The Future Of God In The Global Village

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The Future of God in the Global Village: Spirituality in an Age of Terrorism and Beyond

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781463423360
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 10/7/2011
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

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Spirituality In An Age Of Terrorism And Beyond
By Thomas R. McFaul


Copyright © 2011 Thomas R. McFaul
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4634-2340-7

Chapter One

How to Think About God

The goal of this book is straightforward: to forecast alternative futures to the year 2050 with a specific focus on the role that human spirituality will have in shaping it. Given the existence of thousands of religions that populate the planet, this might seem like an impossible task. However, as will be shown, it is not, despite the fact that many, if not most, of the predictions that have been made in the past have not come to pass, including one that stands at the top of the list as the king of really bad predictions: the demise of religion.

Not only has religion not disappeared as many writers and other commentators expected it would during the mid—to late-nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth, it thrives at the start of the twenty-first. As the following numbers show, the vast majority of people around the world, more than seventy-five percent, continue to identify with the world's great sacred traditions.

a. Christianity—2.1 billion

b. Islam—1.5 billion

c. Hinduism—900 million

d. Chinese traditional religions of Confucianism by Confucius and Daoism—394 million

e. Buddhism—376 million

f. Sikhism—23 million

g. Judaism—14 million

h. Baha'i—7 million

Why did so many seemingly astute prognosticators of the past one hundred and fifty years miss the predictive mark about religion's demise by such a wide margin? One explanation that accounts for such inaccuracy involves the sheer complexity of life, which exceeds the human mind's ability to grasp the totality of forces that have steered the past to its present state and that drive the present toward the future. A second and deeper reason entails a false understanding of the nature and role of spirituality in human communities and why billions of people continue to anchor their lives in some expression of it in every time zone, place, and culture throughout the global village.

In order to fully grasp why religion persists with such pervasive presence around the world, the rest of this chapter will focus first on how not to think about religion and then on how best to do so.

How Not to Think About Religion:

From a historical perspective, the traditional approach to defining religion has gone in three directions—and from the perspective of this book all of them should be avoided. The first defines religion too broadly, the second confuses religion with theology, and the third defines religion too narrowly. In the first case, an excessively broad definition aims to include virtually every aspect of human behavior to the point that nothing is excluded and no differentiation can be made between religion and other social areas such as politics, economics, cultural norms, and so on. The saying "when something explains everything it explains nothing" applies in this first inclination. An adage like "God is present everywhere in the world" is an example of this first tendency.

To offset this, it is necessary to define religion specifically and then show how it differs from domains like economics, politics, culture, and so on. Once this is achieved, the next step involves unraveling the reciprocal influences that religion exerts over these other areas and vice versa. Disentangling these connections to determine "what causes what to happen" is like trying to untie interlaced strands of cooked spaghetti. While it can be done, alas, it must be done very carefully. In all probability, this explains why no universal consensus exists among writers over how to define the nature of religion and why many definitions overreach in the direction of being too comprehensive. In addition, because religion is integrated into so many areas outside itself, mutual influences are extraordinarily complex and the impact of each area on the others is difficult to pull apart for the purpose of determining directions of causality.

In addition to avoiding this first tendency, it is necessary to steer clear of the second, which entails confusing religion with theology. In the most literal sense, theology is the study of God. The task of the theologian is to explain God's nature and how God interacts with the world. The essential starting point is belief in a divine power that transcends or becomes immanent within nature, without which there would be no need for theology. Furthermore, theologians operate within the framework of a specific religion. As an extension of their commitments, they seek to advance their views of God. This means that when they identify with a specific faith community like Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, they will describe the nature of God and God's relationship to the world through the theological lens of their tradition.

For example, Thomas Aquinas, the famed Catholic theologian of the thirteenth century, and Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism in the sixteenth, are prime examples from Christianity, as is al-Ghazali, the renowned Muslim theologian who wrote during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, they theologized for the purpose of clarifying for like-minded believers, as well as non-believers, the nature of God as they understood it from within the framework of their subjective perspective.

The nineteenth century Unitarian minister James Martineau is an even more vivid example of indentifying theology as religion. According to Martineau, "Religion is a belief in an ever-living God, that is, in a Divine Mind and Will ruling the Universe and holding moral relations with mankind." The difficulty with Martineau's approach is easy to pinpoint. While many religions include belief in God, especially those that originated in the Middle East, such as Zoroastrianism and the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, others like Buddhism and Jainism that emerged in Asia do not. These differences will be discussed extensively in the next chapter.

The third tendency to be avoided is one that defines religion too narrowly, even to the point of reducing it to non-religious causal factors, such as biological survival, evolutionary adaptation, subconscious impulses, or the drive for social cohesion. This is especially noticeable in writers who recognize the power of religion in human affairs but reject related spiritual ideas about the nature and existence of God. Those who embrace this approach typically identify themselves as atheists whose primary goal is to debunk theological beliefs. In most cases, they proceed from the assumption that modern science has disproven God's existence and all forms of supernatural beings like angels and miraculous events such as walking on water.

In all likelihood, such a coupling of interests and convictions might strike some readers as curious—even contradictory. Why would anyone who does not believe in God study religion? The answer is simple. While it might seem inconsistent, many atheists have a passionate interest in religion for primarily two main reasons. At minimum, they recognize that the phenomenon of religion is an inherently fascinating aspect of human existence. At maximum, they realize that exploring religion opens the door to delving into one of the deepest dimensions of human experience even though they reject spirituality and the God-centered beliefs that are associated with it.

While the modern scientific world has witnessed the rise to an array of dedicated atheists, two of them in particular stand out among the rest. They are Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) whose ideas have attracted a devout group of loyal followers. Despite their disbelief in God, both acknowledged that religion exerts a tremendous influence over the human mind and that it possesses extraordinary power in directing human behavior. Thus, even though both of them held that religion is an illusion, that is, a fantasy without reality, they did so for different reasons. After examining their ideas in depth, it will be shown why their reductionist approach is not the way to think about religion.

Marx defined religion as an opiate and Freud labeled it an infantile projection. Marx will be discussed first and Freud second. On one occasion Marx commented, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people." During the past 150 years, the impact of Marx's ideas has been second to none throughout much of the world. Although his influence has declined steadily since the 1990s, as led by the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, during the twentieth century he inspired a range of revolutionaries that include the likes of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Fidel Castro (b. 1926) and Che Guevara (1928-1967), among others. On every continent the devoted followers of Marx created radical change movements that transformed society according to the Communist ideals that he inspired.

Despite its diminished influence in the twenty-first century, the political imposition of Marxism in the form of global Communism was one of the great but ultimately failed experiments of the twentieth century. After the Russian Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the outstretched arm of Communism spread to every continent until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. As it expanded, Marx's view of religion traveled with it. Like many other writers of the nineteenth century Marx anchored his thinking in the then prevailing scientific models through which he and others sought to shed light on the process and patterns of social evolution. He called his perspective scientific socialism or dialectical materialism, and his goal was nothing less than to identify the causes of political and economic change that would account for the entire sweep of human history. His rhetoric was bold, and his vision was comprehensive.

In his search for the holy grail of causal explanations, Marx identified economic behavior and class conflict as the keys that unlock the door to understanding how society evolves. "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." Even though his ideas appear complex at one level, especially as elaborated in Capital, when viewed at another they are easy to grasp. Society consists of two classes: oppressors and the oppressed. To use Marx's language, oppressors own and control the "means of production." As a result, they are in a position to impose their will over others. For example, in premodern agrarian societies, the ruling class controls the land and its products and the subjugated class of vassal peasants works for them. In the modern industrial society, the capitalist class (or bourgeoisie) owns the factories and the oppressed working class (or proletarians) labors for them under conditions of squalor and impoverishment.

It is at this point that Marx's view of religion pushes to the surface of this thinking. He detested religion because of the vice-like grip that it held on the psyche of the working class. While Marx recognized religion as one of society's most powerful driving forces, his ultimate goal was to get rid of it. "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness." He defined religion as a form of self-alienation that needed to be unmasked in order for the masses of oppressed people to rise up and overthrow the oppressive capitalist class. Therefore, the critique of society, that is, the class division that pits rulers against the ruled begins with the condemnation of religion.

Marx considered religion to be one of humanity's worst enemies because of the way he perceived it to function: as a fatal distraction. The condition of oppression gives rise to feelings of helplessness among the working masses. As a result of their subordination to the powerful forces over which they have no control, they perceive themselves incapable of changing the circumstances that produce within themselves feelings of helplessness. That is to say, they resign themselves to their fate and adjust to whatever forces from the outside impose on them. In other words, their despair only deepens, and this causes them to perceive that they are politically powerless to alter the situation. They are alienated from both self and society.

Enter religion: for the oppressed class, religion offers hope, although for Marx, it is a false hope that keeps them imprisoned in poverty and oppression. They become passive and fatalistic. The hope that religion offers the alienated workers is for a better life after they die and not while they are alive. They become convinced that the pathway to eternal life lies in obedience to external authority and acceptance of life's pain and suffering as the will of God. Thus, religion is a deterrent to the kind of revolutionary mindset that Marx believed was necessary in order for the working class to eradicate the social, political, and economic arrangements that keep them oppressed, that is to say, Capitalism. As he and Engels wrote in their closing comments in The Communist Manifesto, "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries unite!"

In his passion for justice for the oppressed poor, Marx laid out many alluring images that Communist leaders around the world found easy to grasp and ready to put into practice. Wherever his beliefs took root, successful revolutionaries such as Lenin, Mao, and Castro adopted an official state policy of atheism. In the process, they moved aggressively to suppress their countries' diverse religious traditions by destroying churches, synagogues, temples, and other worship centers along with countless devout followers. Those caught up in the heady optimism of Communism's inevitable victory were convinced that Capitalism and the oppressive religious institutions that they believed reinforced the insidious subordination of workers would permanently disappear from the face of the earth.

History proved them wrong. Not only did Communism not triumph over Capitalism, but the opposite occurred during the last decade of the twentieth century. In addition, the very religious institutions that Marx and his followers so despised and so eagerly suppressed have reappeared with new vigor at the start of the twenty-first. Never before in history have the adherents of one of the world's most aggressively atheistic ideologies so systematically pursued the eradication of religion only to find themselves at the end of the day to have failed so dismally. Why should this be so as witnessed by the resurgence of Russian Orthodoxy in the former Soviet Union, the growth of religious groups in China, and the Cuban détente with the Catholic Church? The answer to this question lies in understanding what it is that human spirituality offers to a far greater degree and depth than all other human emotions and institutions combined, including economics and politics that Marx considered to be the main driving forces of history.

Despite his erroneous predictions regarding the demise of Capitalism in general and religion in particular, many of his most ardent followers still embrace his deep-seated atheism. The only other modern thinker whose influence parallels the widespread impact of Marx's disbelief in God is Sigmund Freud. Unlike Marx, however, Freud did not build his hostility toward religion on a foundation of economics and class struggle. Instead, he anchored his opposition in the theories of psychoanalysis that he developed during the first third of the twentieth century through his work with mentally ill patients.

Freud's view of religion can be stated simply: it is wish-fulfillment. Like Marx, Freud was a philosophical materialist, which as stated above means that for him God does not exist. There is no higher spiritual power beyond or within the physical universe. Only nature is ultimately real. As a result, there is no inherent meaning in the cosmos and no eternal life after death. Every person's fundamental condition is to be born into and to remain embedded within nature for the duration of his or her life. It is through intelligence and culture that all societies develop an interpretation of how humanity is dependent on nature while transcending it at the same time.


Excerpted from THE FUTURE OF God IN THE GLOBAL VILLAGE by Thomas R. McFaul Copyright © 2011 by Thomas R. McFaul. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 How to Think About God....................1
Chapter 2 Insiders and Outsiders....................17
Chapter 3 Crossing Over....................33
Chapter 4 Believing and Behaving....................50
Chapter 5 Surviving and Thriving....................68
Chapter 6 Rise of New Religions....................84
Chapter 7 Taking Control: Economics....................104
Chapter 8 Taking Control: Politics....................122
Chapter 9 Spiritual Equality....................139
Chapter 10 Three Scenarios: the Future of God in the Global Village....................159
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