Beliefnet
(RNS) Here are some predictions of things to come in 2002:

1. The search for personal religious experience will intensify inthe new year.

Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, millions of Americanswere immersing themselves in something called "spirituality." WhileJudaism and Christianity have been an integral part of American societysince the 17th century, their once exclusive religious market has beensharply challenged by New Age teachings, Eastern meditation, cults, anda host of self- empowerment/self-discovery groups that promise spiritualfulfillment.

Synagogues and churches that once depended upon spiritual inertiafor their members -- "Your parents and grandparents were members and weknow you will continue that tradition" -- have discovered that peoplerequire more than family history before they affiliate with a religiousinstitution.

Jewish and Christian leaders have also learned that an emphasis onsocial justice issues like poverty, illiteracy and the homeless nolonger attract new congregants as they once did. As a result,established religions have gone back to basics by focusing on "God,""prayer," "Bible study" and "home liturgy."

The search for spirituality will increase in 2002, as people stayphysically closer to home, but also dig deeper into themselves andreligion in a sometimes desperate effort to find strength, solace andmeaning in a frightening world.

2. Religious extremism will increase in 2002.

Even if terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam cease, andthe influence of Osama bin Laden, whether dead or alive, dissipates,Islamic extremism is here to stay. It can only be overcome by thecourageous actions of Muslim leaders who offer a different path thanextremism to express authentic Islamic faith.

But sadly, evidence of spiritual intolerance is also present in theJewish and Christian communities.

In late December members of the Alamogordo, N. M., Christ CommunityChurch tossed at least 30 copies of Harry Potter books on a bonfire.Jack Brock, the church's pastor, claimed, "Harry Potter is the devil andhe is destroying people."

Brock admitted he had not read any of the four Potter novels, butthat didn't stop him from claiming that young Harry taught wizardry andmagic. As a further safeguard, Brock urged his congregants to removeeverything from their homes that interferes with communicating with God.

Happily, hundreds of Alamogordo residents demonstrated theirrevulsion against the book burnings. One protesting sign said: "Hitler-- bin Laden -- Pastor Brock -- what great company!"

As if to prove that religious extremism is an equal opportunityproblem, the week before the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, an Israeliteacher in the town of Beth Shemesh near Jerusalem, discovered that oneof his sixth-graders had brought a Hebrew language edition of the NewTestament to class that a Christian missionary had given him.

The teacher was outraged by attempts to convert children andconsulted with his principal, Rabbi Yair Bachar. After receiving therabbi's permission, he burned the New Testament in the school courtyard.

Israel's Education Ministry reacted strongly to the book burning bysuspending the teacher and the rabbi until a disciplinary committeemakes a final decision on the matter. An Education Ministry officialviewed the book burning as "... a grave matter ... we condemn bookburning of any kind."

A school spokeswoman, Jordana Klein, said: "We regret the incident... many of the parents were sensitive to the book burning, given thehistorical associations." Those "historical associations" include the1933 Nazi public burning of books written by Jews and other"undesirables" as well as the burning in 1242 of 10,000 copies of theTalmud in Paris.

3. In 2002 the denominations of Orthodox, Reform, Conservative andReconstructionism will continue within the American Jewish community,but the lines between them will blur and ultimately two large groups,one Orthodox and the other non-Orthodox, will emerge.

Despite some resistance, some of the methods employed by thebusiness world will be applied to the Jewish community. This will resultin mergers of local congregations and synagogue schools and a commonmarket approach to sharing Jewish education facilities, libraries,summer camps and teachers.

This phenomenon is already under way in many communities, but itwill accelerate in the new year. Efficiency, economy and effectivenesswill become the hallmark of the American Jewish community.

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