Thought for the Month – June 2023
“A man’s ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.
Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death” – Albert Einstein
Firstly, if the use of gender pronouns offends you then please do excuse Mr Einstein as he lived in very different times, although his viewpoints, in my opinion, remain very relevant, regardless of how you choose to identify. The real question being asked here is whether in a technologically advanced world, where science strives to deliver all the answers and capitalism can provide all of the niceties that makes us feel happy and fulfilled, does Albert Einstein make a valid contemporary statement? Just why would Generation Z or the currently developing Generation Alpha, who represent the last 25 years of human development (I’m a Boomer apparently, which simply translates as ‘old’ and makes me want to put in an emoji to prove otherwise!), why would they have any need for religion or spirituality to help them make sense of life, their world, or their place within it? Not when you can simply ask the new age oracles that we know as Google, Alexa, Siri etc?
Einstein is of course right when he says that humankind should be able to coexist in social harmony, but the reality is there to be seen in the world around us, we simply can’t. It seems to me that humans have always dreamed of a utopia where we naturally adhere to principles of love, kindness and unconditional acceptance of others, because deep down that is a world that we know could make us feel secure, happy and content, but humankind has a dark side, and it is in constant conflict with this utopian desire. Religion as we know has been around since we first stopped to consider who we are and why we are here, and for all its faults it has always provided some sort of social adhesive for human beings to aspire to. In the Christian faith we see countless examples in the bible, where, having been given a moral charter from God, we have then decided we didn’t need religion and went off to do things by ourselves, only to find we couldn’t and came back to God asking for help when we realised that we had made a right mess of things. If anyone proposes that we do not need religion, I would like to ask them as to where we can find just one single secular charter for coexistence, especially one that has ever worked? At least religion gave it a go.
Interestingly, I came across a Gallup International Survey of religious self-identify, carried out across 57 countries (this is what prompted my thought for the month) which showed that atheism was on the rise with an estimated 13% of the world’s population identifying as atheist, an increase of 6% over 5 years and that only 63% of people now identified as being religious, down from 73% for the same period. It subsequently generated a view that religion was on the decline and questioned whether if the trend continued exponentially, that religion might disappear altogether? Personally, I always treat survey data with caution and at best this data represents a snapshot of global religious identification, but if there is such a trend towards the secular, then the next question has to be why? One of the survey findings was that the greatest increase towards a secular life was to be found in the wealthier countries, where technology was easily accessed and where the citizens had good social security, basically religion had no purpose anymore, the state became the provider of all.
In the poorer countries where the citizens experienced hardship, loss, poverty, disasters and all the suffering that being poor can bring, these people leaned heavily on a divine belief that their faith would help them to find comfort and hope, in contrast, religion was needed, as there was nothing else to alleviate their plight. It would seem on this basis that our spirituality is partly nurtured and influenced by our physical needs and desires, and if correct, might explain why church congregations grow smaller, as Generation Alpha and fast approaching Beta, see no use for religion in their more materialistic lives.
Coming back to Mr Einstein and his comment about constraining human behaviour through religious doctrine, ensured through fear and promise, I wholeheartedly agree! The Christian Church has made much use of this method in the past and some elements still do, and I would fail to see its appeal to anyone in current times, especially for those who have already experienced a freedom of expression, one that allows you to identify in society in any way you choose. My faith tells me that God is a constant and is a God of love, forgiveness and hope, but especially of love and the teachings of Christ show us all just how to do that for each other, and for the world in which we live. It should not be doctrine, creed or dogma that brings us to God but a sense of relationship with the universal concept of love, a love from which all other utopian values can grow, we know it as fellowship, and it is the foundation for God’s Kingdom. The Church is struggling to be relevant in society in the way it once was, but times have changed and perhaps that is exactly what the Church needs to do also. How do we convince a new generation that religion can be relevant, valuable in life skills and a positive experience for them?
Answers on a postcard, text message, email, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, please.
Dear Lord, we pray for a world in turmoil,
for a world that is becoming lost in its own self-indulgence,
for a world that has turned its eyes away from you.
Help us to know you better, to sense you in our lives and to never lose sight of your commandments of love.
Heavenly Father we pray for the young people trying to grow up in
this challenging and rapidly changing world
and we ask you to enlighten our minds and strengthen our hearts,
in our endeavour to nurture them and to
find a way to bring your love, grace and hope,
to a new generation of your children.
We ask this through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ,