Love it or hate it, the world's religions are in no danger of disappearing any time soon. But that doesn't mean religious and spiritual sensibilities aren't going to evolve. To learn more about religion's future, we talked to Michael LaTorra. By day, he's a mild-mannered Assistant Professor of English at New Mexico State University, and by night he's a black-garbed Zen priest at the Zen Center of Las Cruces.
He is also the author of A Warrior Blends with Life: A Modern Tao, a book about spirituality in modern life.
io9: Before we look ahead, can you tell us how religion has changed in the past 150 years?
LaTorra: The old ways are dying. The largest world religions, Christianity and Islam, continue to grow in membership. But internally, they are riven with factionalism. People may become members of these religions because they are seeking God or maybe just community fellowship or simply because they were born into families associated with those religions. What some people find, after a while, is that their religion has many dogmatic beliefs and rules for living that sometimes do not fit with what seems like a good life, a fulfilling life. Nevertheless, some people remain affiliated with a religion due to social pressure that would make leaving very difficult. The lesson to draw from this is that people belong to religions for lots of different reasons, and not always because they believe every dogma in it. Often times, people stay in a religion because leaving it would put them at odds with their families and friends.
Yet it is easier today to leave a religion than ever before, especially in Europe and America, Japan and Australia and certain other countries. The big exception here are Muslim countries. Perhaps the only way a Muslim can experience some freedom of religion is to join a Sufi order, where there is much more emphasis on mystical practices and experiencing Divine Love, and less on other aspects of religion. This has made Sufism somewhat suspect among the conventional exoteric branches of Islam, the Sunni and the Shia.