WILL RELIGION EVER BECOME OBSOLETE?
By Nikhil Handa and Ananya Basu
“No religion, too” sang John Lennon in his hit Imagine. “Imagine all the people/Living life in peace”. Religion is indeed a divisive topic, and whether it is a negative or positive force it appears to be giving way to secularism. This would have been easier perhaps to debate merely 20 years ago, but recent events in the media (both perceived Islamic Extremism and religious responses changes in American Homosexual policies) have almost suggested a rise in religion. Still, many see religion as a dying force, and redundancy of religion seems almost imminent. But will religion ever become obselete?
A few religions may die out, but religion as an institution never will. It is incredibly resilient, and provides human needs that we are hard pressed to find anywhere else.
The first argument that people make is that with advancements in science, people will no longer turn to religion for answers. They believe that if the truth about the world is stripped bare, religion will have nowhere to hide. However, the fact is that religion is not largely based around claims of truth. Indeed, such claims are part of religions, but the members of most religious groups don't (for the most part) sit around telling each other that God makes cows or that He put fossils in the ground to fool paleontologists. Religion has always historically been able to adapt to science, and one method of that is the shift from taking religious literature in its literal form and instead as metaphorical. Most religious people are not akin to Fundamentalist Christians, who see everything in the Bible as “the absolute truth”- a more liberal view is often taken, such as certain Christians believing that the Biblical Creation Story of 7 days is merely a euphemism for the stages of Evolution. Therefore, it is exceptionally naïve to believe that Science and religion are mutually exclusive; indeed, these two sectors co-exist in many religious scientists, such as Werner Arber (joint winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine) and Denis Alexander (Director of the Faraday Institute). The hoard of scientific undertakings by Reverends and their ilk during the period of Enlightenment will tell you that.
Moreover, as any scientist can tell you, science is never ending. There will always be something that we as humans will not understand, and therefore there will always be a place for God or gods to hide. Also, there will be always be those that doubt science, or to whom science is merely inaccessible. It is true that we as a global population are becoming more informed, aided by “the shrinking world” of better communication (the Internet being central to this) and transport, but there are still many places in the world where education is simply a dream. Furthermore, there are places in the world where scientific education appears to be going backwards, such as Turkey, where Erdogan’s government has recently outlawed the teaching of Evolution in schools , and even Louisiana and Tennessee have state laws permitting public (state) schools to teach Creationism over Evolution.
So what exactly are people looking to find in religion, if not truth claims? Religion provides for many people, among other things, a moral system, a form of psychotherapy, a social order, a political order, a means of doing good works, a way of relating to the numinous on a personal level, a way to cope with fears of death, a series of rituals, a means of coping with loneliness, a connection to a web of narratives, and a form of community. Most people have most or all of these, but religion can appeal greatly to those who don’t- those misplaced or mistreated by society, those in hard times etc. Religion provides a meaning to life, a purpose, that we cannot find outside of a similar group. These
factors that humans crave are the reason why cults exist, why orgainsations such as the Nazi Party (or, too a certain extent, Donald Trump) gained such a huge following- people want to belong to something, and feel as if they are making a difference. Religion and similar organisations set out simple responses and solutions to human failings and problems – even if we have the answers and solutions in this modern life, we have to go find them, and collate all this data. Religion offers a streamlined package of everything that a human will ever need, a pill that’s easy to swallow. Religion offers what every successful group in history has: a simple purpose and belief; hope. It’s a panacea that we will always crave, even more so now, perhaps, as we live arguably more complicated lifestyles. Never underestimate the power of human laziness.
The fact that religion has existed so long is rather telling. Even from the conception of Mankind, we have always believed in some higher power – albeit more literal deities in our tribal days. Even in the most secular societies (think USSR) , religion has prevailed, however minutely. We evolved to live in small tribes of hunter-gatherers, and Natural Selection endowed us with egalitarian tools to exist in this way. We all have impulses to dominate, but we also have altruistic prompts like loyalty, empathy, guilt feelings, a sense of justice, etc. Those drives most-likely evolved to help us be better pack animals: they are social glues. Religion is an example of this (I am less-likely to covet my neighbor's husband, and hence cause tribal strife, if I believe someone is always watching me, even when I'm "alone.") Humans are naturally social animals, and arguably this concept of religion kept us alive. Religion can create problems when Religion A conflicts with Religion B, but that's mostly a modern-world problem. Our ancestors (with whom we share cranial anatomy) evolved to be tribal and didn't have to worry much about coexisting with others that had wildly different beliefs. In fact, in such an environment, it was probably a survival advantage to have an us-vs-them attitude in which you felt a strong connection with members of your own group and a strong suspicion of outsiders—a need to fight them off (as Crusaders did), hide from them (as the Amish do), or win them over (as missionaries do). Religion helps foster both group loyalty and aversion to The Other. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that this will ever change.
The last, and perhaps most important point, is a personal aversion to the word “obsolete”. It is true that there is a trend to secularism (whatever the media might portray in the form of new extremism), but it incredibly illogical to make such a leap from decrease to extinction. There is a debate on whether anything can be 100% absolute, but that’s a wholly different debate. It is true that religion can’t physically ever completely die out, as there will always be those who persist against the norm (as any YA dystopian novel can tell you). When the Kindle first came out, many lamented this the death of physical books; although there has been a decline in bookshops, the straining and frayed zips of my schoolbag will tell you a completely different story. There have been three waves of 3D films, and each time the media has lauded this as the end of traditional cinematography. And each time, this view has been proven wrong. Relion will exist for as long as people want what religion gives them. In times of hardship, people always vote extreme (think post-Wall Street Crash Germany) for totalitarian governments, whether Fascist or Communists. These governments often attempt out wipe out religion and replace it with something similar—something that might as well be a religion (and often topples over into becoming one)—such as strong nationalism under the rule of a charismatic leader, like Adolf Hitler, to whom German children were made to chant prayers based on führerprinzip which were eerily similar to the Christian Lord’s Prayer. In this modern world, strife again is upon us, and religion – or principles very much like it- are sure to flourish. Religion will survive for as long as humanity is in turmoil- and one thing that all, secular or religious can agree on, is that Humanity will always be in trouble.
With religion being such an integral part of our society, it’s hard to see it ever becoming 'obsolete’. However, it may well be the case that religion will eventually die out, as hard to believe as it is right now.
The first case to this argument is that, with all the progress we have been making in technology and science, it seems likely that there will be a monumental discovery that ultimately proves many concepts of religion wrong. The most vulnerable concept of religion is arguably the idea of creationism, across all religions. With such convincing ideas such as the Big Bang Theory (we must respect the Big Bang Theory, it gave a name to one of the greatest comedy series ever) and Darwin’s theory of evolutionism (I’m referring to Pokémon evolutions of course), it seems that, with sufficient evidence, one of the key ideas of all religions may be proved wrong. And with this comes the question of whether all the other key ideas of religion are justifiable. And with this comes the questioning of religion as a whole. And with this comes people starting to lose faith in religion. And with this you… get the idea. But again, this happening is incredibly reliant upon the fact that these theories must be proved right in the first place for sure, and God knows (irony intended) how close we are to that, and whether they are right in the first place. It's very possible that we never prove them right, or that we actually find evidence that proves these theories wrong, which would cause the complete opposite of the effect explained above.
Secondly, it could be considered that people have already started to lose faith in religion, which could result in it becoming completely obsolete. This is because of the cliché statement that bests all other cliché statements: 'If God exists, why is there still so much bad in the World?’. The last few years obviously haven’t been the best in terms of terrorist attacks and general bad deeds, such as the countless incidents in London and the terrible Las Vegas shooting. This has led to many religious believers questioning as to why, if God really is omni-benevolent, He isn’t carrying out the modern Noah’s Ark. Although this is a minority of believers at the moment, many people are losing their faith in their respective Gods. But if the situation as it is right now carries on, it seems inevitable that more and more people will stop relying on a higher power to fix their problems and will start fixing these problems by themselves. This means humans may follow their own methods to combat terrorism, which would lead to religion eventually becoming obsolete, as people aren’t following its advice and teachings any more.
But there still remains no obvious answer to the question of ‘will religion ever become obsolete’. History shows that it won’t, yet the possible future suggests it will. But it seems that, if a dominant idea of religion was proved to be incorrect by science, it will all come down to how the population of religious believers will respond. Arguably, as religion may not be considered an idea based on true or false, they will continue to look at the teachings and values of religion. But it could also be true that, with one teaching proved completely wrong, people lose faith in their religions as a whole. Only time can tell, and if such a time comes, the consequences of such a split opinion and belief may have disastrous consequences, both on our society and on the budget of the BBC, because I doubt that will be a cheap story to cover.