The question whether relevance of religions is changing is, in a sense, an extremely important question, considering that during the last five hundred years humanity has been passing through various phases of skepticism, and even today we do not have answer to the scientific demand for public demonstrability of the validity of the claims of the truth that religions have been proclaiming. That this demand of sciences has come to occupy a nerve-centre of the latest trends in epistemology implies a challenge that can be met only by a very great effort, which is likely to occupy all seekers of knowledge and all seekers of the highest welfare of humanity during the 21st Century.
In the meantime, as has been seen throughout the history of human civilization, the aspiration for God, Light, Freedom, Bliss, Immortality, has been constantly witnessed since the human thought grew to be more and more self-conscious. The earliest records of human wisdom, namely, the Vedas, testify to this aspiration, and even the last five hundred years where the relevance of religions has come under heavy attack, have not blunted the power of its resurgence. In the meantime, there has come about a great weakening of the claims of certainty of knowledge that philosophical reasoning and scientific empiricism had aspired for; and this is bound to lead to the reassessment of both science and religion or spirituality, and it is this mood of reassessment that is likely to characterize the intellectual and scientific climate of the 21st Century.
This reassessment is likely to be thorough-going, since both in Thought and Life humanity has reached a stage of dire need to find workable or practicable solutions. Human survival itself demands understanding of the right equations between humanity and its total environment and, more importantly, voluntary and sincere application of the policies that emerge from the advancing knowledge of the right equations between humanity and environment. Has humanity the right wisdom and will, and will it agree to impose on itself a vast discipline? That is the issue. But apart from the question of environment, there is a deeper question of the wisdom that is required to counteract the constant danger that we are all facing on account of the sheer pressure of the nuclear arms that have already been piled up and which have most disastrous consequences, if we do not wake up and seek urgent answers and true answers which will have transforming power to convert the present aggressive mentality into a highly cooperative mentality. But even if enough time is given to the human race, and nothing disastrous happens, how are we to deal with that question that the human Reason, at its highest, has put forward as its ideal dream of realization, namely, the harmonious blending of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity? If we speak today of democracy, it is because of the ideal of liberty, and if we speak of social cohesion, it is because of the pressure of the ideals of equality and fraternity. The insistence of these three ideals has, evidently, not been uniformly persistent, and, in the march of globalization, the predominant tendency that has become manifest is the overwhelming search of material well-being, particularly of the dominant groups who have the facilities to expand and to manipulate favourable opportunities.
It is even believed that over-all enrichment of humanity will provide to everyone enough to be materially secure and will automatically pave way for social cohesion and even for the needed breath of liberty. A dream of this possible scenario for humanity might drug us into a world-wide acceptance of economic barbarism. And it is here that the Religions and Spiritual Systems which have constantly striven to awaken humanity to what they believe to be ideal pursuits for highest fulfillment may have a great duty and opportunity for their resurgence and renewed relevance. But will this relevance and will this resurgence have the needed effect?
Religions have long programmes and in fulfillment of these programmes, there have been acute problems of conflict among themselves. If we examine carefully, we shall find that these conflicts rest ultimately on the claim to the superior truths which cannot be proved wholly on rational basis and in the last resort, it has to be sustained on the authority of revelation. But if each religion insists on the authority of its own revelation, how can the conflict be resolved? Religions have to come up with some satisfactory answer. Thinkers like Hick and Cottingham have in recent decades endeavoured to answer this question. According to Hick, the truth-claim of religions needs to be subordinated to a wider realization and that the truth of religion or spirituality is inexpressible, and therefore cannot be brought into the field of debate where articulate formulation is indispensable. In that light, adherent of different religions need not quarrel and acceptance of the available formulations need not be insisted upon, but can be left to the cultural climate to which one is familiar for his acceptance of a given formulation, realizing, however, that basically the truth of religion or spiritual experience is fundamentally ineffable.
But this solution is hardly likely to satisfy the adherents of different religions. The issue is much more fundamental. Even the thinker like Cottingham, in his recent work “The Spiritual Dimension” has admitted the inadequacy of this solution and tried to find some better solution. He admits that salvation of the human soul cannot and need not be tied up with a banner of a religion on which it flies out in its return to its ultimate destined place and there is no alternative to the development of a sense of toleration among all religions and that does not need to have rivalry among religions in their campaigns of conversion. But even then, he admits that religions do claim superiority of the truths that they proclaim, but since their claims cannot be examined, as they are all based on revelations, each one claims finality to its own respective revelations. As a result, some other criteria have to be found. The solution that he suggests is to judge the validity of a given revelation in terms of its power to infuse in the adherents to cultivate higher and higher degrees of morality culminating to the ideal morality proposed by Aristotle, who defined virtue a Mean between excess of aggrandizement, on the one hand, and excess of humility, on the other. He also suggests another criterion. Which religious doctrines guide the adherents better and better in arriving at highest possible integration? And by integration, he means the kind of integration that Jung and others have advocated, so that the collective subconscious and the conscious can attain integration and balance by the discovery of a deeper integrating center in the human personality.
It will be evident that neither the criteria of moral excellence nor of integration will able to resolve the problem. Each religion claims to provide the best possible ethical inspiration, and each religion, if pressed, will suggest that its own method of integration is the best method.
This is, of course, a vast subject and there has to be a long debate among religions, and attempts have to be made to break the impasse.
Can religions agree to exclude exclusivism? This is the central question of religions and societies in the 21st Century. Admittedly, the issue is perhaps the hardest among all the issues amongst all the issues of the contemporary world. But the conditions of the contemporary world demand from religions a new critical research, a new critique of Reason and Revelation and a more comprehensive and a more enriching understanding and more ennobling and more integral spiritual experience.
At one time, it was believed that revelations were special gifts of Prophets and Founders or Religion and that therefore they could not be subjected to any scrutiny. At the same time, recent accounts of discoveries of scientists have underlined that those discoveries were visitations of revelations or intuitions, and that they could be tested in due course of time. Also; in recent times there is increasing acknowledgement of yoga, which lays down methods of cultivating powers of revelation, inspiration and intuition and the resulting knowledge can be tested on the anvil of repetition of the same method and same results. Thus, as we begin the 21st Century, the promise of yoga as scientific method of the knowledge by means of supra-rational faculties opens out the possibilities of a new turning point in the climate of the global world. Already, in the statements of the advance yogins of the world, there is a possibility and actuality of harmony among the revelations of Christ, Krishna and Buddha, and they have found no difficulty in embracing them and many others who have left in the human heritage the messages of their revelations. It is contended that God transcends religion and has the capacity to communicate with the human soul irrespective of the dogmas, rituals, ceremonies and prescriptions of religions.Is it not possible to be like God Himself or to dwell in that consciousness in which all conflicts are transcended? Has not Jesus bidden us to be as perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect?. The great mystic, Ekhart defined God as the denial of denials, and cannot the denial of denials be explored as a cure of conflict of religions? Let us explore this route, as it appears to lead us to the amity that we are all seeking so ardently.