THE RELIGION OF THE FUTURE
Israel Mattuck, 27 June 1925
The minister who said he was preaching the religion of the future, [asked] what is this religion of the future? Each religion made the claim for itself that it would be the religion of the future. And it is perhaps natural for an individual who has developed a line of thought of his own to claim that what he is thinking today all men will think tomorrow.
There is also the desire which many feel for an escape from the animosities that religious divisions have brought and bring into the world. The desire may be true or false, good or bad, hopeful of fulfilment or without hope, but it is a real desire, an understandable desire, a worthy desire. As a hope it holds the beauty that attaches to unity, harmony, and peace. There is something more that lies at the bottom of this desire – the judgment that the old religions have failed, having lost their vitality, so that they are without any appeal for many, and sometimes without the power of guidance even for some who theoretically recognise their authority. Many say today that they are without any religion, other members of one or another sect do not show in their lives that attachment to religion [which] makes them pursue the highest ideals in life, or to abide by the best standards in their conduct. Yet the world cannot be without religion, individual men and women cannot be without religion; if they have not a good religion, they will have a bad one! The human spirit is like a garden, if it is not cultivated for flowers, it produces weeds. And the flowers of the spirit are faith, the weed is superstition. That principle can be illustrated by individual examples and by the spread in our times of some teachings and practices which call themselves [missing word] but which are really superstitions; and because of this quality in them have found a home in lives that are without faith but dominated by a crass materialism.
Without subscribing to any of the ideas described, I yet believe that the religion of the future will be different from the religions of the present. That belief issues from the belief in progressive revelation. As religion has grown in the past, so will it continue to grow. We may not stop at any point in human thought, saying this is the end of all thinking and striving, this is the best, none better is possible.
There is an ancient Jewish view which supports this expectation for a different religion. It is interesting in itself, but interesting, too, because it was held along with the belief in the national triumph of Judaism in its attainment to the position of the universal religion. The hope of Isaiah that all nations shall come and worship the God of Israel was always the belief of the best minds in Israel. But there were those who held that the religion which would then come to dominate the world would be Judaism, but not the Judaism of their time. It would be a Judaism freed from its unessentials. In the Messianic age, this view held, all the [missing word] will be abrogated, meaning that the ritual and ceremonial prescriptions which formed an important part of ancient Judaism would have no place in the ideal religion.
This can be the starting point for our guess at what the religion of the future will be. Rites and ceremonies will hold but a very small place in it, if any at all. I say this not because I personally feel any general objection to rites and ceremonies. I object to some, those that are ugly and out of date, repulsive or meaningless; but I rather enjoy those that have an element of beauty, and whose meaning is not objectionable. They have, however, at times been an encumbrance in the life of the spirit, and a snare to the uncomprehending who mistake these adornments of religion for religion itself. As the spirit of man grows more and more toward the fullness of its power, it will more and more be able to dispense with the help that ceremonies give it. (Ill. a child learning arithmetic first through concrete examples.) Until we can reach the realisation that all life is for God, have special acts in his name to remind us of this fundamental religious idea.
The belief in God will, however, remain fundamental to the religion of the future as it is to the religion of the present, and as it has been to all religions in the past.
I shall not say that the conception of God will be the same, any more than the present conception is like that of the past. But the belief in a Spiritual Being as the sum and source of all spiritual forces, of a morally perfect Being as the authority and guarantee of morality is a necessity for the human spirit. And if you ask why are there any atheists or agnostics, the answer would be the same as to the question “why are there any abnormal people.” (Ill. an ancient religion that was Atheistic, Buddhism, and modern ethical culture.)
The other invariable element in religion is what we call morality – which includes standards for human conduct drawn from the relation between man and God. The religion of the future will be a religion that demands righteousness, purity and truth.
It will, however, be larger in its scope than most of the religions we know; it will, for example, include beauty. This is a return to early human ideas. Art, music, and poetry as the expression of the divine and as a means to attainment of realisation of the divine.
It is the religion of the prophets with the best of what Greek civilisation stood for. What the prophets stood for; and what Greek art means.
The Amos Society in the U.S.A and the effort to unite Jews and Christians in a return to prophetic religion. God and righteousness. But not altogether adequate.
Religion of the future not orthodox Christianity, not traditional Judaism. A religion that will sum up and bring together the best that the human spirit has achieved – the centre will be the fundamental teachings of Judaism – God and righteousness.