Although the second decade of the 21st century is only half over, the emerging outlines of the better part of what remains of the century suggests it will be a period of intense religious conflict. Not since the 16th & 17th century intra-Christian wars of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation has the prospect of religiously-inspired violence been as great.
Christianity is restructuring itself into a religion primarily of the Third World.
Resurgent Islam is on the move with the most radical elements of its two competing branches (Sunni and Shi’ite) each projecting themselves as the fons et origo of the next Caliphate.
Secular Progressivism is now the informally established religion of the West.
Techno-transcendentalism is just being born. It will challenge both the progressives and the older religious orders with promises of immortality clothed in the liniments of the present and not in some realm of ethereal afterlife.
And what of Hinduism, the religion of 1 billion Indians? It will be relevant only as it confronts Islam as is true of the 380 million Buddhists.
Universal Christianity and its tribal elder brother, Judaism were the foundational belief systems of the West. Greek and Roman philosophy gave it intellectual sinews to add to its potent mythology of forgiveness and redemption clothed in human form. The Reformation enabled Christianity to live comfortably with the post-Renaissance world of reason and increasing scientific knowledge. While this road had numerous ruts, Christianity moved forward until the Enlightenment drove a fatal blade through its heart. Since then, it has stumbled around like a zombie pretending to be the paragon of health. It is rapidly becoming a kind of common folk religion for the non-elite, underdeveloped and underprivileged.
Its fight with Islam for European domination which was settled at the Gates of Vienna in 1529 is no longer a viable path. The robust virility which allowed Christianity to circumnavigate the world and control most of it is depleted. Yet, it stubbornly hangs on with significant growth in Asia, Africa and South America. The current Pope’s pronunciamentos, sounding more like Marxist liberation theology, would have been met with utter befuddlement by the Catholic hierarchy of the 20th century.
In the United States, evangelicalism still holds sway among non-coastal residents. But it is a rear-guard action that cannot ultimately withstand the cultural onslaughts that have been aimed at it by the minions of secular progressivism.
But, but … with all of this Christianity is still a powerful force that may like its founder be resurrected this century, clothed in newer garments, and given a newly burnished sword. Once the current Pope has been laid in the Vatican vault, a new Pope, might find the inspiration to return to the sources of Christian spiritual strength and face the three demons that threaten humanity.
Islam was hardly spoken of in the West until the late 1960’s when the Palestinians started their campaign of airplane hijackings and terrorism. Its resurgence has been periodically punctuated by dramatic murder sprees that are now ritualistically invoked: 9/11, London / July 2005, the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and many less visible ones. Islam has periodically invaded the West and been driven back across the Mediterranean or from the Balkans.
Few people recognized the silent revolution that started in Islam with the publication of Sayyid Qutb’s Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones) in 1964 which was the spark that led to the development of political Islam and the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The deadly 1000 plus year conflict between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches was invisible to the West. When the oil cartel OPEC forced the price of oil to quadruple in 1973 and double again in 1979, the flood of money fueled the development of Jihadism, one of the cornerstones of Islam – the conversion of the world to Islam and punishment for those who refuse the call.
The Middle East is now heading for another significantly more deadly chapter in the battle between the two branches of Islam. Iran, emboldened by Western weakness is spreading its tentacles across the Shi’ite crescent while the Islamic State (ISIS) is the Sunni tip-of-the-spear in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Libya. While currently keeping their distance, ultimately, they will collide with utmost violence and possibly even nuclear results. The crypto-Islamic state of Turkey sees itself as the seat of the next Caliphate along with ISIS and Iran. Saudi and Egypt are negotiating with Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons to balance Iran when they announce their anticipated breakout from an illusory agreement with the US and Europe.
Russia and China are playing a dangerous chess game with the forces of Islam. They feed the beast with technology, weapons and collateral logistical support because (in Russia’s case) they see the Islamist anti-Western stance as a counterforce against the aggressive push by Nato and the U.S. in Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Islamists will accept these gifts and at the right moment, when the West has been neutered, they will turn north and eastward. Revenge is in the cards for the treatment of Chechnya (Russia) and the Uighurs (China). However, neither of those two countries will tolerate what the West seems resigned to accept.
The history of Islam is one of push then pullback. Periods of hyper-aggressive conquest have alternated with periods of quiescence. Islam now sees world dominance as its achievable goal. The stage is being set for an apocalyptic confrontation.
Secular progressivism emerged in the 19th and 20th century as the “heaven on Earth” alternative belief system to Christianity. It is now the religion of the elites in every Western country. It is often confused with a political system. But like Islam, the political ramifications are secondary to the inherent promises of salvation and redemption.
To question its tenets is to risk being labeled a dangerous heretic who should rightfully be cast out of society. Enforcing political correctness is no different from the acts of the Inquisition. After all, heresy is still heresy. Conservatives do not understand this. They still believe that they are confronting what are fundamentally political issues that can be discussed and where compromises can be reached. That is a dangerous illusion. Secular progressives seek total domination of all institutions of society in order to enforce doctrinal purity. Their holy trinity is race, gender and class. Equalism, the absence of inherent differences among groups and the ritual purification and purging of heterodoxical thinking is their mantra. This is leading to the slow conquest of Europe by Islamic immigration and the conversion of the United States into a fragmented, racially-charged, divided nation.
But like all true religions, when things turn out badly, the response is always: “we must try harder.” The communist true believers in the West in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the “social justice warriors” of today burn with the same righteous indignation and determination to do “whatever is necessary” to create a noble utopian world without sexism, homophobia, racism, and every related “ism” one can imagine. And like the history of communism, it does not matter how many lives are destroyed or even snuffed out in the process. All that matters is the end. Any means that advances the process is acceptable.
But there is one minor problem with secular progressivism – it doesn’t work. And like the collapse of communism, ultimately its failures will first undermine and then overthrow it. The loss of belief and the despair of those who cast their lot with it could result in social upheavals that could rival the Thirty Years War. Religions do not die easily.
Techno-transcendentalism has gone by a different name since the late 80’s and early 90’s when it was first conceived: Transhumanism. It is religion of transformation and consequent salvation through technology. The foothills of this new religion can be found in the early empowerment philosophy of personal computers espoused by Steve Jobs. That has continued and grown to now embrace the mobile app world with an almost evangelical fervor. The Apple Watch may turn out to be the emblematic talisman for this stage of development in this religion – the equivalent of the Cross. After all it could save your life through the monitoring and communicating of your vital signs.
However, it is in the next generation of emerging technologies where true salvation will be found. The scientists and engineers at Google Labs and others are already openly talking of the possibility of reengineering humanity to enable immortality through a combination of genetic engineering and micro-miniaturized “smart” devices. Uploading one’s personality to a computer was once pure science fiction, today it is being actively researched. If the current vector of development continues, these will not be only the dreams of the tech elite – they will become real. AI and robots are parallel technologies that promise to remove the need for most human labor. This Faustian pursuit cannot be stopped. Technology has a momentum of its own independent of any human intervention.
Regardless of how the capabilities evolve over the next 10 to 30 years, there is no doubt that techno-transcendentalism will become a powerful force and belief system. The promise of a dramatically extended life with a non-aging, disease-free body where people commune through direct interconnection and not through clumsy instrumentalities such as texting and Facebook will become the Holy Grail for many.
Isaac Asimov said “people don’t change, only technology changes.” Well, as brilliant as Asimov was, he was wrong. People will be changed because technology does indeed change.
Exactly how these four belief systems will intersect in the next decades of the 21st century cannot be easily predicted. What will happen when the 7th century Islamic purists are faced with the power of transformative technologies? Who will inherit the Earth? And how many people will fall victim in the inevitable clashes?