The first two decades of the 21st century saw a major rise in the number of people in the USA who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular,” which now stands at 26% of the total American population, up nine points from 17% in 2009.
But the next two decades could see a major post-covid-19 religious revival if Islam and Judaism promote religious pluralism.
Even now after only one year of covid-19 in North America, there will be literally millions of people, especially ex-Roman Catholics and ex-Evangelicals, who will be seeking new religious roots and communities. Many of these people might turn to Islam and Judaism if Imams and Rabbis made much more of an effort to reach out to them while promoting religious pluralism.
In my 56 years as a Reform Rabbi, I have helped hundreds of non-religious people become Jewish through conversion to Reform Judaism. Among them were many ex-Evangelicals and Protestant fundamentalists who rejected the following six beliefs and replaced them with Judaism.
1 They heard fundamentalists claim that there is only one way (our way) to attain Heaven or Nirvana. Judaism teaches many paths that can lead ethical people to God’s peace.
2 They heard fundamentalists claim that the afterlife is more important than life in this world of suffering, sorrow, and sin. Judaism teaches that one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the whole afterlife.
3 They heard fundamentalists claim that sacred scriptures must be read and believed without question. Judaism teaches that sacred scriptures must be studied and understood.
4 They heard fundamentalists claim that sacred scripture must be taken literally. Judaism teaches that every verse of scripture has 70 different interpretations.
5 They heard fundamentalists claim that questioning undermines true faith. Judaism teaches that the youngest child should ask at least four questions.
6 They heard fundamentalists claim that religious truth must be universal and absolute. Judaism teaches that our covenant is unique to us. Others have their own truths.
Amos, the farmer-turned-prophet, preached during a time of surging national optimism: the economy was booming, and individual boundaries were growing. But Amos saw through the façade and preached against greed, hypocrisy, and false self-worship. As our world comes to grips with a pandemic that has devastated booming economies worldwide, will we go back to putting our hope in ourselves, or will we place our hope in God? As the great naturalist John Muir said: “God has to nearly kill us sometimes to teach us lessons.”
“Look, the days are coming…when I will send a famine through the land; not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and roam from north to east seeking the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)
Of teens and young adults who say they are affiliated with organized religion, 52% say they have little or no trust in organized religion according to the “State of Religion and Young People” study which surveyed more than 10,000 Americans ages 13 to 25 about their involvement in, and feelings about, religion.
The study also found that 60% of teens and young adults who are not involved with an organized religion described themselves as at least slightly spiritual; 19% said they attend religious gatherings at least once a month, and 12% of unaffiliated young people have become more religious in the last 5 years. This last group will lead the next religious revival starting post-Covid-19.
But this 12% of unaffiliated young people that have become more religious in the last 5 years group will lead the next religious revival only if the leaders of today’s religions will be open to the desire of young people for religions that are not homophobic, and advocate religious diversity by respecting other religions because they do not claim an exclusive ‘we have the only truth’ or ‘our religion is the only one approved by God’ theology.
According to a 2008 Pew survey, one in five Christians in America believe that non-Christian faiths cannot lead one to salvation. That number soared to 60 percent for white evangelical Protestants who attend church once a week.
This is especially important for America’s Islamic leaders because the Qur’an is a strong proponent of Religious Diversity: “Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)
A survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2008 found that most Americans agree with the statement: many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those affiliated with some religious tradition, seven in ten say many religions can lead to eternal life.
This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including 82% of Jews, 79% of Catholics, 57% of evangelical Protestants, and 56% of Muslims. (From the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2008)
Thus, in the 21st century the United States most Christians, Jews, and Muslims have rejected the ‘only one truth’ religious mindset and believe in the Qur’an’s pluralism teachings: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had wanted, He could have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to do virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah (for judgment), so He will let you know [about] that in which you differed.” (5:48)
Only those who reject God by disbelief or by unrepentant evil activities will be the losers when Judgement Day comes. Although most ‘only one truth’ or ‘only one God approved’ religious mindset theologians will learn that they might not be as smart as they thought they were.
It is very important to understand that ‘religious pluralism is the will of God is different from religious, moral or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments. Thus, issues of justice, truth, or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder.
Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply only a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural psychological or philosophical relativism.
The fundamental idea supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in all areas of religion. All religions have always taught a traditional anti-self-centered personal egoism type of humility.
Religious pluralism also opposes a religious, philosophical, and self-righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our own prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply.
Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does.
This is true, for every human being, even for God’s messengers themselves. When prophet Moses, “who God spoke with face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (33:20)
Similarly, in the Qur’an prophet Jesus admits to God, “You know everything that is within myself, whereas I do not know what is within Yourself”. (5:116)
And when Prophet Jesus was asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus warns his disciples about upheavals and false Messiahs that will come. Then Jesus concluded by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father”. (24:36)
A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. He said: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim book 1 Hadith 1&4)
God taught the general principle of epistemological humility through his Prophet who taught his followers “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur’an 46:9) In truth, the only universal truth should be the humility to admit: “Only God knows.”
Or as Allah’s Apostle said, “Don’t give me superiority over Moses, for people will fall unconscious on the Day of Resurrection. I will be the first to regain consciousness, and behold! Moses will be there holding the side of Allah’s Throne. I will not know whether Moses was among those people who became unconscious and then has regained consciousness before me, or was among those exempted by Allah from falling unconscious.” (Bukhari Volume 8, Book 76, #524)
As God declares through Prophet Zechariah: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.” (8:16-17)
Finally: “Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (Quran 2:177)
And as Prophet Micah makes it clear, what God wants is not one religious belief or ritual but your whole heart and commitment. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what the Lord requires of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Biblical Book of Micah 6:8)
This article was originally published in The Times of Israel.