To glimpse the future of religion and spirituality, The Gazette turned to Jay Gary, a Colorado Springs author, consultant and futurist specializing in religion and the new millennium.
Q. Before looking to the future, let’s consider the century that’s just passed. Can you point to one trend, person or event that has had the greatest influence on how we worship?
The explosive growth of Pentecostal spirituality. Starting in Topeka Kansas on January 1, 1901 and later propelled by the Azusa Street revivals of 1905, Pentecostalism spread to Africa, Asia and Latin America, to where today it numbers 580 million people. It is the second largest expression of faith within Christianity, second only to Roman Catholicism.
In his delightful book, Fire from Heaven (1995), Harvey Cox notes that what Jazz was to music, Pentecostalism was to religion, allowing free expression and spiritual innovation. In the 20th century, Pentecostal spirituality was religion’s answer to an increasingly flat modern world which tilted toward “left-brain” rationalism.
The runner up would have to be the Vatican II Council, from 1961-1965, which approved the liturgy to be conducted in the native language of its hearers. This changed the way some 800 million people experienced the Mass and weekly worship.
Q. What do you foresee as the single most notable looming trend in religion?
The post-denominational “Transmodern” quest for a spirituality that is more concerned with therapy than with theology.
Taking their inspiration from personal spiritual experience, rather than from creeds or religious hierarchies, the new seekers are looking for meaning in a post-modern age– beyond the battle lines of secularism and fundamentalism. This is “Oprah Spirituality,” which embraces women, ecology and personal transformation. It is a search for both self and spirit.
Q: Many people have turned away from institutional religion and molded a spirituality that works for them personally. What does this say about organized religion’s future?
If history any indicator, the unorganized spirituality of one generation usually becomes the organized religion of the next. After the Millerite millennial madness of 1844, the Seventh Day Adventists arose to redirect the fervour.
At present, there may be a growing gap between personal spirituality and religious institutions, but in the new millennium, personal spirituality will find its way back to religion or create its own organized religion. Since the dawn of time humans in their solitude have always sought out relationships to affirm their sense of identity and meaning. The essence of being human is being in “communion” or in community with others.
Q: What do you foresee for Christianity, still the dominant religion in Colorado Springs, America and the world?
Just taking population growth into consideration over the next quarter of a century and even out to the Year 2200, the contours of world religions remain well in tack. The most surprising change in religious belief over 10 years and out to the year 2025 is that the worldwide growth of persons professing no religion, whether agnostics, freethinkers, atheists or non-religious humanists, appears to have plateaued since the collapse of communism.
Nonreligious persons and atheists grew rapidly over the period 1900-1990, then decreased from a combined percentage of 20.5 percent in 1990 to 16.1 percent by A.D. 2000. The non-religious population of the world will likely hold steady at this lower level over the next quarter century.
Because it has a larger base to grow, Christianity will likely increase from a 1/3 today to 37 percent of world population by 2200. Much of this growth will come in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. At the same time, Islam will likely increase from 18 percent to 23 percent by 2200. Statistics show that 90% of all people keep the religion of their upbringing, although they might practice it differently at throughout their life.
The larger question is what kind of Christianity will inherit the future.
History has shown that a church married to its age is a widow in the next. The paradigm of Medieval Catholicism was unable to shape the Modern Age. A new form of faith emerged, Protestantism. There is no guarantee that the Protestant paradigm will shape the post-modern world. In fact there is evidence that its culture wars paradigm is losing, rather than gaining ground.
So what is emerging as a more global and interconnected world could well be shaped by new forms of faith from both West and East.
Although Christianity will still predominate, growing ethic pluralism in America will inspire dialogue and cooperation with “new religions on the block” such as Islam or Buddhism. Today in America, Muslims outnumber Anglicans.
Q: What kind of influences will the Internet have on religion and spirituality?
Right now I see the Internet helping new religious movements as much or more than established religions. Like radio before it, the web allows sectarian and fringe groups to propagate their message as easily as any traditional denomination.
I don’t foresee the Internet spawning widespread new cyber-religions. Virtual communities can go only so far in replacing face-to-face communities of worship and service.
The real role of the Internet for faith will be in the area of theological or religious education. On-line seminaries and yeshivas will grow far more than websites offering cyber-sacraments.
This interview was done by email, and appeared on in the Gazette, January 1, 2000, Life, pg 1, 2.