New Religions Rushing into the Void

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A culture that is “spiritual but not religious”–made up of people who have mystical impulses but reject the existing organized religions–is a fertile ground for the introduction of new religions.  We have blogged about a leftist version of “civil religion,” which invests the state and the government with religious meaning.  We have blogged about how the sexual revolution has morphed into a new religion.  We have blogged about the new religion that worships Artificial Intelligence.  And more new religions are emerging.

Joel Kotkin, the “new urbanist” architect who has become a perceptive cultural observer, discusses this phenomenon in a recent article  Is the end near for religion?

He discusses how some are creating religions based on technology and adds a new religion that we haven’t considered here yet:  “One faith system follows the call of ‘Gaia,’ or Earth, a kind of neo-druidism based on an often puritanical form of earth-worship. It apostles include onetime Jesuit Jerry Brown, Bill McKibben and Al Gore, whose views are increasingly considered gospel in the media and on college campuses.”

What struck me most about Kotkin’s article is his assessment of how both conservative and liberal Christians (as well as Jews) have hurt their cause and their credibility by their politicization, which he considers “the biggest threat to religion.”
He takes up the familiar account of evangelicals discrediting themselves by their pursuit of power, even at the cost of jettisoning their moral standards in supporting figures like Donald Trump and Roy Moore.  (I don’t think that’s really what evangelicals did, but evangelicalism has certainly become discredited.)
But Kotkin then points out that “progressive Christians” have also politicized themselves at the expense of their credibility:
Not to be outdone, the religious left — in both liberal Jewish and mainstream Christian churches — seems intent on transforming faith into a politically correct creed, with even George Washington’s own church in Alexandria disowning our first president. Groups like Faithinpubliclife.org demonstrate embrace of the progressive agenda, but are funded in large part by George Soros, probably the world’s most influential promotor of atheism. Not surprisingly, these apostles of tolerance seem to find little wrong when senators attack religious Catholics in confirmation hearings, a kind of McCarthyism of the left.

This may earn them support of the media and large parts of the political class, but turning religion into a form of progressivism has done little to slow their own demographic decline. Mainstream Protestant churches, the largest base of the religious left, have lost over 5 million adult members since 2007 and are doing even worse among millennials than other faiths.

Politicized faith of any kind has little appeal among the “spiritual but not religious,” in my opinion, because those interested in “spirituality” crave the otherworldly.  Too much fixation on the policy details of this world is of little interest to the mystically inclined.  (Though idolatries of nature, leaders, sex, technology, and other realities that defy rational understanding can still be the focus of mystical devotion.)

Demographically, though, says Kotkin, traditional religion will win out in the long run.  This is because followers of traditional religions have more children than secularists or advocates of these new religions.  In the meantime, religions and spiritualities will be competing with each other.

Questions for our reflection and discussion:

(1)  Can you think of other “new religions” that are emerging?

(2)  Is the criticism of religious “politicization” really fair? Could the problem be that politicians have intruded on the religious and moral sphere and religious people are, quite naturally for a living religion, pushing back?

(3)  Doesn’t the demographic argument for the triumph of traditional religions assume the fallacy that religion is a matter of fixed identity (like race or ethnicity) rather than beliefs?  If this projection is to be valid, don’t parents who hold to traditional religions need to pass them on to their children?  Do they need to be doing a better job at that?

 

Photo by Foundry, via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons

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