Will science and progress make Christianity irrelevant in the 21st century?

By Zoltan Istvan, Candidate for California Governor 2018 | 22 May 2016
Salon

In April, the pope made history when he told his flock to accept divorced Catholics. Last week, NPR reported a gay preacher had been ordained as a Baptist minister. Next year it might well be evangelicals in the deep South turning pro-choice. Everywhere around us, traditional Christian theology and its culture is breaking down in hopes of remaining relevant. The reality is with incredible scientific breakthroughs in the 21st century, ubiquitous information via the Internet, and an increasingly nonreligious youth, formal religion has to adapt to survive. 

But can it do so without becoming obsolete? Perhaps more importantly, can Christianity—the world’s largest religion with 2 billion believers—remain the overarching societal power it’s been for millennia? The answer is not an easy one for the old faith-driven guard. 

To remain a dominant force throughout the 21st century, formal religion will have to bend. It will have to adapt. It will have to evolve. Hell, it will have to be upgraded. Welcome to the growing impact of Christian relativism.

The familiar term cultural relativism was coined by anthropologist Franz Baos, who suggested that people have a difficult time understanding another’s culture without having grown up in it—so therefore we should strive to empathize more with foreign cultures and people. It’s a great concept, and after many years reporting for National Geographic in dozens of countries, I came to strongly believe in the idea.

Christian relativism, however, does not have that honor of generating empathy so easily—at least not until it separates itself from its cornerstone philosophy: adherence to the Bible. Even with its many dozens of translations, most everything in the Bible simply cannot be logically interpreted in a multitude of ways—or flippantly passed over in generous empathy. To make the Bible’s deity-approved instructions and ideas soundly work, church leaders pushing Christian relativism may simply have to back down or say it made a mistake with its past fundamentalism.

Christian relativism, however, does not have that honor of generating empathy so easily—at least not until it separates itself from its cornerstone philosophy: adherence to the Bible. Even with its many dozens of translations, most everything in the Bible simply cannot be logically interpreted in a multitude of ways—or flippantly passed over in generous empathy. To make the Bible’s deity-approved instructions and ideas soundly work, church leaders pushing Christian relativism may simply have to back down or say it made a mistake with its past fundamentalism.

For example, if the Bible clearly says being gay is a sin (and it does many times), then Christians can’t just wake up one day and say homosexuality is permissible without dismissing God’s word. Another example is women; if the Bible says they can’t be priests and must submit to men, then the church can never profess to believe in equality—which is does all the time. Additionally, if committing blasphemy (striving to become god-like) through transhumanism is an unforgiveable sin that leads to eternal punishment, then Christians can’t say they represent a loving and kind God. The hypocrisy is too much to pretend one is being logical or reasonable—since transhumanists vocally aim to never die and possibly even become gods (or God) through science and technology.

This is the dilemma that the Abrahamic religious face in the age of Christian relativism. They have sealed themselves in the ideological fort for protection, and now they have no way out without atheists and agnostics chiding them. Language is fiercely mechanical—and in the case of the Bible, many of the truths are prominently black and white.

The antithesis of the Bible is, of course, the much simpler Western ideology: the scientific method, upon which the other part of modern humanity’s culture was built upon—the one that brought us skyscrapers, CRISPR gene editing tech, robots, and vaccinations so our children don’t die from measles. The scientific method states nothing is black and white, but if you prove something enough times, it’s safe to trust it until something strange or unwanted occurs. It’s humble at its core, unlike Christianity which claims to be under guidance of an omnipotent God.

Consider Christianity’s core message: You are born in sin, and only through Christ can you be redeemed and reach a happy afterlife. The scientific method would’ve never entertained such a conclusion, because it would’ve been stuck asking what is sin?, and where is Christ?—neither of which can be proven one way or the other.

With this in mind, how does Christian relativism then expect to be taken seriously? I wish that was the question, but people are so entrenched into Judeo-Christian culture, that we rarely consider that Christianity is even changing. We only think we are becoming more open-minded, and that God and our religious brethren should pat us on the back for our newfound wisdom.

While I shake my head in disbelief at the Christian mirage all around me (and the billion people who call the pope wonderfully progressive despite his disdain of condoms and other birth control), I accept it as a better fate than the far more dogmatic one humans endured in the 20th Century. I believe I speak for the one billion nonreligious people out there when I say I’ll take progress however I can get it—even if it results in a Jesus Singularity, where even the superintelligent robots engineers are trying to make may end up being programmed to believe in Christ. But Christian relativism is not a cure to the disease—it’s just a band-aid of belief. The cure—or better put: the sobering tonic—is the scientific method, a simple philosophy that says: Get used to not knowing anything for sure—then make up your own mind on what you believe.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Zoltan Istvan is a Libertarian candidate for California Governor 2018. Previously, he was a 2016 US Presidential candidate who aimed to put science, health, and technology at the forefront of American politics. At the age of 21, Zoltan began a solo, multi-year sailing journey around the world. He’s explored over 100 countries, many as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel. His work has also been featured in many major television channels, such as CNN, FOX News, and BBC. Zoltan writes futurist and transhumanist-themed blogs for The Huffington Post, Vice’s Motherboard (Transhumanist Future), and Psychology Today (The Transhumanist Philosopher). He has also written for Slate, Gizmodo, Daily Mail, Salon, Newsweek, Wired UK, Singularity Hub, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Outside. Zoltan has started various successful businesses, from real estate development to filmmaking to viticulture, joining them under ZI Ventures. He is a philosophy and religious studies graduate of Columbia University and resides in San Francisco with his two daughters and physician wife. Zoltan is the creator of the Immortality Bus, a 38-foot vehicle shaped like a coffin to spread the message that science can conquer death. He is the author of The Transhumanist Wager, an award-winning, #1 bestselling Philosophy book describing philosopher Jethro Knights and his unwavering quest for immortality via science and technology. You can follow his work at zoltanistvan.com, on Wakelet, Facebook and on Twitter.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Science is a process of discovering truth using experimentation, Christianity is a belief that Jesus was God the creator of the universe in the flesh. Given that one is a belief, and the other is a foundation for belief, it is utterly biased to say that beliefs atheistic in nature are exclusively scientific, and all other are fables. So it is incredibly fallacious to think science will make Christianity irrelevant in the 21st century or ever because that stems from a dogma that all scientific evidence has and will always support atheistic beliefs over theistic ones. What you mean to say is that science, a foundation for belief, will make dogma, another foundation for belief, irrelevant, which is true. Dogma assumes it is right until it is indefensible, that is not exclusively nor predominantly the foundation for religious belief, many people who no nothing about science, assume that evolution is true, without any evidence to back up the belief, they are dogmatic and are irrelevant in the light of science. Your main problem is you try to equate religion with dogma so you can say science will make it irrelevant, but this is simply a false dichotomy.

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