Pundits of all political stripes have pondered the effect that religion is currently having in the world, and what that means for the future of the planet. The rise of radical Islam has right-wing commentators up in arms, while the popularity of evangelical mega-churches in the United States has caused plenty of hand wringing on the left.
The fears of both sides are unfounded, according to Alan Wolfe, writing for the Atlantic. “Most of the religious revivals we are seeing throughout the world today complement, and ultimately reinforce, secular developments,” Wolfe writes. “They are more likely to encourage moderation than fanaticism.”
Taking a page from the playbooks of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, Wolfe writes that material wealth makes people less religious. As countries get rich, their citizens will turn away from religion. The United States would seem to disprove that rule, since its citizens are both religious and wealthy, but Wolfe discounts that, calling American religiosity, “as shallow as it is broad.” Also, the current popularity of American evangelicalism, according to Wolfe, is owed in part to the religion’s embrace of secular values and lifestyles.
Throughout the world, Wolfe writes that “religious peace will be the single most important consequence of the secular underpinning of today’s religious growth.”
Not everyone, however, shares Wolfe’s optimistic vision of the future. Philip Jenkins writes for the New Republic (subscription required) that the looming crisis in climate change will exacerbate preexisting religious tensions throughout the world. In the future, as crops wither and icecaps melt, Jenkins warns that “ethnic cleansing in the name of resource protection” may become the norm.
On the other hand, climate change could lead to greater cooperation between people, Cynthia G. Wagner writes for the Futurist. Wagner acknowledges the probability that global warming could lead to conflicts, but also posits that the coming ecological crisis could lead to “economic change, trade, technological and social innovation, and peaceful resource distribution,” rather than simple religious strife and fighting. God willing.