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What do we do with an obsolete religion?

Reader comment on item: Islam's Future [Can Be Modern]

Submitted by John Bruce (United States), Aug 13, 2002 at 12:56

There are several models for what to do with a religion that has become obsolete. In the context of 20th-century liberal democratic societies, we tolerate them (mostly) -- in such cases as Scientology, presumably because the crime and abuse associated with the religion is below a certain threshold.

On the other hand, the Church of Latter Day Saints was forced to abandon polygamy in connection, as I understand it, with Utah becoming a US Territory (someone may be able to clarify the details). At that point, any continuing polygamy in rural areas or other cult-like behavior by the Church was tolerated as being below a particular threshold.

On the other hand, Western or Christian civilization in the mid to late Roman period found the former Roman state religion of polytheism was in various ways inconvenient, and the religion was abandoned in relatively short order. It is simply no longer a serious option to argue for the existence of Jupiter or Hera in any context. Christian writings from the New Testament onward suggest that the Roman state religion was such a repository of corruption that a culture based on Christianity could not live in coexistence with it (see the first part of Revelation, before the fire and brimstone, for instance, in which Christ explains to John that a church located in an area where the state religion is influential has got serious problems).

However we may explain or specifically describe the process, it's plain that Western civilization absorbed Christianity, and the process resulted in the absolute, complete, and total disqualification of the Roman state religion. The disqualification was so complete that we can accept the classical myths on exactly the same basis that we accept clever science fiction, but on no other.

My guess is that this will be the eventual fate of Islam, for various reasons, but, as happened with the Roman state religion, it will take longer than several lifetimes, though not all that long in a historical sense. This is because Islam is something different from LDS or Scientology, something far above a tolerable threshold.
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