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Religion in the Future Global Civilization

  (06 October 07)


Religion in the Future Global Civilization


I came across an interesting piece in the September-October edition of The Futurist, the magazine of the World Future Society (www.wfs.org). Entitled “Religion in the Future Global Civiization”, it assessed the likelihood of some movement towards unity or at least a significant reduction in antagonism among the world religions in this century. It was written by Thomas McFaul, a professor of ethics and religious studies at North Central College in Illinois.


The Asian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, among others) “share common themes of enlightenment, karma, reincarnation, and duty.” But their views of God differ – Hinduism and Sikhism are pantheistic seeing the universe as the body of God; Buddhism and Jainism do not incorporate the notion of God in their worldviews.


The Abrahamic religions from the Middle East are monotheistic, believe in progressive revelation of God’s will and that life (one life) after death is determined by one’s obedience to God’s law. Each has a sacred text and a divine mediator who reveals the will of God (Moses, Jesus, Muhammad). But they share beliefs in human virtues such as compassion, honesty and justice.


McFaul advances the notions that the Abrahamic faiths will grow closer together if:

·        they come to accept that each of their religions is revealing truths about the same God and that together they give a more comprehensive understanding of God’s purpose for humanity – there are multiple pathways to God

·        they also accept that God has been revealing Truth over time and in different places without favouring any one religion.

While this might sound eminently reasonable digging deeper into the differences of scriptures, theology and liturgies brings out matters less easily resolved. But there is perhaps a basis for a start to dialogues (trialogue?). The author similarly addresses how the Eastern religions might grow closer together.


McFaul suggests three scenarios, three visions of the future (say 2050).


Scenario 1 - Exclusivism: I’m Right and You’re Wrong

The sort of increases in confrontation between different parts of the world based largely on religion have increased, and this has posed greater problems for humanity as previously powerless parts have developed the military, political and economic strength to underpin such confrontation. “Hatred and hostility in the global village have increased.”


Scenario 2 – Pluralism: Despite Our Differences, We Can Live Together

As communication has increased within the global village misunderstandings and ignorance have abated very considerably. Humanity has better been able to live in harmony with one another becoming more aware of the commonalities and more accepting of the differences. Tolerance towards worldview differences has increased and common beliefs about preferred human behaviour drives collaboration.



Scenario 3 – Inclusivism: We’re Becoming One Family

Basing dialogue on the common beliefs in compassion, peace, justice, mercy, love and kindness, religious leaders and active laity throughout the world gradually worked towards a more inclusive worldview seeking out truths that all would find acceptable. It was not an easy task – in fact it became a work in progress. Emphasis was given to how we live as global citizens united by the need to solve global problems; past traditions came to be less dominating eventually receding into the background.


Having established these scenarios McFaul suggests:

  • that Inclusivism, while the preferred scenario, is most unlikely
  • Pluralism will rise but not until somewhere between 2025 and 2050 will the power of communication mechanisms build sufficient knowledge and understanding to underpin this scenario
  • Exclusivism will prevail until then, and indeed it will increase.

The author does however acknowledge that Exclusivism could continue well into the future.


For what it’s worth I believe that Exclusivism will reign supreme well into our futures until such time as an unprecedented crisis (climate induced, WMD induced, asteroid collision with the Earth) shows that we all do depend on one another and that for humanity to survive we need to put aside our differences. It might well be that secularists take a lead at that time.


(The complete McFaul article is available for US$2 on the World Future Society site (www.wfs.org). Just enter the article title is the search space and look for the name of the article on/about page 17 of the search results.)


 Posted by Scott McKenzie  





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