Astonishing Spiritual And Social Transformations In The 21st Century

Today, according to recent studies, people in advanced societies, while overwhelmingly believing in a Creator whether called God, Allah, or else, less and less desire to be attached to religious institutions such as churches or synagogues or adhere to their strict rules. Spiritual thoughts are tending to be based on reason and rationalization. Maybe for this reason Islam, which is an individualized religion without organizational hierarchy , is flourishing so rapidly in developing as well as developed countries.

Recent studies reveal that worldwide, for every one person converted into Christianity, seven enter Islam. An ayatollah is the highest person of spiritual knowledge in Islam. He is like a person holding a Ph.D. degree. The holder does not belong to any religious hierarchy. After graduation, he selects a community for his residence and is considered an Islamic scholar and the source of knowledge in Islam. He is contacted by the people in the community seeking answer for religious questions or for clarification of religious issues, or resolving relevant problems brought before him. Large communities have several resident ayatollahs. Muslims in the community are free to choose any of the resident ayatollahs they prefer for referrals. They may desire to choose none which is usually the majority of the residents. So, individuals are left alone in their spiritual thoughts and practices. Even in Iran which has an established theocratic regime, there are ayatollahs in different communities who do not agree with certain spiritual rules advocated by the regime; they have their own followers and some are quite influential such as Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari. Some ayatollahs following, like any scholar, may extend beyond their community of residence, even beyond national borders. Unlike Christianity or Judaism, the non-hierarchical status of Islam creates a free and peaceful environment for Muslims to practice their religion the manner they, as individuals, wish.

As stated by Richard Holloway, “when authority, in religion as well as politics, is dispersed among many centers it helps to neutralise the corrupting and oppressive effects of power.”[1] More likely, this freedom of spiritual thought in Islam is a powerful factor in enticing to embrace Islam by individuals seeking a rationally acceptable spiritual commitment. Fundamentalist Islamic groups of today advocating rigid and radical Islamic life will not succeed and will be marginalized in time, including those in control of a country such as Saudi Arabia or Iran. It is expected that by the year 2050, Islam, in its free and moderate form, to become an influential social and political, if not economic, force in advanced societies and dominant majority force in many important developing nations. This would be one substantial transformation in the 21st century. It will have an unexpected political implications since in Islam there is no separation between religion and state; the community organizational and operational norms are parts from the spiritual belief. However, such political and social implications will be positive, with a tendency toward moderation and democratic orientation. An important ground for such transformation, as Holloway states, would be that “we are astoundingly fertile in our conceptions. There is unlikely to be a final, settled endgame which absolutely establishes everything in a single theory, because it is in our nature to go on questing for understanding through time and space.”

The explosion of information and communication technology, the Internet in particular, has created a fluid environment for such transformation. “I am so optimistic that I expect to live to see the evaporation of then powerful mystique of religion. With the worldwide spread of information technology, … it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts … that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance.”[2] Today, many “young people quietly walk away from the faith of their parents and grandparents. That trend will continue, especially when young people come to know how many of their peers are making this low profile choices.”

The reason for democratic tendencies in religion, which is usually dogmatic where the religious norms must be obeyed, is the global development of tolerance in religious beliefs, mainly as a result of phenomenal expansion of electronic information and communication technology . What Richard Holloway stated years ago is the same true today and will be in the future. He said “My working assumption was that the discoveries we have made in our quest for meaning all came from us, were all human constructs. …We are constantly digging for meaning, searching for understanding.”[3] For example, “if you believe that every word in Bible was in some sense dictated by God then you are going to have massive problems with contemporary society…. If you are a Christian who believes in the freedom of women to order their own destiny within the normal limitations that define any human life, then you have already deconstructed the traditional view of the Bible.”

According to Nicholas Lash, “The ‘modern’ world is ending, and the consequent confusion contains the possibility of discovering new forms of ancient wisdom which the ‘modern’ world obscured from view.”[4] However, this enormous spiritual reorientation, though somehow satisfactory for many people, will not resolve the quest for spiritual liberalism, namely, a system of spiritual thought that would be based on reason, rationalization, open for individual discovery without interference by any intermediary. An earnest search for such an spiritual philosophy in advanced societies is already in motion and will continue. It will mainly be centered on three fundamental issues:

First, while many believe in the existence of a Creator, there are question about Its essence, origin, purpose, and the extent of Its authority over individuals. Many religions do not allow doubt or feasibility of search and investigation for the truth or, at least, a reasonable answer for these questions. This old dogmatic approach is not anymore acceptable to many of those in the search of a logical and rationalized spiritual commitment.

Second, the secret and purpose of the Creation of the Universe and human beings as a part from it, is the next question. How was the material universe created? Is it rational to believe that it was created by the Creator in six days? Or, was it created by a Big Bang; if so, who caused it? Does the universe follow a pre-set course? Who set it up? Were human beings created by God, or came to existence through evolution from lower species, or a combination of both.

Third, what is the purpose of life? Are we here to live and then perish, or is there a life after death? Many religions tell us that the life continues beyond our material life and we are assigned a mission to accomplish. We are here to purify ourselves facing the pitfalls of the material life. We are here to create a just and fair society , help, educate, and guide our fellow humans toward that end, and avoid being pre-occupied with material things beyond our needs. Are these the purpose of our life? Is this an ordained mission by the Creator? What is the kind of society which would be just and fair for all? How can it be rationally created under such spiritual belief? Should there be a separation between people’s spiritual beliefs and the state? [5]

It must be noted that if this latter transformation takes place within the framework of Christianity, there will still be a substantial rapprochement to the Islamic beliefs. Christ will be demoted from his God-like status to that of a prophet like Mohammad which is the way Muslims believe in Christ. This, seemingly, may lead to a closer cooperation between the followers of the two major spiritual sectors. Such cooperation, more likely, will be a matter of survival since the world, particularly advance societies, would be seeking a logical and rationalized answer for their spiritual beliefs if any.

These are fundamental questions. People will be looking for rational and satisfactory, if not ascertainable, answers for their spiritual commitments during this century. As these questions are answered one by one through search and research, we will face enormous economic and social changes. It, definitely, will not justify the survival of Capitalism, neither would those of socialism, communism or other prevailing ideologies. A new spiritual philosophy, rather than a religion, will emerge. Its principles will be based on scientific research, analysis, and rationalization. It will encompass the concept of the Creator, the Universe, the human life, its purpose and meaning and the whole societal system. Authoritarianism whether spiritual, political, social or economic will be universally despised. People will strive for a taste of true democracy with equality of opportunity available to all in every aspects of the societal life.

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1. Richard Holloway, “Radical Faith: Exploring Faith in a Changed World.”

[http://www.homepages.which.net/~radical.faith/holloway/mythe] 6c.htm , pp. 3&4

2. End of Religionhttp://www.vimipa.wordpress.com/2007/04/10/end-of-religion

3. Holloway, op.cit., p.3

4. Nicholas Lash, “The Beginning and the End of ‘religion'”

[http://www.sharisgarten.net/mystores/item_0521566355.html]

5. For details about all these questions and answers visit http://www.democracywhere.com