21st Century Religion

2002-01-24

The library rocks. My catch this time: Interrogations at Noon by poet Dana Gioia, After New Formalism edited by Annie Finch, and The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels. I also picked up CDs by Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Professor Longhair. Good stuff.

While at the library (the Eugene Field branch of the Denver Public Library, to be specific) I also read a fascinating article in The Atlantic on religion in the 21st century, specifically on the rise of "New Religious Movements" thoughout the world. Wow, I hadn't realized how fluid the religious marketplace is. According to one scholar quoted in the article, there are almost 10,000 recognized religions (many of which are sects within established religions) in the world and a new religion is founded every 2 or 3 days! Many of these religions are unknown outside their geographical areas of influence except to scholars of religion, yet they have tens of thousands to even millions of adherents. So much for the "secularization thesis", which postulated that religion would wither away under the inexorable spread of reason and science. On the contrary, the pace of religous change and growth seems to have increased along with everything else in the modern world.

As a secularist myself I find this information not a little discomforting, but it's an unavoidable fact of human reality. In fact, even secular or philosophical "movements" such as the Randianism to which I was for so long attached (as well as schools such as existentialism, Epicureanism, and Confucianism) bear a strong resemblance to new religious movements: rituals, hierarchies, sacred books, special days, places of pilgrimage, and the like. Interestingly, one scholar quoted claims that the belief-system of any given movement is less important than the social support network it provides. I wouldn't go quite that far, but I would agree that the sense of belonging to a world-changing movement (and of being on the right side of historical change) can be intoxicating, even for marginal movements like libertarianism, radical environmentalism, or Randianism.


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