Religion and Modernity

I promise this won’t be a long winded philosophical post about religion in the contemporary world. I just came across different stories which discuss an interesting, salient issue – how should religious leaders respond to the new forces at work in modern society?

This week, the Vatican “provided its latest update on how God’s law is being violated with modern means.” The expanded list of sins, which includes genetic manipulation, pollution and the use of drugs, seems to be the Catholic Church’s latest attempt to adjust its “message” (for lack of a better word) to better address contemporary issues.

Of course, the Catholic Church’s position on condoms and abortion isn’t about to change, but you know, baby steps… It’s interesting to see religions who are – by definition – dogmatic and absolute in their philosophy deal with modernity. For instance, this report highlights the positive social impact that progressive Islamic leaders can have on their communities:

“The draft text of several progressive fatwas were discussed last week by the ulama [Islamic scholars] at the International Consultation on Islam and HIV/AIDS, organised by the charity, Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), in Johannesburg, South Africa.

One fatwa would approve the use of funds from the zakat (mandatory alms giving) for HIV-positive people, whether Muslims or non-Muslim, regardless of how they contracted the virus, as long as they are poor.

Another fatwa would approve the use of condoms by married discordant couples, where one is HIV-positive and the other is not, to avoid infection.

The findings are not final. As first-opinions, they will be discussed next year at regional and national consultations.”



I find both these stories very compelling – what role will religion have in the 21st century? From my own Western secular perspective, I often find myself at odds with most religious doctrines, but I know that billions around the world find solace in spirituality. I find it very interesting to see religions adapt to the modern world, as an external observer – clearly, the good, the bad and the ugly is coming out of these evolutions, but nonetheless, we should value these paradigm shifts for what they are: a move away from unshakable fundamentalism towards more progressive notions of spirituality, faith and religion, which attempt to give believers the tools necessary to deal with a changing world. This, of course remains elusive –
here is another story which discusses the disinformation spread by some Christian church leaders in Malawi about HIV/AIDS – a very different example from the previous story, but it goes to show how vital it is for religious leaders to be socially (and morally) conscious:

A pastor in southern Malawi recently hit the headlines when he told five HIV-positive people in his church to stop taking antiretroviral (ARV) medication because they had been treated by prayer. Dodgy traditional healers touting their “cures” for AIDS are also proliferating. The government has drawn up legislation, currently before parliament, to muzzle anyone claiming they can cure AIDS. “



Food for thought, really.

2 thoughts on “Religion and Modernity

  1. I will speak about Roman-Catholics. First, what you quote is not a shift. Social corruption was present from days unknown, and if you think Christianity only novadays started to apprehend it, you’re historically very naive. However, the “social justice” was never a major goal for Christianity, and should not be: for such things there is a government (Rom 13:1-4). Christianity tries to approach the injustice from different perspective: by healing the very reason of it which resides in every human being.
    Now, Roman-Catholics strayed from that Orthodox principle and established they’re own government. You should understand, that Roman-Catholicism was not only a religion but also a state, so from this point it is also naive to think that these concepts of apprehending social injustice are new to them. However, speaking of fundamentalism, those shifts of religion into affairs of state and social injustice are the signs of fundamentalism. For example, in Orthodox Christianity the contraception was never prohibited, but in Roman-Catholicism it became prohibited. Why? Because shifts of religion into secularism, attempts to justify religion from secular means are always based on ignoring basic principles of Christianity: of adhering the man’s freedom. Instead of being a way to God, which every man can choose or not choose to follow, religion becomes a system of moral formations to build a secular society upon. That invasion of moral principles into freedom of the social life is, I think, what you call fundamentalism, and it is the very shifts of Roman-Catholicism toward the secular world that constitute it. Again, if you look at the history of Christianity, you will see, that the early Christianity can not be called fundamentalistic in that bad sence you’re implying. In fact, it was democratic, in early Christianity, for example, bishops was universally choosen by a general meeting of people and discussion, and of course, the prosecuted religion of Christians have not a thought to prosecute anybody. Indeed, the law which led the Christianity to prosper in Byzantium Empire (Edict of Milan) was the law of freedom of religious thought!
    It is hard to speak about fundamentalism, because the term itself is very shifted. Fundamentalism might mean belief in basic principles of Christianity, but as we see, the basic principles of Christianity are based very much in freedom and I may say that historically Christianity had spread these values of personal freedom thru the world. If you take these principles, there’s nothing “fundamentalistic”, nothing constricting anyone from his personal choice, thre. That’s interesting that the very term “fundamentalism” arose from these “shifts” toward secularism in Christianity, that is, from Protestantism, which largely moved even farther toward secular society than Roman-Catholics did.

  2. First of all, thanks for the encouraging comments on my blog.

    While the Church has always had a desire to feed the poor (many have food pantries, for example), I’ve noticed a lot more Christians nowadays becoming involved in social justice issues as well.

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