This book provides succinct, balanced, and informative guides to the major faiths to introduce the changing religious scene as we enter the new millennium. It came out of the very experience of the author herself insightfully as she faced tragedy at a point near-dead experience.
In this book, the author attempts to delineate processes which are now having an impact on all religions, both old and new, and to illustrate ways in which religions are evolving to meet the new challenges. Contrary to earlier expectations that religion would wither away in the face of science, logic, or materialism, we see that religion is very lively at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In previous millennia, religion played a central role in people’ lives, and there are strong indications that religion is again coming to the fore as a major foundation for human life and thought.
To explore the complexities of religious expressions today, this book gathers perspectives from sociology, political analyses, psychology, and science, as well as the history and phenomenology of the religions. It is therefore useful not only for studies of world religions but also for interdisciplinary courses, such as peace studies, future studies, and preparations for social service or health care. To benefit both from overall perspectives and in-depth analyses, it weaves together both approaches, with generalizations illustrated by specific examples.
This book has four chapters. The first is the most important to me which gives much knowledge and reason to make reflection, and is about succinct description on the modern age settings such as Global Processes—containing today’s update modernization. Chapter two is about Religious Traditions in the Modern World; chapter three--New Religious Movements; and chapter four--Relationships between Religions. Our reflection came our and based from the first and the last chapters.
The first chapter dramatically shows the situation and picture of how the 21st century religions look like. It looks like the ancient Indian fable of the blind people trying to describe an elephant. Each grasps it in a different place and thus offers a different description. One takes hold of a leg and describes “elephant” as a pillar. Another takes hold of the trunk and declares that an elephant is like the branch of a tree. One who touches the ear asserts that it is like a fan. The one who grabs the tail insists that an elephant is like a thick rope. One who comes against its side argues that an elephant is like a wall. The one who encounters the tusk ways that the others are all wrong, for an elephant is like a spear.
Similarly, if people were to try to grasp and describe religion today from singular points of view, they would offer entirely different perspectives on the contemporary state of religion and different speculations about where it is heading. All these divergent trends are seen in the world today as a whole. At the same time there are common process affecting all religions today—modernization, globalization, exlusivism, humanism, post modernity—are likely to be influential in molding religion in general in the early 21st century.
In recent centuries, life in local communities has rapidly become more complex, partly through processes associated with modernization. By the beginning of the 21st century, over 50% of the population is living in urban areas. Religion once played a central role in society, but now in the modern nation-state, politics, economics, social policy, and education are no longer predominantly informed by religious values. Religious beliefs are considered subjective choices rather than absolute laws, and material success is the object of many people’s striving.
Because of the immediate impact of globalization, people no longer live out their lives under the influence of a single belief system. At the end of the 20th century, it has become common to speak of the global village—the plane as a single community linked by telecommunications.
The Internet provides anyone with access to a computer—chiefly available to those in the West—with a global audience. Many religious organizations, both large and small, have their own website on the Internet and use it to propagate their message globally. New religious groups can also be found in abundance on the “Net”.
Exclusivism in all religions makes each religion to claim their doctrines and practices the only true one. Orthodox Judaism claims their very precise set of laws governing many aspects of daily life. Christianity encouraged the ethics of love. Islam developed social laws based on scripture and institutionalized customs often derived from the Prophet Muhammad. Buddha prescribed many imperatives for ending suffering, such as right livelihood and right thought. Traditional Hindus have observed the Code of Manu, complicated by 100 C.E., emphasizing social duties and the sacrifice of individual desires for the sake of order in society.
Political Use of Religious Identity is also one important fact to note. In India, the RSS (Rashtriya Svayamasevak Sangh) arose early in the 20th century, promoting Hindu cultural renewal and espousing the rebirth of an ancient Hindu Nation. The Rig Vedas, declare that “Truth is one: sages call it by various names”. Nevertheless, the RSS has become a powerful movement, with branches in tens of thousands of Indian villages supporting the “Hindu Nation”. It is portrayed that Hindus as the rightful inhabitants of the country, and Muslims and Christians as foreign interlopers. In 1998, the BJP government won internal political support by conducting nuclear tests as a potent symbol of nationalistic strength. Muslims in Pakistan have proud that the nuclear explosions were “a great achievement for the entire Muslim world”. In the politicization of religious “fundamentalism” many Muslims have been misled into thinking that only Muslims are mu’min (believers), and that non-Muslims are kafir (non-believers).
Racism movement has grown since the 1970s and has influenced the political groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the White Aryan Resistance, and the American Nazi Party. Racial distinctions, underwritten by religion, have led to terrible acts of violence, e.g. in former Yugoslavia at the end of the 20th century, and others.
Humanism and Scientific Inquiry appeared the most reasonable strong challenges to religion. Reasonable tension existed between religious pluralism and religious exclusivism. The global process questioned and even rejected religion itself. At the turn of the century, an estimated 20% of the world’s people do not identify themselves with any religion. Many have suspected transcendent power behind human scenes. Even religious followers have been challenged to develop new understandings of their faith in the light of modern research into the human and cultural dimensions of their prophets and scriptures.
The 19th century German philosopher Nietzche (1844—1900) rebelled against the narrow version of Christianity. He attacked institutionalized religion as a “curse”, an attempt to shield people from fear of the unknown, an explanation of reality that has been displaced by the ascent of science. Karl Marx (1818—83), concluded that religion is a human creation, an opiate-like fantasy whole purpose is to keep people numbly contented despite oppression and injustice in society. Several generations of children in the large territories under communist control were trained in “scientific atheism”. Humanism, with its emphasis on human ethics rather than supernatural matters has also become big treat. The Humanist Manifesto of 1973, signed by thousands of intellectuals, asserted:
We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves. Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actualization, and from rectifying social injustices. . . . Critical intelligence, infused by a sense of human caring, is the best method that humanity has for resolving problems”.
Moreover, rational human thought has been a cornerstone of the modern period. Even sacred scriptures have been boldly subjected to rational inquiry by 20th century textual criticism. Scholars cast doubt on the claims that holy books (Bible) are unerringly true. Since 1985 a group of scholars called the Jesus Seminar have concluded that many words said to have been uttered by Jesus were probably later formulations by the community of believers in their efforts to develop the Christian faith. On the other fringe, however, there was good appreciation. The 20th century thinkers are realizing that even if science answers the “how” questions, it cannot answer all the “why” questions. This remains the domain of what we understand as religion. Many scientists are also now observing that the application of science without ethics has led to widespread destruction of the natural environment, and that technological advancement has not in itself brought happiness.
The dawn of the 21st century marks the postmodern age characterized by urbanization, industrialization, and the optimistic idea that humankind would be liberated by technological progress. However, these processes have not led to entirely positive results. Environmental degradation, social violence, disparity between rich and poor, unemployment, and homelessness have still not been eradicated. This social and psychological disruption is often referred to as the crisis of modernity. At this juncture in history, religious activities and groups are so varied that it is difficult to draw any general conclusions about what religion looks like or where it is heading.
In post modern age, despite their long heritage; the world’s religious traditions are changing in response to new inspiration and new social situations in the 21st century. The author of this book made critical survey of the traditional beliefs of indigenous spirituality as well as those of five major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Significant to this survey is a “close-up” look at one contemporary manifestation of each, to illustrate how long-established religions are being redefined. The popularity of the new ways seems to lie not only in their initial vigor but also in their relevance to contemporary needs, such as environmental protection, racial reconciliation, women’s rights, and solutions to the crisis of modernity.
Despite their great variety, surviving indigenous cultures in general teach that all forms of life, all aspects of existence, are spiritually interrelated. The land, the people, the creatures, the weather, the unseen spirits, and the celestial bodies are interwoven strands forming the tapestry of life. Around the globe, there are many, such kind of traditional beliefs. Traditional indigenous peoples are therefore considered “environmentalists”, for they feel a sacred relationship and responsibility to all of life.
The Shamans, indigenous worshippers are now increasingly taken seriously and are sometimes called by medical doctors as healers for indigenous people in medically incurable cases. Many indigenous societies also have traditional methods by which individuals purify themselves inwardly and dedicate themselves to the good of the group. In indigenous societies, elders are usually highly respected; for they believe their wisdom is great value to the community.
Around the globe, indigenous people have seen their traditional ways of life destroyed as they have been forced off their lands by more powerful commercial interests, their sacred sites taken over for uses such as mining or tourism, and heavy pressure applied to convert to other religions, particularly Christianity. Reassertion of traditional ways and rights to their ancestral lands is thus a matter of cultural and economic survival. They are forming regional, national, and global alliances and working with the United Nations to protect their rights and their cultures.
It is not just indigenous peoples who are renewing their commitment to their traditional principles. In the face of urban alienation from the natural environment, people from technologically advanced societies are seeking ways of re-establishing contact with the earth. A popular postmodern answer to this search is to delve back into the nature-based religions of pre-Christian Europe—the presumed origins of the primarily white, middle class people who are now practicing what is often called Neo-paganism. The word pagan comes from the Latin word for “peasant”, “country-dweller”, “civilian”. Paganism was historically applied as a negative epithet to those who had not been converted to Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. But now, amidst devastating and destructive this world, the pagan spirituality nowadays became a challenge to all people of religions to save nature in the world.
In the history of world religions, a major shift occurred during the Axial Age, the extremely fertile period between the eighth and fifth centuries BCE, in which lived many great teachers of spirituality, including Buddha, Confucius, Zarathustra, Jewish prophets, and the ancient Greek philosophers. Scholars of comparative religion made many efforts to analyze the extent to which religions are similar or different in doctrines. Some have concluded that religions are irreconcilably different in this regard. A basic difference seems to lie in the concept of ultimate reality--Theistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; and non-theistic religions such as Buddhism which do not speak of a creator of the cosmos with non-personal deity.
At the level of ethics, it could be said that all religions teach the same basic human values. In some way, all faiths urge people to be more loving, altruistic, morally upright, and courageously truthful. The “Universal Rule” appears in some form in every religion. Beyond doctrines, ethics, and spiritual practices, many contemporary scholars are come to conclude that there is an underlying experiential unity among religions. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, for instances, posits that all religions share a common source from which their revelations have come. Christian theologian John Hick proposes that the various religions are culturally different responses to the same one reality. Muslim scholar Frithjof Schuon proposes a common mystical ground underlying all religions, which can be experienced only through inner enlightenment, not through scholarly analyses.
The Baha`i faith, founded by Baha’u’llah (1817-92) of Iran, is interesting. It also fits modern logical as well as reconcilable concept regarding the belief about God and God’s revelation. Baha`u`llah taught appreciation for all faiths. “The religion of God is for love and unity”, “make it not the cause of enmity and dissension”, he said. God has become known through divine messengers, the founders of the world’s great religions. All are manifestations of God, channels for helping humanity to understand God’s will. Each time a divine messenger appeared, the message was given at levels appropriate to humanity’s degree of maturity.
It is commonly assumed that India is the home of religions and is the oldest faith originated in India. But in modern age, several contemporary famous religious movements also came out from India. E.g. The Sikh Gurus of the 20th century, Swami Vivekananda who was the hero of Parliament of the World’s Religions in the interfaith dialogue, and Baba Virsa Singh in interfaith worship movement.
Baba Virsa’s teaching quoted below is the one which I would like to appreciate for our stand in religious position. He teaches that all the prophets have come from the same one light, which has been given many different names. He explains his point of view:
I have not adopted any particular religion, because God has given me the feeling that institutionalized religions are fortresses. He said, “I want you to speak about dharma [moral order, the essence of religion]. Dharma has been created by God. What is dharma? Love for everything.
From childhood, I kept questioning God, “In order to love Jesus, must one become a Christian or just love?” He told me, “It is not necessary to become a Christian. It is necessary to love him.”
I asked, “To believe in Moses, does one have to observe any special discipline, or just love?” The divine command came, “Only love”. I asked, “Does one have to become a Muslim in order to please Muhammad, or only love”? He said, “One must love.” “To believe in Buddha, must one become a monk or a Buddhist?” He replied. No. To believe in Buddha is to love”.
Again and again, He said, “I created human beings. Afterward, human beings created sectarian religions. But I created only human beings, not religions”.
In stead of such an exclusivist claim of one-true-faith, doctrine, belief, etc. our modern age religious attitudes should be put in line with Dr. Robert Muller’s statements as a challenge to people of all religions and all faith in the foremost headline.
At this crucial point of human history, on the eve of the third millennium, the main duty of the religions is not to propagate their dogmas and rituals or to try to increase their memberships. Their main spiritual duty is to give the world a desperately needed Renaissance from the extreme materialism and moral decay into which we have fallen. … The main duty of religions must be to inspire love for all human brothers and sisters, especially the downtrodden, the poor, the handicapped, abandoned children, the homeless, the refugees, the innocent victims of violence.