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Traditional religions are not changing. The hold that some of the more powerful religious societies have exerted over the minds and social practices of people are being severly challenged by the once considered faithful. In these times the rapid means of communication make it much more difficult for "leaders" to hold some of their valued control or to cover up some of their abusive activities. Therefore, I belive, people are leaving the traditional structures, while maintaining their personal belief structures.
As a scientist, I hold religious beliefs that make the understanding of scientific principles easier for me. The exercise of personal faith holds no conflict with any accepted scientific theory. My religious beliefs are personal and depend on no outside authority for their validation, and therefore no "traditional" structure is necessary for the exercise of my belief.
The world is now relatively small (IE: through modern transporation and instant communication through the internet and cell phones), and that has created a blending of religions and spiritual ideas as cultures get to know each other better.
It is rare today to see a religion or sect that has all its original ideas intact. Global travel and increased tolerance have allowed ideas from various religions to merge.
There are many to choose from, I think, but social networking has to be near the top. While it is not simply religion that this phenomenon is affecting, Facebook has destroyed many of the borders that used to exist between cultures, and between people within cultures, so that traditional ideas, especially those espoused by government and established religion, are more open to diverse points of view and challenges. Over time, just as with immigration or language assimilation, religious ideas change as a result.
The influences exerted by modern technology, in all its forms and manifestations, are greatly impacting the way in which religious beliefs are being communicated and, in some instances, how the beliefs are being shaped. Because of that second part of the previous sentence, I think believers are possibly doing a better job of truly thinking about what they believe and why than may have been the case in years past. We are no longer willing to blindly accept whatever the leader of the church tells us to believe.
In response to post #5 - I don't know if the Pope has a Facebook page, but I saw a photo of him the other day experimenting with an iPad, I think it was. I would guess the Vatican is on Facebook.
One might say the major influence changing the world's traditional religions is shifting views of moral authority, but then we are left with the question of what is causing the shifting views on moral authority. I might suggest two things for consideration: (1) post-war traumatic stress syndrome from World Wars I and II (that long ago ...??) and (2) movies and television. Post-war trauma stress syndrome was not properly understood (ironically less well, in fact, than before 1905) and was called "combat exhaustion." Movies reflect the continually evolving post-war reactions, and television brings it right into the living rooms of children and parents. As psychological reactions shift and as sensitivities shift, so do views on moral authority shift.
I agree with the answer of technology. For instance, in my neck of the woods, there is a plethora of Amish and similar simple-living factions of Christianity. Within their religion are divisions of Amish depending on what they consider acceptable...cars or not? Air conditioned cabs on tractors or not? Electric kitchen appliances, or phones, or not?
Other religions would also be subject to changing attitudes and morals of the society in which they operate. The Bible is very clear on things that are right and that are wrong. Some religions today accept women preachers, homosexual members, only contemporary music, rock bands in church. Some accept bare feet and board shorts, and you can even "park" your surf board at the door.
For lack of a better word, "busyness" is changing traditional religion. We live in a more complex world with more and more demands on our time, which is affecting our spiritual lives as well. People work long days, have long commutes, have over-extended children in a variety of activities, etc... and it would appear that church sometimes gets pushed to a minor distraction in an otherwise fully packed week of obligations.
My answer would be technology. The religions have to keep up with the speed of communication. If they don't reflect modern technology, they risk appearing out of date and out of touch. Tradition is good, but so is keeping pace with the modern world. Does the Pope have a Facebook page?
I would argue that the media influences the change in traditional world religions. As the media seems to slip more and more regrading what is appropriate, children are influenced and moulded by a less restrictive media. It seems that to keep the attention of today's youth, religion is fighting with material that would not have been seen on television decades ago.
I would argue that mass information will continue to influence and change religion. There have been places in the world where choice of religion has been limited to one. Now that copies of religious texts are online and searchable, more people than ever have access to learning about the various religions out there. More people can read criticism of their own religion and choose to either get upset or critically question their own purpose for faith.
If you are supposed to come up with one specific answer to this, I suggest you consult your textbook or your notes. There can be so many possible answers to this that we may or may not agree with the authors of your text or with your teacher.
I would argue that the major influence is the rise of science and technology. As science and tehcnology progress, much more of the world comes under the understanding and the control of human beings. Science allows us to do things like understanding why earthquakes happen. Science and technology allow us to cure diseases that would once have killed people in large numbers.
As these sorts of things happen, religions have to change. They have to adapt to a world where supernatural explanations for various phenomena are less necessary and where people feel more in control of their lives. This necessitates changes in the focus of most religions.
Easy question.... Science.
Science is finding out more and more provable things that 'traditional society' doesn't want to hear (for example, did you know that 'race' is rapidly becoming a meaningless word for genetic anthropologists? They simply can't identify genetic racial differences in any meaningful way. (And don't say, "Dur... skin color?" because it is way more complex than that.))
And nothing is more socially traditional than religion. Welded to a 2000 year old book, religious people can't change their God's perfect, ancient view of the world and they insist their beliefs are 'keystones' for society.
But science marches on, bull-dozing through the 'beliefs' and 'common sense' and its discoveries keep contradicting the religious texts. Which leads us to one fairly obvious conclusion... the very ancient texts were written by very ancient people, without much help from a divine super-being.
Currently, religion is a wounded animal desperately cowering in the corner with its fangs bared. And it is a fearsome opponent when roused.
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