If there's one thing we know about religion across the span of human history it's that it has undergone countless changes, starting from when a human first stared at the star-packed sky in awe and wonder.
Early in the religion piece, there's this useful warning: "If you believe your faith has arrived at ultimate truth, you might reject the idea that it will change at all. But if history is any guide, no matter how deeply held our beliefs may be today, they are likely in time to be transformed or transferred as they pass to our descendants – or simply to fade away."
The problem with ultimate truths is not that there aren't any but that human beings are finite and sometimes we imagine that we are capable of comprehending the infinite. We could use a little humility about all of this.
A little bit of the BBC piece seems to be contradictory. At one point the author writes this: "Today, many of our societies are huge and multicultural: adherents of many faiths co-exist with each other – and with a growing number of people who say they have no religion at all. We obey laws made and enforced by governments, not by God. Secularism is on the rise, with science providing tools to understand and shape the world.
"Given all that, there’s a growing consensus that the future of religion is that it has no future."
Well, the idea that religion is dying and before long will disappear took hold in the last 50 or 75 years among some scholars. But this "growing consensus" seems now to be fading as the evidence, as the BBC piece eventually acknowledges, suggests something quite the opposite from disappearance:
"(R)eligion is not disappearing on a global scale – at least in terms of numbers. In 2015, the Pew Research Center modeled the future of the world’s great religions based on demographics, migration and conversion. Far from a precipitous decline in religiosity, it predicted a modest increase in believers, from 84% of the world’s population today to 87% in 2050." (In politics, 84 percent is considered an almost-unheard-of landslide.)
It's true that the number of religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. and western Europe, particularly, has been growing in recent decades while many forms of institutional religion in those areas of the world have been losing members. But if you look at the question of religious growth and shrinkage worldwide a rather different picture emerges.
The point here is that from time to time it can be helpful to take a long view of various aspects of human life, including religion. We always are in the midst of change, even if it's sometimes hard to track. This kind of journalism helps to widen our focus.
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MORE LESSONS FROM EMMETT TILL
Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise, which I reviewed here in January, has written this essay about the University of Mississippi frat boys who posed for a picture with guns in front of marker dedicated to Emmett Till. He asks good questions: How did these young men fail to learn that such behavior is racist? Did their faith communities fail to teach them that? Weren't they listening? Who taught them that such behavior was acceptable?