Religions have evolved over thousands of years. They’re not static. Even the most staid ones embrace or at least permit new ideas at some point, even if those allowances are over relatively minor aspects of their belief systems. So we can be pretty sure that religion will continue to evolve over the coming decades and centuries.
So, what will not happen is the death of religion. Religion isn’t going anywhere. It’s been here for almost as long as people have been here, so the foundational aspects of it will not disappear anytime soon. But some aspects will change.
Most ancient religions are now looked upon as mythology and legend rather than religion. The Greek Gods, for example, once worshipped as real, now occupy a place in our collective consciousness as mythological heroes or villains. They’re taught as part of the curriculum of culture and history, useful for providing insight into the way people think and act in groups or societies.
Aboriginal peoples in many countries had their own creation stories – from the Kuba of Central Africa, who believed that the giant Mbombo vomited the sun, moon and stars before vomiting again, bringing forth the nine animals (leopard, eagle, crocodile, fish, tortoise, heron, scarab, goat and a leopard-like animal) who created all the rest of the world’s creatures – to the Coatlicue (Aztec goddess) who gave birth to the moon, stars, and the god of the sun and war.
As newer peoples conquered older tribes, either by war or disease or some other displacement, the older beliefs were converted from religion to myth, replaced by the newcomers’ religious teachings.
Even newer religions have evolved, if to a lesser degree, as the world has changed and as their followers have changed with it. Official church doctrines have been modified to accommodate the necessities of the technological world.
One of the constants in virtually every religion is the idea of submission to a higher power. The form that submission takes can change, as in Catholics who no longer are prevented from eating meat on Fridays except during Lent, or as in Muslim women who, in some of the sects, no longer have to wear full-body veils, but can now simply wear a headscarf.
There are, of course, certain followers of all religions who believe they are on the most pure path and that those who follow a different (usually more liberal) path are not true believers. They are another constant in virtually every religion.
But religions, for all their variety, have been around for millennia and they’ll continue to be around for the foreseeable and even unforeseeable future. Most of us need religion and so we’ll continue to defend ours as Truth and reject others’ as misguided or evil or quaint.
The question then becomes: what will religions look like in the next hundred or two hundred years? More than likely, they will be mere variants on what exists now, with more acceptance of technology and science simply because younger adherents will insist on truth being incorporated as an element of ideology.
Climate change, for example, will become more indoctrinated into texts in the form of commandments to preserve the world around us.
Medical advances that once were shunned will become more accepted – not just procedures like transfusions and transplants (which are already accepted by most religions), but sterilizations and genetic manipulation.
Certain clothing may become preferred or even required as economic or health concerns make them more efficacious.
Certain diets may become part of the teachings as we learn more about various foods’ effects on our bodies.
Gestures, like the shaking of hands or hugging, may change as a result of the fear of spreading disease.
Some religions, of course, will adopt these changes more quickly than others, but at some point nearly all will either adapt or run the risk of dying out, living on only in history books or as mythologies that future generations will look back on with amusement or bemusement.
The basics will live on, relatively unaltered, as the believers continue to submit to a higher power. It is only the acts of submission that will change, not the idea of submitting to a greater power.
But it is in the details where we are likely to see the greatest changes in the future. People wearing different clothes, eating different foods, using different gestures to show their submission to God/Gods. What will not change is the existence of fringe elements (fanatics and terrorists) who feel marginalized and who will demand that we follow their way of life under threat of death.
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