The Future Of Religion: Wanted-Faith For Peace And Love

Religion in the hands of irresponsible powers portends an even more conflict-prone future

Samit Basu Published Jan 28, 2020 00:00:00 IST
The Future Of Religion: Wanted-Faith For Peace And Love Photo: Indiapicture

There have always been reasons for humankind to look towards religion: At a personal level, faith has helped individuals and families find hope; at a community level, religion has helped bring people together and benefited the poor through charity. Therefore, it’s easy to deduce that religion is always going to be around—if it has survived centuries of science, progressive civil-rights movements and education-led rationalism, nothing in a digital future can erase it. Religion will exist, in one form or another, as long as humankind does.

Most futurist speculation on religion tends to focus on the relative population strengths of various religions in the future, and might note that religion is likely to continue to be the cause of conflict, well into the foreseeable future. But for people in our part of the world, the stakes are even higher.

Two centuries ago, when the Indian subcontinent was colonized, religious divides were exploited by the British to facilitate the theft of divided populations’ rights, wealth and land. With the arrival of secular democracy you would have expected a basic ability to learn from history and the serial failures of theocracies. India, in particular, could have learnt that for global excellence religious co-existence was essential: that there were far more important issues to deal with for an underdeveloped, traumatized country. The last few decades have shown us with ever-increasing starkness that this is not the case. Today, the institutionalization and normalization of religious discrimination, and the very worst aspects of religion are used as a tool to reinforce regressive, discriminatory, barbaric practices. Religious conflict will continue to damage India for generations.

The story is not unique to India by any means. Religion, in the hands of irresponsible powers, can be used to channel mass hatred to distract people from the erosion of their own rights and freedoms, and from government failures and corruption anywhere in the world. The use of religion by the powerful to manipulate the powerless will not change with technological advancement, which is likely to worsen inequality.

Between the 2020s and the 2050s, we are going to experience, even more dramatically, a world caught between the twin pincers of automation and climate change, and the decisions taken by nations to deal with these crises will greatly impact their citizens’ lives. The nations that rule the 21st century will be the ones that have found innovative ways to maintain education, reskilling, employment and health of their citizens; also counter and manage the effects of climate change and migration, which will be closely linked to poverty and inequality. Unless countries already lagging in global terms focus their resources on actual development, they may lose their futures entirely.

Religions must evolve with humankind’s overall progress, and abandon parts that were clearly crafted by less enlightened people. Otherwise, even in the future, humankind’s progress will be halted by ancient superstitions and practices. New religions might emerge to replace those trending now: one example, ‘Way of The Future’, has already been created in Silicon Valley in preparation for the arrival of an artificial-intelligence god, that will literally see and hear everything we humans do. It might sound silly now, but who knows? A millennium later, post-humans might be fighting interplanetary wars in its defence.

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