Clarence Darrow &
William Jennings
Bryan at the Scopes
"Monkey" Trial, 1925






In the Presence of Mystery:
Modern Religion

The Modern Challenges to Religion
   Scientific Worldviews
   Autonomous Selfhood
   The Tentativeness of Knowledge
Non-Modern Religious Beliefs Today
   Traditional Faith with Accommodations to Modernity
   Sects and Cults
Modern Religion
   Religion and Scientific Worldviews
   Segregation of Religion from Science
   Schleiermacher's Liberal Theology
   Barth's Neo-Orthodoxy
   Bultmann's Existential Theology
   Eliade's Phenomenological Approach
   Integration of Science and Religion
   Teilhard de Chardin's Cosmic Vision
   Scientific Mysticism
   The Anthropic Principle
   Intelligent Design
   Patient Moderation Concerning Science and Religion
   Religion and Secularity
   Bishop Robinson's Secular Theology
   Liberation Theologies: Black, Feminist, Latin American
   Religious Environmentalism
   Religion and Autonomous Selfhood
   Religion and Tentative Knowledge
   Modern Religion and Other Stages

The last few centuries have seen a rise in "modern" thought, a variation of classical historic thought.  Many religious people think religion makes a mistake when it too becomes "modern."  Others promote a "post-modern" religiousness (see ch. 15). This chapter, nonetheless, describes modern religion.

The Challenge of Modern Scientific Worldviews

Many of the discoveries of science suggest an ultimate meaninglessness to the universe.  In addition, skepticism about miracles has increased.  In the face of these and other challenges, modern religion has had to find grounds for a reasonable person to maintain belief in religious traditions.

The Challenge of Modern Secularity
Secular humanists claim that too much human suffering exists in this life to spend time with religious thought about the next.  Modern religion has responded by showing the usefulness of religion for sustaining and promoting human welfare.

The Challenge of Modern Notions of Autonomous Selfhood
The ideal of true human autonomy contradicts religious ideas that place sole authority in religious texts or leaders.  Modern religion has tried to show that religiousness can promote the exercise of free, responsible decisions.

The Challenge of Modern Belief in the Tentativeness of Knowledge
Late modern (and post-modern) thought generally accepts that it is impossible to find the final correct understanding of reality.  This has led to an unprecedented pluralism: a widespread coexistence of different systems of thought.  Modern religion has come to terms with pluralism by respecting all other religions.

Traditional religious faith is still more common than modern forms of religion, although many traditional faiths have to some extent accommodated modern ideas such as evolution.  Traditional religions that have refused to compromise at all with modern thought are often called fundamentalist. especially if they insist on a literal reading of scriptures.  Cults and sects often reject modernity also

Modern Christian theology has responded to current scientific thought in three major ways.  Some thinkers have tried to segregate religion from science in order to keep religion safe from skepticism.  There are a great number of such attempts, including liberal theology, neo-orthodox theology, existential theology, and a phenomenological approach to religion.  Others attempted to unite religious and scientific thought by giving the observations of science a religious explanation.  A third approach has been simply to wait in the hope that science and religion will eventually prove compatible.

Religion, Secularity, and Autonomy
Modern religion has recently begun to see secular interest in this world as part of its own purposes.  Several types of liberation theology have developed that encourage religious believers to work for social justice in this world.  Modern thought has also favored the development of individual freedom and personal responsibility.

Religion and Tentative Knowledge
In contrast to the certainty of fundamentalist religious groups, modern religious thought usually recognizes that its ideas are tentative.  This flexibility and capacity for relativism are the main elements separating late modern thought from historic thought.

End of notes to Chapter 14

This page last changed Sunday November 16, 2003

In The Presence of Mystery























Rosemary Radford
noted feminist theologian