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.