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Does Religion Have a Place in the Future?

A little while back, I came across this article posted by the Progressive Christian Alliance on their Facebook page. The Cambridge Union Society held a debate around the motion, “This house believes that religion has no place in the 21st century.” The debate is around an hour and a half long, and well worth the viewing. Those arguing that religion had no place in the future included Andrew Copson, Richard Dawkins, and Arif Ahmed. Those opposing the motion included Rowan Williams, Tariq Ramadan, and Douglas Murray. Overall, I found the perspectives of all those involved to be excellent. Most fascinating was the last speaker, Douglas Murray, an atheist who ended up defending religion as an important part of the future. 

Oddly enough, I actually found the commentary and questions from the attendants to be more inspired than the debaters themselves. Most significantly, Morgan Lowther from Christ College presented a great reason for abstaining from the motion (54:55). He argues that, “…the problem I have here is that I have a problem with organized religion in its current form, not with organized religion as a concept.” It’s not only important to ask questions. It’s just as important to ask the right questions. 

The whole format, while it capitalizes on sport-like competition to help sell the show, assumes a false dichotomy. Religion is relative to culture. What functions effectively in one culture can prove to be irrelevant in another.  It should not be surprising that the current, dominant form of western religion might not have a place in a future culture. And it should not be expected otherwise. As alternative strands of religion evolve, however, it should also not be surprising if they prove their relevance by becoming a dominant form in the future. While I argue that our current form of institutionalized religion is nearing its end, I also believe that new forms will rise to take its place. 

So, does religion have a place in the 21st century? Frankly, this is the wrong question people need to be asking. A better question is simply, “what’s next?”

I encourage everyone to check out this debate. There’s a lot of important stuff in there.