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Future of global faith, mission and organised religion: why personal spirituality and hunger for purpose will continue to shape and influence our world, and why over half of humankind will identify themselves as Christian or Muslim

Futurist Keynote Speaker: Posts, Slides, Videos - Spirituality, World Religion, Christianity, Church

Video of keynote on global trends to over 1450 church leaders from 30 nations, part of the Elim church network. This global community emphasises the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, being a sincere follower, the importance of the bible as the ultimate guide to life, and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the world today.

How to make sense of powerful religious forces that are impacting many nations

Religion can be a highly controversial topic at the best of times - and the future of religion or spirituality only makes sense in the wider context of every other global trend described on this website.  Here are some key issues:

Across the developed world, we are seeing an intense, growing hunger for meaning, often expressed in a search for spirituality, which is very different from membership of an organised religion. The great debate in a nation like the UK or France is not over whether you believe, but what you believe in, and what your own spiritual purpose is.

Faith in anything, anyone. Faith that causes ordinary men and women to hug trees in local parks. Faith that causes intelligent people to study full-page spreads of personal advice based on the position of the stars. There has been a wholesale rejection of the scientific, logical, rational model of the world that reduces all of existence to fixed, predetermined and mechanical systems.

Thus doctors are struggling with patients suffering from serious illnesses but who throw medically approved, ‘life-saving’ medicines away, and opt instead for alternatives that most doctors regard as having little or no scientific basis. There is also a threat to health professionals from ‘Dr Google’.

More than 17 million people in Britain alone rely on alternative medicines or therapies - aromatherapy and homeopathy being the most popular. Expect laws in these areas to tighten, requiring companies to verify the health claims made. This will intensify the scale of the culture clash between those who feel that scientific methodology is not a valid test of ‘whole person medicine’ and those who insist on ‘objective’ scientific data.

Spiritual awareness will remain central to human existence

Around 85% of people in the world today say that they recognise a spiritual dimension to life, which reflects an ancient pattern in place since the beginning of human history. While strident voices of humanistic atheism are likely to grow louder in some developed nations, they will almost certainly be drowned out globally over the next 50 years by the vast majority who remain convinced that there is more to life than atoms, molecules and bags of biodata.

In developed nations, informal expressions of spirituality seem likely to multiply, as we see further decline in organised religion. Expect growth in personal systems for meditation, in self-help guides to spiritual enlightenment.

Thus, informal attendance at synagogues, Hindu temples, mosques and churches is also likely to rise – particularly at social activities such as mother and toddler groups, homeless projects, drop-in centres, food banks, advice centres, and so on, even while formal membership falls.

These kinds of initiatives may well turn out to be a significant growth factor in the lives of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples in countries like the UK over the next two decades. We can expect more social action projects, as the state gradually runs out of cash from trying to reduce government debt.

From personal belief to organised religion

In emerging nations, we are seeing a rather different picture, with very rapid growth of global, organised religions such as Christianity and Islam, decline in local faith-healers, and far fewer people with private, ‘personalised’, idiosyncratic, informal beliefs.

There are 1.2 billion followers of Islam in the world today, 21% of the world population.  60% live in Asia-Pacific and 20% in the Middle East. Islam is likely to grow faster than world population, by around 1.5-1.8% over the next 20 years, but the rate of growth will continue to slow down, as the size of families continues to fall in the nations where Islam is strongest, and where incomes are growing rapidly.  As we have seen in Chapter 2, fertility rates tend to fall as wealth increases.

Christianity has over 2.2 billion adherents, representing 32% of world population, 60% found in Africa, Asia and Latin America[2].  Christianity will also continue to grow significantly faster than the world population, particularly in places like Africa and former Soviet bloc countries, as well as in China, where tens of millions have found faith since the 1950s despite a history of severe persecution. It is possible that there are already more Christians in China than in any other nation.

In Korea there is at least one church congregation of more than a million members. In Argentina over the last decade churches have sprung from nothing to number many thousands of people, and the same has been happening across most of Latin America. Africa has seen extraordinary growth in church attendance, which is now influencing politicians and governments.

Emphasis on personal spiritual experiences

The impact of the global uprising of life-changing faith, which provokes passion and provides purpose, cannot be underestimated.

Expect divisions within each world religion between radicals who remain rooted in traditional teachings based on, for example, the Bible or the Koran, and liberals who accept or abandon whatever writings they choose in their own personal spiritual journey.

This orthodox-liberal divide is likely to sharpen over issues like abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage. While liberal churches will argue that they are more attractive and culturally relevant in the US and Europe, they have in fact declined very rapidly. Most church growth there is likely to be, as in the last three decades, among Christian communities that adhere to traditional teachings and express strong spirituality.

This has certainly been the case in the UK, where Pentecostal churches represented by groups like Elim are growing by 5% a year, and over half of all churchgoers in London belong to black-majority Pentecostal-type churches. For example, the Redeemed Christian Church of God now has around 700 churches across the UK, from very few 20 years ago, as a Nigerian mission-movement to Britain.

The evangelical wing of the Anglican Church is also growing. Over 2.5 million people have attended a 12-week induction course to the Christian faith, designed by just one such evangelical church, Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London. However, this growth is unlikely to offset overall Anglican decline, especially among liberal, older congregations in rural areas.

Whether you are a follower of Jesus as I am, or of Mohammed, or of Buddha or the patterns in the stars, believe in karma or reincarnation, or some other life-force, or in nothing at all, spirituality is likely to remain a significant part of your life, shaping your ethics, values, and politics for the next hundred years.

Future of religious movements and ethics

What about new religious movements? History tells us that such things usually start as a reaction against what is seen as moral decay and spiritual bankruptcy of society at the time. When we look around the world today, it is hardly a surprise that we are seeing growing numbers of radical religious groups, some of which will be truly revolutionary.

It is very easy for an influential group of believers from any religion to argue that some or all of the following are true today, from their own point of view:

- society has lost its soul and moral compass

- everywhere you look, traditional moral values have been lost

- people are becoming more self-centred and individualistic

- our culture is obsessed with celebrity worship, even though most celebrities are terrible role models

- youth are worried by superficial and worthless things like personal appearance

- family life is breaking down, community ties weakened

- many are addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, the internet

- government leaders are often corrupt and cannot be trusted

- the web has become a sexual free-for-all, with child abuse and other disgusting or destructive behaviour promoted as normal

- rapid, continuous economic growth was supposed to promise a better world but has resulted in appalling contrasts in wealth, failed to deal with the worst global poverty, and is unsustainable by definition

- one nation has vast influence over the whole world – exporting its media, culture, corporations, brands – but is itself in a state of moral and spiritual decay

- greedy global corporations and banks are wrecking our world

- mental illness is more common, suicides are growing, with rising sales of antidepressants, and rapidly growing numbers of counsellors to help people cope with unsatisfying, depressing lives

- we have lost sight of the fact that we are spiritual beings, that there is another dimension to life, and that we exist only as a result of divine permission

- God has a plan for humanity, which society must obey

- humanity as a whole will be held to account

- each of us must respond to God’s purpose for our own lives

Therefore, it is obvious that we will continue to see a rapidly growing number of radical religious activists, driven by a ‘divine call’ to promote (or even impose) God’s authority on earth, according to the beliefs they have about who He is and what His will is. Most of them are likely to belong to an existing world religion, and will probably live in emerging nations. 

As part of this, we are likely to see new kinds of ‘puritanism’ in Christianity, just as we have seen in Islam over the last 20?30 years: new waves of orthodoxy that will be very uncomfortable for established churches, and hard to contain within existing structures, fiercely intolerant and zealous for spiritual purity.

New ethical standards for believers and wider society

Such new Christian movements may well seek to prohibit a wide range of ‘sinful’ or unwise behaviours: banning smoking and drug use among church members, stricter sexual ethics ? doctrines that seem to be a throwback to the anti-alcohol temperance movements of the 19th century. These new movements are likely also to become political activists, campaigning for new laws, government regulations, and so on. However, such movements could well split fairly rapidly over the issue of same-sex relationships.

We can also expect new expressions of monastic life, with growing numbers of people taking radical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, many of whom may be labelled as members of dangerous ‘brainwashing’ cults.

Churches in emerging nations will drive global theology

Such new Puritans will of course seem totally at odds with much of the rest of the church in developed nations, where sexual activity of many kinds outside of marriage is increasingly accepted as perfectly normal among members, where divorce and remarriage are routine, and where gay marriage is celebrated. We are already witnessing a fundamental ethical schism between developed and emerging nation churches, liberal and Pentecostal, old-style denominations and indigenous church movements.

Almost all major new missionary movements, over the next 30-40 years, are likely to be influenced by the vision, teachings and values of churches in emerging nations or the poorest parts of the world, reflecting global patterns of church growth and zeal.

Most of the fastest-growing churches in Europe, from the UK to Germany, Poland, Estonia, Ukraine and Slovakia, will probably continue to be those that are evangelical, Pentecostal, charismatic. Such labels can mean different things to different people, but all tend to have three things in common: enthusiastic promotion of life-changing, personal discipleship, a particular focus on the New Testament section of the Bible as a daily guide to following Jesus, and a passionate belief in the power of prayer to release the power of God, together with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to change people’s lives.

Such growth will be boosted by migrant communities from emerging nations – whether Nigerians, Poles, South Koreans or Chinese. However, this growth is unlikely to offset overall decline in church-going across much of Europe over the next 20 years, particularly in ageing congregations with liberal theology.

Growth in Catholic churches

The Catholic Church has 1.2 billion members globally, many of whom are not active, compared to over 1 billion in Protestant churches and around 450 million in Orthodox churches. Catholicism in developed nations will stabilise after years of decline, and will grow in the poorest nations, under the inspiring leadership of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has a radical theology and ethical framework that embraces aspects of Pentecostalism, and adds to his popular appeal. However, he faces the risk of being undermined and even killed because of his very public all-out attack on the corruption, indifference to the poor, and spiritual apathy that he has identified in the heart of the Vatican.

He is certainly more vulnerable than other popes, having abandoned almost all the security measures that they have used, both in and outside the Vatican. If he is removed or assassinated, we can expect great conflicts within the Catholic Church about what kind of pope should succeed him.

Abortion will continue to be a big issue in the US

In politics in general around the world, expect single issues to become more important, often backed by social media. Environment, global warming, migration, gender-based or racial violence, reducing homophobia, promoting human rights and so on. Abortion in America is a typical example of a radical single issue: pro-choice versus pro-life. From 2008 to 2011, the percentage of doctors willing to conduct an abortion fell from 22 to 14%. The church-dominated anti-abortion movement in the US is now bigger than the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Tens of thousands have been arrested, cautioned or imprisoned, while many pro-abortionists have been threatened, assaulted or murdered.

Abortion is just one example of the fact that single issues can become more powerful than the laws of the land. Here is a great nation with laws that permit abortion but where abortion has been made almost impossible in some states. In one state, at the height of the protests, it was hard to find a single doctor willing to conduct abortions.

Vision for theocracy – God-centred government

We are likely to continue to see a huge difference between radical Christianity and radical Islam in terms of their visions for governments and states, and the way they get involved politically. Many Islamic groups have a clear goal of theocracy: entire states run under God’s authority, according to His rules for humankind as a whole, imposed on believers and non-believers alike. They may be willing to embrace lower economic growth and lower standards of living in the name of achieving this ideal.

Sharia laws will be overseen by Muslim clerics, responsible for every part of government. Forced conversions will be part of the future picture, as in the past, with death threats to those who convert to another religion, or to those who seek to convert them. Thus, many Islamic societies will continue to use fear as an important tool to encourage religious obedience.

Christianity will focus less on government and more on policy

Christian groups over the last decades have almost always been driven by a relatively non-governmental mission: to recruit willing followers, who desire to live lives that are in keeping with Jesus’s example and teachings. They will continue to celebrate compassion, unselfish love and kindness as outward signs of inner religious obedience.

Their theology is that as individuals are touched and changed by the love of God, communities are also changed, towns and cities are transformed, whole nations and governments are revolutionised. Social action will continue to be a major element of this tradition, whether running food banks, health care for the poor, or shelter for the homeless.

While many Christians are likely to engage in politics in future, they are almost certain to do so within the context of democracy, rather than attempting to impose a radical theocracy. Most will tend to support activist campaigns rather than joining a political party.

Global violence against Christians

As in Islam, the most radical edge of Christianity is likely to be a call to arms. An ideology that promotes fighting as necessary to protect the church from being wiped out by aggressive persecutors, most of which claim adherence to Islam.

This type of militant thinking is especially likely to develop among extremist indigenous churches in central and northern Africa, as a response to terrible attacks against churches and Christian households over more than two decades. We are already seeing signs of this in some parts of Africa, particularly in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic of Congo[3].

However, such militancy is likely to be held back in most places by the dominant Christian ethic, which has been relatively pacifist, following the teachings of Jesus to love your neighbour as yourself, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and when your enemy strikes you – turn the other cheek.

Christians have been slaughtered, tortured, kidnapped, raped and beheaded in unprecedented numbers over the past two decades according to the International Society for Human Rights. In fact, 80% of all acts of religious discrimination are against Christians. Reuters reports that numbers of reported cases of Christians killed for their faith doubled between 2012 and 2013 to 2,100, which would suggest a total of around 5,000 a year, since most do not get picked up by global media. The Vatican has issued an estimate of around 100,000 ‘martyrs’ a year over the last decade, but that included ethnic / religious genocide in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Persecution in Iraq, Nigeria and North Korea

In Baghdad alone, 40 of 65 churches have been bombed in a decade. Persecution is leading to migrations, with over 1 million Christians fleeing Iraq in the same period. In Kandhamal, Orissa, north India, 500 Christians were killed in a series of Hindu-supported riots, thousands were injured and 50,000 believers were left homeless, while 350 Christian schools and churches were destroyed.

In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has butchered over 5,000 Christians since 2009, with over 650,000 forced to flee from towns and villages. In North Korea some estimate that around 25% of 300,000 in labour camps are there because of their Christian faith, and many thousands more believers have just disappeared after arrest.

Attacks on churches in China and Pakistan

In China, most church congregations are not recognised legally by the government, and harassment is common, despite rapid growth. Indeed, such attacks are partly a response of fear about the strengthening influence of these unlawful and influential groups. Large churches have been pulled down, and many leaders arrested in some parts of the country, for example in Wenzhou where 15% of the population of 9 million are already Christian.

In Pakistan, mobs regularly lynch and kill Christians who are accused of telling others about their faith, or of showing disrespect in some way to Islam. People who convert to Christianity often live in great fear, risk being attacked by family, worship in complete secrecy, and are often forced to flee abroad to seek asylum. When you meet people who have experienced these things, as I have, you cannot fail to be touched by what has happened to them. Expect many more such cases.

Elements of Islamic world also at war with other Islamic communities

Such attacks by Islamic extremists are not just directed at those of other religions. Most of them are against others from an Islamic background.

Some radical Islamic teachers seem set to continue to encourage online followers to kill all ‘infidels’ and those who support them, including people who describe themselves as devout followers of Islam, but whose lifestyle does not reflect the same interpretation of the Koran.

And we are likely to see ongoing bitter, intense, tribal and ideological wars between Sunni and Shiite ‘tribes’ of Islam, with their different cultural histories. As we have seen, we can expect a growing culture gap between more moderate, wealthy and intellectual believers in developed nations, and those who follow Islam in emerging nations.

Peace likely to overcome religious violence (eventually)

As history shows repeatedly, where you have two groups of radical zealots: one promoting hate, fear and using violence, the other promoting love, respect and peace, the violent ones always tend to gain power in the short term, but lose moral force eventually. Societies built on fear are limited by the desire for human freedom, are ultimately unsustainable, and therefore unusual.

Extremely violent, intolerant, Islamic militant groups will continue to be a poor advert globally for their religious brand, and in the long-term are likely to be damaging to the wider (voluntary) acceptance of Islamic religion in general, except to small minorities of people who are attracted by such behaviours and by the comfort of clear, dogmatic creeds.  The same applies of course to extreme Christian groups.

Expect support to peak and wane for the most ruthless and violent groups in any religion – and for militant Islam to decline in aggression, as numbers of followers of Islam grow rapidly over the next 50-100 years, fuelled by large middle-class families, and by extra finance generated primarily from Middle East oil and wealth over the next five decades or more.

Moderate Muslims are likely to be increasingly repelled by what they may regard as ‘medieval’ atrocities, committed in the name of Islam. As is the case with all fanatical groups, they too will eventually realise that the goals they dream of will never be achieved by terrorist acts, only by winning the hearts of people.

In the meantime, small numbers of fanatics will continue to enjoy gigantic free media coverage so long as societies around the world continue to want to broadcast such things over and over again.  But the more publicity is given, the more attractive it is for extremists to commit further atrocities, the more anxious the general population becomes, until a point is reached where entire nations recognise that tiny violent minorities need to be starved of the oxygen of publicity they feed off.  This will result in all kinds of ethical dilemmas about freedom of speech, antisocial use of social media and so on.

A new world religion?

Political creeds could be swept aside by a radical new ideology that could turn out to be as influential as communism was in the late 19th century and the major part of the 20th century. Alongside this, we can also expect to see a new religion.

All major world religions are likely to continue to reinvent themselves over the next 100 years, as their traditional teachings are reinterpreted in very different ages and cultures. The roots of the Christian faith have remained virtually unchanged over 2,000 years but expressions, understanding and practice have varied greatly.

Global ‘market’ for a new world religion

A completely globalised world is likely to create a vacuum or a ‘market’ for a new world religion, which will feed into the aspirations of the M generation. We could well see a world-recognised prophet emerge over the next few decades with charisma, dynamism and teachings, which rapidly capture the global imagination.

The biggest issue will be truth: is there such a thing? Global religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam all proclaim timeless truth about an unchanging God, offering exclusive understanding of him. In contrast, New Age beliefs draw heavily from some aspects of Hinduism, which emphasise a more general approach to truth, and a more fluid, ethical framework, with far fewer absolutes.

In a constantly changing world, certainty about ultimate issues such as personal destiny becomes increasingly important. That is the appeal of radical fundamentalism. Therefore, we can see that a new world religion will be most likely to be defined by dogmatic teaching, and a claim of exclusivity and superiority to all previously understood truths about God.

Expect such a prophet of to offer ‘the final revelation’ that humankind has not thus far been ready to receive, the promise that humankind is ‘coming of age’ and is only now able to receive the truth. Such a prophet is likely to claim that  all the great religions pointed in part to the Truth, but did not provide the complete picture.

Such a prophet could sweep tens of millions into a new religious movement, over a short space of time. But this will be unlikely without a global struggle on an immense scale. Militant Islam in particular will be as violently opposed to this new religion as it is to apostasy among Islamic communities, and as it is also to Christianity.

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Thanks for promoting with Facebook LIKE or Tweet. Really interested to read your views. Post below.

kaiyume baksh
July 17, 2018 - 15:19

Hi Patrick,

Interesting article sufficient enough for me to want to cite!

I'm writing to ask your permission to cite this article in a book that I'm about to finish writing on science and spirituality, estimated word count 85,000.

I've used an estimated 90 words from various parts of the 8-page article with some of my words interspersed in between.

Thank you for your consideration and I eagerly look forward to your reply.


Reply to kaiyume baksh
P Dixon
September 05, 2018 - 18:29

Delighted. Glad you found it helpful.

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