Converts and the coming religious revival

Covid-19 has now killed a million people in the USA and six million people throughout the world and an analysis of excess deaths by a team at The Economist estimates that the actual number of COVID-19 deaths world wide is between 14 and 23.5 million. And more than 107,600 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021, the highest annual death toll on record. Overdose deaths increased 15 percent in 2021 from 2020.

In an article published December 26, 2020 by Islamicity, I predicted a coming religious revival in the USA and the UK based on some recent religious surveys. One was a Pew Research survey of 14 countries with advanced economies and large secular populations. According to the survey in the United States, 28% of Americans said the COVID-19 pandemic made their faith stronger.

Nearly half of white evangelicals in the U.S. (49%) said their faith grew stronger due to the coronavirus outbreak. U.S. Catholics came in second, with 35% saying their faith increased. Among mainline Protestants, 21% said the pandemic bolstered their faith. Even 5% of Americans who do not affiliate with any religion said their faith grew stronger.

“Americans’ greater proclivity to turn to religion amid the pandemic is largely driven by the relatively high share of religious Americans,” the report said. But even in the U.K. 10% said the COVID-19 pandemic made their faith stronger

Another survey was the “State of Religion and Young People” study, which surveyed more than 10,000 Americans ages 13 to 25 about their involvement in and feelings about religion. Of teens and young adults who were not involved with an organized religion; 60% described themselves as at least slightly spiritual; 19% said they attend religious gatherings at least once a month, and 12% of unaffiliated young people have become more religious in the last five years.

Disaffiliating white Christians fueled the growth of the religiously unaffiliated in the last 15 years. Only 16% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated in 2007; this proportion rose to 19% by 2012, and then gained roughly a percentage point each year from 2012 to 2017.

Reflecting the patterns above, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans hit a high point of 26% in 2018, but has since declined to 23% in 2020 as reported recently in The 2020 Census of American Religion by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to independent research about religion, culture, and public policy.

This group of 12% of unaffiliated young people who have become more religious in the last five years will lead the next religious revival if the leaders of today’s religions will be open to the desire of young people for religions whose beliefs respect other faiths; and do not claim to be an exclusive we have the ‘only truth’ or ‘only approved by God’ religion.

A sign of the coming religious revival is the National Catholic Educational Association announcement that nationwide US enrollment in Catholic schools increased by 62,000 to about 1.68 million students, marking the first increase in two decades and the largest jump it has recorded in at least five decades. Also, 30% of young people say their faith grew stronger during the pandemic according to a Springtide Research Institute poll; 18% said their faith became weaker, and 8% said they lost faith completely, 38% stayed the same and 5% said they were searching for or had already found another religion.

And in the UK the Liberal Jewish movement is experiencing a surge in conversions to Judaism with community leaders saying the pandemic has made people reflect more on faith. Some of the new applicants are motivated by traditional reasons, such as a Jewish partner. But many have little previous Jewish connection. Liberal Judaism reports that 139 people registered to go through its conversion process last year. The number is double the 2019 total of 70, and a significant rise on the 93 registering in 2020. About half had some Jewish ancestry, half no previous connection at all.

This is especially important for America’s Islamic and Jewish leaders because non-Orthodox Judaism and moderate Islam are strong proponents of Religious Pluralism: “Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

A survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2008 found that most Americans agree with the statement: many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those affiliated with some religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life.

This view is shared by most adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including 82% of Jews, 79% of Catholics, 57% of evangelical Protestants, and 56% of Muslims. (From the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008, Pew Research Center.)

Thus, in the 21st century, in the United States, most Christians, Jews, and Muslims have rejected the ‘only one truth’ religious mindset and now believe in the Qur’an’s pluralism teachings: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had wanted, He could have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to do virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah (for judgment), so He will let you know [about] that in which you differed.” [Qur’an 5:48]

Only those who reject God by disbelief or by unrepentant evil activities will be the losers when Judgement Day comes. Although many, perhaps most ‘only one truth’ religious mindset theologians will learn that they might not be as smart as they thought they were.

It is essential to understand that ‘religious pluralism is the will of God’ differs from religious, moral, or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments.

Thus, issues of justice, truth, or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder. Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural or philosophical relativism.

The fundamental idea of supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in many religious areas. All religions have always taught a traditional anti self-centered personal egoism type of humility.

Religious pluralism also opposes a religious, philosophical, and self-righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply.

Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does.

This is true, for every human being, even for God’s messengers themselves. When prophet Moses, “who God spoke with face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (Exodus 33:20)

Similarly, in the Qur’an prophet Jesus admits to God, “You know everything that is within myself, whereas I do not know what is within Yourself”. (Qur’an 5:116)

And when Prophet Jesus was asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus warns his disciples about upheavals and false Messiahs that will come. Then Jesus concluded by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)

A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. He said: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim Book 1 Hadith 1&4)

God taught the general principle of epistemological humility through his Prophet who taught his followers, “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur’an 46:9) In truth, the only universal truth should be the humility to admit: “Only God knows.”

As the Jewish Prophet Joel (2:28-29 and (Acts 2:16) make clear: “After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have prophetic dreams; and your young men will see visions. Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days”

The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (Qur’an 16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah; then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided. And prior to the 20th century Arabs and Jews never did make war with each other.

If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that ‘the descendants of Abraham’s sons should never make war against each other’ is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

Finally: “Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets; and gives wealth despite love for it to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (Quran 2:177)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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