One doesn’t have to look far in society to see the expansive reach of religion in our culture. From playing a major role in the lives of billions of individuals to shaping the way governments and societies interact on a macro scale. The question then becomes: what is the future of religion in society? And more specifically: is a world religion possible? Well, like most things, it is certainly possible but is it probable or likely? That’s what we are here to take a look at.
The idea of a universal religion is different than Universalism, which is centered more on the abstract ideas of universal truth or that many religions are connected somehow (this concept is tied to Omnism - another idea similar to a universal religion, but not quite the same). A universal religion is simply a religion that is practiced by “all” or at least a vast majority of society, where all other religions are either practiced in very small numbers or not at all. A universal religion would primarily need to be one that dominates all other 4,200 some world religions, both in terms of the number of followers it has and its representation in many different countries. For it is not enough to just have the highly populated regions under the religion’s influence. The only metric we are concerned with is popularity, for a universal religion is defined by the following it has, and the lack of following all other competing religions have. The type of religion or concept of God is irrelevant, all that matters is how successful it is.
Looking back in time to our hunter-gatherer days, we can see how each tribe essentially had their own “religion” or at least the beginnings of religion. Even more diversified than the current world religions, the period of time before agrarian living meant thousands and thousands of different, separate faiths all across the globe. Then, as technology advanced and cities were formed and developed, different religions began to rise, and old practices were eliminated or incorporated or swallowed up into bigger faiths. Certain religions became more useful in terms of things called memes (no not the internet memes). A meme is defined by Merriam-Webster as an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. Essentially, certain religions have more effective memes, meaning that the behaviors or ideas that they enforce tend to be more useful in its own continuation and expansion. Memes’ success is measured to the extent it ensures the religion’s survival. Think of this as natural selection, but with religion as the organism.
So, as certain religions “fight” to stay in existence through their memetic components and nature, some of these memes will certainly prove more useful over time, as history has shown, and lead to that religion dominating others. One religion will fall out of use, while the other will rise, either absorbing the old as some ancient tribal faiths did or conquering it as Christianity did with the New World. In the end, the fittest religion will survive as the trend continues, perhaps leading towards universalizing all of the religion into one universal religion.
How would a universal religion come into existence? Perhaps an increase in popularity of an existing religion, such as Islam or Hinduism? Be more specific. It’s not as if people just suddenly start believing in different systems of belief in mass numbers, rather, religious conversion on a large scale is driven by imperialism, conquest, oppression, and violence. If you want an example of turbulent times for conversion, just compare living in the Bronze Ages to now. War was a daily thing in those times, so, the constant upheaval of religions was common as the groups that held those beliefs forced their culture and religion onto others. Contrast this to now, where large-scale wars between groups are a lot less common, the opportunities for cultures and religions to be spread forcefully is significantly less available.
In addition to this, people are becoming much more tolerant of others’ faiths in the modern age (it may not seem like it, but it is certainly the case), making peaceful coexistence between different religions much more possible now than the turbulent past. Additionally, with the rise of agnosticism and atheism, there seems to be a dire future for religions. With secularism on the rise in the Western World, it is just a matter of time before religion begins to die off and the non-religious numbers become more than just a majority, leaving not just universalizing religion nonexistent, but religion as a whole a thing of the past.
With all of this in mind, there are certainly sound arguments on both sides, but in the end, there cannot be two outcomes. I see the religions of the world fighting for dominance for many more years, but I doubt they will stay relevant enough in this secular world for long enough for one to reign supreme. Let us know what you think below, is a universal religion possible?
Chadwick, Anne. “The World's Newest Major Religion: No Religion.” National Geographic, 22 Apr. 2016, www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/.
Dawkins, Clinton Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, 2016.
“Meme.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme.
Peoples, Hervey C., et al. “Hunter-Gatherers and the Origins of Religion.” Human Nature, vol. 27, no. 3, 2016, pp. 261–282., doi:10.1007/s12110-016-9260-0.