Renaissance of religions. Luck or burden?

The age of Manchester capitalism seems to be over: Workers are no longer fully exploited physically and psychologically. Modern man is free and secure. But – will it stay that way? Our living and working conditions are changing massively.

Nothing stays the same. Nothing is certain.

The directions and boundaries of our society are becoming more blurred with digitalisation than ever before. A workplace no longer has anything to do with a physical place and even less with security. The worker on the assembly line is becoming increasingly rare. People face a divided world of work. There are the highly qualified, flexible working people who are always performing better. And there are the hopelessly poorly qualified people in precarious employment relationships, who are already today in a grey area between unemployment and employment. They fear that they will become superfluous. This concern may be justified: Yuval Harari is already predicting the “class of the useless” of tomorrow.

Even in the age of digitalisation, the flow into the cities is not going to stop. Urbanization will uproot many people once again. In a restless digital society, these will find themselves in hopelessly overcrowded metropolitan areas. Due to the global distribution of births, they will mostly be young and looking for work in developing countries and in the western world they will be looking for a nurse for the elderly.

The digital revolution knows no boundaries. It is not only changing the way we work and live – it is changing our whole world: Relationships are initiated by algorithms, cars are no longer driven by humans and we no longer have to leave the house to go shopping.

Digital Paradox: Between self-determination and loneliness

Things do not happen in a linearly comprehensible order, as has been the case so far. The world seems to be more out of joint than ever before: we are beginning to float digitally above our old boundaries – as if we were parts of the universe. Digitalisation is atomising us, many tasks can be done without the help of another person.

Globally, we are one unit. We have digital access to everything and everyone. And yet there is a danger that we will remain alone among many in this networked world. In place of social communities, net individualism with a multitude of loose relationships is taking over. But – hardly any feeling questions the self more than loneliness. Isolation makes us insecure and suspicious.

At the same time, we as a collective face almost insoluble challenges: The scarcity of resources and climate change: the health of our planet cries out for us to stand united and united against materialism and consumerism.

Paradoxically, at this time when we are less and less dependent on other people on an individual level, we are challenged to let altruism triumph over selfishness. Can old strategies help us to prepare for this challenge?

Is the institutionalized faith returning?

In all this new disorientation, faith offers something that religions have always offered: they offer security in the face of crumbling trust and uncertainty. Faith explains the inexplicable and gives meaning in chaos – in contrast to secularism – the latter refrains from giving meaning. The destruction of religion through progress, science and individualisation could be reversed with the digital revolution.

The interest in religions has increased in recent years, even though voices critical of religion have repeatedly come forward. Instead of abolishing faith, science may find a new home there: the more we find out about the universe, the less we understand it. With advancing brain research we understand less and less the origin of our consciousness. Although we know so much, we still cannot explain the “why”. Religions and faith communities with their simple rules and explanations could benefit from the general confusion.

The technologies of our time are changing the world rapidly, complex and long-term. This could be to the advantage of religions, which offer permanence, simplicity, history and tradition. The future will be confusing and the belief in a higher power offers orientation, rules for the right behaviour and – sense. Perhaps we will find this meaning again in a common story about ourselves and in our connection with others.

How desirable is religious spirituality? This orientation helps many people – they are more satisfied. But – not everyone.

Ambivalent faith

The belief in a superior power seems to do people good. Happiness researchers conclude that believers often face their lives with more positive expectations. They are not, like their unbelieving contemporaries, tormented by the question of meaning. No matter what religion they follow, each denomination gives them the certainty that their lives will be replaced in the next world.

On the one hand the conviction to have found the – right – faith seems to make happy, on the other hand the social integration into a community. These effects can be seen across religions.

Whether forces of nature or strokes of fate – every phenomenon can be understood in faith as an expression of supernatural activity. Nothing that happens is meaningless for a believer. That is why truly spiritual people seem to cope better with low blows in life than sober people.


Religion in happiness research


The studies by Andrew Clark of the School of Economics in Paris and Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research confirm this assumption: they used surveys among Catholic and Protestant Christians to identify their attitudes towards satisfaction or issues such as unemployment.

The results suggest that religious people are more satisfied with their lives. They have, for example, the ability to combine encounters with strangers with a positive expectation, are highly willing to accept and support others. Everything and anything that surrounds them springs from the hand of their Creator. Their appreciation finds expression in gratitude and acceptance.

On the other hand, it is precisely in strictly religious circles and societies that we find the most dogmatic extremists who are prepared to do anything for their religious convictions. Many wars have been fought in the name of a faith: Researchers suspect that a decisive role is played by whether a religious community is open or rigid and closed.

Monotheistic zeal instead of collective meaning?

The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk counts himself among the sceptics of religion. He sees the renaissance of the religious communities above all as a struggle for the supremacy of the three major religions and poses the fundamental question: What are their commonalities – despite all the differences that separate Christianity, Judaism and Islam? For Sloterdijk, the missionary aspirations of the Christians, the politico-military form of expansion of the Mohammedans and the introverted ritual community of the Jews have developed a common religious form of expression. He calls this “monotheistic zealousness” and means precisely that fading out of doubts and ambiguities during the fanatical search for simple causes and truths with the aim of reducing the complexity of the world.

The sacred is always deterrent and attractive at the same time, threatening and captivating. (Rudolf Otto, Protestant theologian)

Ambivalence is obviously a characteristic of the supernatural: as ambivalent as our changing world itself: Religiousness can be an enrichment or a burden. It can make people happy or torture them.

In order to be prepared for our future as a whole humanity, we need an honest community.

A community that includes the well-being of each person and in which everyone feels a deep and sincere desire to contribute to a better future. Instead of monotheistic zealots, we need a magical story about a better world of tomorrow, which we tell ourselves – no matter which God we worship. In this utopia of a common future there is peace and a place for each of us:

We need a story of tomorrow that everyone can and wants to believe in. The belief in a future, for which each and every one of us also wants to stand up for.


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