiritual domains, we've seen that authority recede. Political authority is rarely granted today in the same way it was under Holy Roman emperors and the divine right of kings. Social control in the West is far less stringent than it once was, with the churches losing their hold on rules surrounding courting, marriage, and the family. Even mainline churches are seeing their domain shrinking as discoveries provide testable explanations for movements of the stars, the origins of species, and the birth of the universe. For some, these sorts of answers remove the need to rely on spirituality

As we move into the future, one can predict where traditional spirituality will continue to lose its authority. The churches will eventually surrender their losing battles on gay marriage, on a woman's right to choose (abortion rights), and on the maintenance of stereotyped gender roles. But it will also lose in struggles that are just beginning.

The prejudice seen commonly among the faithful today--that goodness can only come through godliness--will be less and less accepted. As more and more of the 10%-15% of the population who are atheists and agnostics come out of their closets to their friends, family, and neighbors, it will be difficult to hold to the claim that so many lack the ability to lead productive moral lives. As that breaks down, religion and spirituality will begin to lose its connection to goodness in general. No longer will it be a social liability to voice secular principles and rationalist grounding.

In a world like this, being part of secular humanist communities will be an accepted alternative to traditionally religious ones, and even preferred over increasingly irrelevant fundamentalist faiths. …

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