The Religion Century

Religion Will Shape Our World

The last century, 1900-2000, was “the communism century” and was defined by the USA vs. USSR struggle. Now the world is no longer bi-polar, the only pole left is the US, and in place of a conflict between nation-states, we have clashing cultures and ideologies. A rising tide of religious fervor, among Muslims, Christians and Jews, is increasingly overrunning the dominant soulless corporate culture. The 21st century is “the religion century,” but where that will lead us is highly unpredictable.

What we do know is this: in response to the overwhelming bleakness and falseness of our ever-more-materialistic world, people are rapidly becoming more devout. The old paths have failed us, and people want something more.

The latest American Jewish Committee report shows young Jews (ages 18-29) have double the percentage identifying as Orthodox than their older counterparts (now up to 1 in 6) and given birth patterns (Orthodox women often have 4 or more babies), Torah Judaism will only increase its influence, and in new, vibrant ways. See Y-Love’s analysis of this study here.

We’re seeing similar intensification in Christiandom. This week there is a new Baylor study out on American faith, and though it is severely flawed (people obviously believe G-d has more than one attribute for crying out loud!) it still offers a fascinating snapshot of America’s evolving religious fabric (click here). Reporters have been covering the explosion of fundamentalist, non-denominational “mega-churches” with thousands of members who are increasing the influence of born-again theology to a degree no one expected. And for the Catholics, the only groups seeing significant growth right now are on the fundamentalist side.

On a smaller scale, there is also a rise in Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, Odinism and other forms of paganism.

Americans are soul-searching.

Y-Love’s blog has done a great job covering this. Explaining why more and more people are turning to the spiritual, he points out that:

Why isn’t your dominant culture more appealing to the under-25 age set anymore? Older generations didn’t have teenagers going to as many funerals as ours is. We are confronted with death far more than our recent ancestors were.

Things like the afterlife are damn relevant for many young ppl. They want to know where their parents went (after smoking 3 packs a day), where their friends went, where their teacher went.

Suicide has gone up 300 percent since [the ’50s] — 19 adolescents kill themselves every day now, up to 7,000 per year; this was unheard of even into the mid 70s (1978, the largest suicide year on record — happy birthday to me — xcluded). And only 5 percent of teen suicides are because of mental illness, no they DON’T have problems this f**king bad (beyond depression, but since we see all depressed ppl don’t kill themselves, this can’t be the cause).

Vietnam? We have had Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf War, and now about to be Iran or insert-next-oil-producing-country-here. (Heaven forbid.)

764,000 nonfatal violent crimes at school. City schools and suburban schools? Equal risk in some crimes.

We’re living in a society thick with despair, and more disconnected from each other in daily life than ever before. Americans work more and more hours than any other people on earth, go home alone, veg out on fake corporate food and culture, rinse and repeat. In this rat race culture, devoid of much meaning and largely disconnected from religious traditions, if you don’t give us something hardcore, something with deep meaning and deep connection to G-d that cuts through all the BS, we don’t want it.

I saw an OpEd in the wake of the capture of American John Walker Lindh for fighting with the Taliban, and it said we young people want extreme everything, extreme sports, extreme products and extreme religion. While this has a kernel of truth, it misses the why and what entirely. Today’s young people are sinking in this mushy, mishmosh morass of American culture, and something real with absolute answers is incredibly appealing. But it’s exactly because of this absolutism that many people react so negatively to it. They shouldn’t. We all must learn to “get it.”

In the Arab world, in the face of tyranny and exploitation, young people have turned en masse to extreme Islam with an utopian vision. And they aren’t that different from Americans turning to hardcore religion, despite our leadership’s cluelessness of either.

In short, this IS “the religion century.” Studying theology has never been more important. Theology departments are going to be overflowing.

And those without answers to life’s big questions will be increasingly left behind. That is, in a way, very scary, but it is true, and that’s why it’s more critical than ever before to aggressively foster deep, G-d connected, peace-loving humanism within Christianity, Judaism and Islam.