Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead … He is ‘the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.’ There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. – Acts 4:10-12
I’m a geek. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a geek, too. It’s a very geeky thing to suffer from that burning desire to peek into the future and see what wonders await. As we ponder and pray this Good Friday, I invite you to consider with me the future of religion in the world. It’s important to consider this today of all days because, if we do not anticipate what is coming, the Cross of Christ may be emptied of its meaning for many in the generations to come. Christ is Savior, but there is always a contender for that title, the devil, acting in human history, to steal away souls from Christ’s side.
There are two futures to consider, and I don’t mean two potential futures. Rather, we must consider our temporal future and our eternal future. The eternal future of religion is, in a word, heaven. Religion is defined by the Church as justice toward God, and in heaven, there will be perfect justice between God and his saints. By contrast, there will be no religion in hell, since its citizens have no justice toward God, except, perhaps, the fact that even they will be forced to bend the knee at the name of Jesus.
The temporal future of religion, though, is a giant question mark. We already know which way it will ultimately go: there will be the Catholic Church, established by God, and the heretical anti-Church, some as yet undetermined religion marked by mass apostasy: “The persecution that accompanies [the Church’s] pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the Truth” (CCC 675). What is this anti-Christianity? Islam is the easy answer, although that’s not to say it’s the correct answer. With the steady and fervent – if insane – march of ISIS through the Middle East and into Europe, it’s certainly a contender.
It makes scriptural sense as well. Scripture scholars have seen all through the Bible that events have a way of repeating themselves, often building over many centuries from some obscure origin story into a great, climactic moment where good finally triumphs over evil. Take, for example, the long history of exile in the Bible: the exile from the Garden, the Babylonian exile, the Diaspora, in each of which God’s people have been chastened, only to be promised again and again by prophets that they would be called back and would return, this prophetic call being finally fulfilled in the Church’s missionary activity until “the ‘full inclusion’ of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation” (CCC 674). Likewise, the origins of Islam in the Arab people, traced back to Ishmael, the disowned son of Abraham, in favor of his son Isaac. Ishmael was, in legal terms, an illegitimate child, and therefore not a rightful heir to the promises. As Isaac’s competition, he was sent away. It was his progeny who, in Mohammed, would eventually revise that history to exalt his own people and begin a 1400-year jihad against all who opposed their revisionism, especially the Jewish people. This climax has been building for a long time, and so it would be no surprise to anyone if Islam – often called in earlier days “the sum of all heresies” – spurred on by their view of God as power-sans-love to conquer vast swaths of land for the God to whom they are nothing but slaves, turned out to be the final religious contender of a religion descended from Abraham’s other son, Isaac, preaching God-as-love, whose disciples are His sons. As heretical anti-churches go, Islam has a remarkable record. But I don’t think it will be Islam in the end.
Why? Two reasons:
- Islam isn’t attractive enough. Preaching terrorism and blowing up innocent people isn’t a particularly great way to spread your message. Sure, people hear you. They might even cower and work to appease you. But in their minds, they think you’re a terrorist. It just seems improbable – and anticlimactic – to suppose that the world will convert to Islam because of a global case of Stockholm Syndrome. Nope.
- Islam’s roots aren’t old enough. They go back to Ishmael. It may not be definitive, but I tend to see these biblical-historical threads as being nested, one inside the other, the newer inside the older. So it seems logical to me that whatever the final tribulation of man is, it’s going to be something with its roots a few chapters earlier in Genesis.
There is another potential temporal future of religion that succeeds – if we can call it that – where Islam fails. It’s just as offensive to Christian sensibilities, even more heretical than Islam. It attracts huge numbers of people – even the atheists who would reject Islam – many of them unwitting because it’s not yet recognizable as a “religious deception.” Finally, its roots are even older than Islam’s, going back all the way to Genesis 3. It is, in fact, the very religion first proposed to man by the devil. The anti-church I’m talking about, of course, is messianic secular humanism.
Allow me to break that down. Broadly speaking, humanism is a philosophy centered on advancing humanity, often using humanity itself as the point of reference. I’ll stop short of saying that it advances the human person because this is false; there are Christian attempts at humanism that do just that, but the dominant, secular variety is all too willing to doom individual men, women, and children for the sake of humanity as a concept. Thus, for instance, secular humanism is often appealed to in support of abortion and euthanasia. “Humanity would be better off without the extra load of supporting inconvenient people,” they might say in different words, varying from person to person. Humanism has become increasingly secular over the last centuries, especially with modernism and post-modernism essentially challenging any objective morality – or even objective truth – and leaving no frame of reference except for either the self or humanity as a whole. Messianic secular humanism is what I call the tendency of secular humanists to hold human advancement as the cure-all for humanity’s problems. For secular humanists of this stripe, human advancement becomes the messiah; having denied sin and moral evil, there is no need for salvation beyond our temporal needs. Thus, secular humanism, inasmuch as it fulfills those needs with the inventions and advances it promotes, is considered to be the savior of the human race.
Secular humanism is a cruel savior, however. Divorced from morality and truth, it often undermines – rather than reinforces – humanity. Abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem cells, genetic screening, gene editing, and the list goes on: these things turn humanity into a commodity of desirable and undesirable traits, chosen at will by those who have the might to make their own right. There could be no uglier future for the human race. That these goals reflect the self-determinism against God’s will first inspired by a snake in the Garden of Eden should be clear to anyone familiar with the Bible. They tempt us to abandon the moral law and God Himself in order to serve our own needs, to trust in ourselves rather than in Divine Providence. As if confirmation of this correlation, there is even increasingly vocal support for a scientific means of achieving immortality, whether by preserving brains until consciousness can be uploaded to a computer or by changing the body to age no longer or even by extending the life of the body through artificial, robotic augmentation. (That last link is an interview with a transhumanist running for president. I bet not even Sanders’ health plan covers that!)
Messianic secular humanism definitely meets the criteria to be the eschatological “religious deception,” even more than Islam, but why do we need to be aware of this? The “nones,” those who report having no religion, have been on the rise. But humans are, by our nature, religious beings. We are body and soul and we want to live forever. A religious vacuum will not last long. The “nones,” if not evangelized by a Catholic Church that is deeply invested in the good of humanity and equally knowledgeable about science – and we do have that advantage, if we’ll only use it – will quickly align themselves with messianic secular humanism, which already has a foothold among them. In that scenario, the cross will be emptied of its meaning for them; they will no longer judge that they need a savior, because they will think they already have one. It will be that much more difficult to bring them to Christ.
The time is now for the Church to go into battle for souls against this latest antichrist, armed to the teeth not only with faith, but also with science and the personalism of St. John Paul II, which arose in history just in time for this fight. Scientific knowledge and a genuine appreciation for good and ethical scientific advancements will help us to steer society toward technology that truly serves the moral good of humanity. Personalism – which posits that all human persons are worthy of love – will temper and tame secular humanism. Faith, hope, and charity will, as always, convince the world that it is the Church, not the world or secular humanism or technological advancement, that has the fulfillment of our longing. We need to anticipate this new anti-Christianity; Christ alone is Savior. Christ alone, not man, is Messiah.