"It seems amazing now that there was a time when science was supposedly the "enemy" of faith, and religion was deemed hostile to technological investigation."

"The end of atheism and agnosticism became inevitable as soon as computer calculations made improbable the odds that random natural selection could be the sole explanation for the ever increasing intricacies found in biology."


Time

Fall 1992 Special Issue

Page 61

KINGDOMS TO COME

By Richard N. Ostling

AS THE YEAR 2092 dawns, Catholicism remains the largest component within Christianity the world's biggest and most widespread faith. In the preceding century, the papacy has been making the multicultural rounds. A safe Italian followed the sharp-edged Pole, John Paul II, but then came South American, African and Asian Popes (one African American nearly made it). Finally, the Italians reinstituted their monopoly over the throne of Peter. The incumbent Italian, Pope Pius XIV, is slowly reacquiring some of the art masterpieces sold off to cover Vatican debts.

At the formal level, nothing much came of the moral rearrangements that some Catholics used to advocate back in the late 20th century, such as the right to divorce, tolerance for gay sex and, above all, birth control. Rome's insistence on adhering to church tradition has required the hierarchy to hold the line, but in practice most local priests wink at widespread violations of these tenets. Parishes have become considerably more democratic, and lay people (most of them women) perform most tasks, including administration of everything but the sacraments. The ban on women priests, however, remains in force. Priests and bishops are still appointed from on high but one major organizational change has been in place for decades: many married men serve as Catholic priests to ease the clergy shortage.

Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, with their emphasis on ritual, are well suited to a world in which few people bother to read. Theology is a dying art. School children are ignorant of the Bible and hence bereft of their spiritual heritage. The postliterate era has been especially difficult for Protestantism which depended so heavily upon rationalism and reading. Although old-style Protestants are shrinking in numbers, they retain outsize influence because so many of them remain book readers and are thus inevitably leaders of the economic ruling class on all continents.

The papacy is ecumenically friendly and has helped establish an innocuous organization, the World Christian Conference. But decades ago, Rome's intransigence about its powers killed off hopes for a grand reunion with Eastern Orthodoxy. Nor do the Protestants show much interest in mergers; unruliness characterizes the Evangelicals, Charismatics and independent African churches. The Protestant liberals, only vaguely Christian any longer, harbor anger about Rome's decisive moves in the 2040s to restrict Bible criticism and halt efforts to blur the lines between Christianity and other religions.

Yet cooperative activity thrives in other ways. Virtually all Christians have united in a cultural movement to eradicate the last vestiges of anti-Jewish sentiment. But less concord is in evidence with Islam, the world's second-ranking religion. The Prophet's faith, while huge, is circumscribed in its cultural impact because its brightest youths are totally secularized in outlook, even though they maintain the outward forms of devotion. The many Islamic revival regimes have failed to manage their economies or to foster political democracy. Leaders allow almost no free intellectual discussion in religion or in anything else. Women are not encouraged to contribute anything to Islamic thought. A few scattered intellectuals are again starting to question this whole stultifying state of affairs.

No important sect or cult has been born for decades. The colorful creeds from olden times are tiny or extinct, among them Baha'i, One-Faith, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Hemlockite death cult. Of the assorted new revelations that were announced toward the end of the second millennium only Mormonism maintains global reach, but it remains relatively small. On the other hand, the ancient forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, once considered near-cults in the U.S., have become sizable and respectable there.

The affluent classes of developed countries have rejected high-demand sects and cults in favor of no-demand faiths. Groups loosely lumped together as the World Soul Movement originated with the synthetic pantheist, neopagan, nature-love and New Age groups that were the rage early in the 21st century. The triumph of feminist religion caused many Christians and Jews to shun references to God in personal terms (no more Lord or Heavenly Father). This in turn strengthened the groups that worship a mysterious nature-force or seek to deify the self. Today's variegated religious revival is partly the result of a need for effective moral commitment to protecting the environment.

It seems amazing now that there was a time when science was supposedly the "enemy" of faith, and religion was deemed hostile to technological investigation.

The end of atheism and agnosticism became inevitable as soon as computer calculations made improbable the odds that random natural selection could be the sole explanation for the ever increasing intricacies found in biology.

Equally influential was the discovery of multiple universes, which astronomers found at the macrocosmic level and physicists detected in the microcosmic.

Science thus established the current Age of Faith, re-creating the Creator. Nowadays, only the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

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