2016-06-30
(RNS) Here are some predictions of things to come in 2002:

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

Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, millions of Americans were immersing themselves in something called "spirituality." While Judaism and Christianity have been an integral part of American society since the 17th century, their once exclusive religious market has been sharply challenged by New Age teachings, Eastern meditation, cults, and a host of self- empowerment/self-discovery groups that promise spiritual fulfillment.

Synagogues and churches that once depended upon spiritual inertia for their members -- "Your parents and grandparents were members and we know you will continue that tradition" -- have discovered that people require more than family history before they affiliate with a religious institution.

Jewish and Christian leaders have also learned that an emphasis on social justice issues like poverty, illiteracy and the homeless no longer 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 stay physically closer to home, but also dig deeper into themselves and religion in a sometimes desperate effort to find strength, solace and meaning in a frightening world.

2. Religious extremism will increase in 2002.

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

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

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

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

Happily, hundreds of Alamogordo residents demonstrated their revulsion 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 opportunity problem, the week before the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, an Israeli teacher in the town of Beth Shemesh near Jerusalem, discovered that one of his sixth-graders had brought a Hebrew language edition of the New Testament to class that a Christian missionary had given him.

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

Israel's Education Ministry reacted strongly to the book burning by suspending the teacher and the rabbi until a disciplinary committee makes a final decision on the matter. An Education Ministry official viewed the book burning as "... a grave matter ... we condemn book burning of any kind."

A school spokeswoman, Jordana Klein, said: "We regret the incident ... many of the parents were sensitive to the book burning, given the historical associations." Those "historical associations" include the 1933 Nazi public burning of books written by Jews and other "undesirables" as well as the burning in 1242 of 10,000 copies of the Talmud in Paris.

3. In 2002 the denominations of Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionism 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 the business world will be applied to the Jewish community. This will result in mergers of local congregations and synagogue schools and a common market approach to sharing Jewish education facilities, libraries, summer camps and teachers.

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

more from beliefnet and our partners