Will Monism eliminate the idea of the Devil in order to make God the One and All? Or will it abolish both God and the Devil, to leave room only for a world of matter in motion? Will the future of mankind be, as M. Guyau prophesies, a period in which religion will disappear and give way to irreligion? HOD, P2, Paul Carus
It is easy to imagine how someone today could be asking the same questions, but Carus was writing back 1900 C.E., in a time which is considered to be the "Golden Age of Freethought." By then, Bible and comparative religion studies had rendered Christianity to be of questionable veracity, the theory of evolution had presented a conceptually feasible origin of our species, and astronomy was revealing our true place in the universe. While most of the public was still religious, there was a buzz, a growing excitement among those bold enough to ponder the ramifications of this relatively new information, and they figured that the world was on the cusp of developing a new paradigm; but exactly what that would be was still unknown.
Atheism is gaining momentum. Many decades ago, atheists were largely "unnatural," because faith was still so ubiquitous among the population that it took individual reasoning to overcome the mass cultural perspective of religion. Now, atheism is a sizable enough minority that there are many atheists who were brought up without the trappings of faith, or who found that Christianity simply did not "work" for them and so they have dropped it for what seemed to be another viable option: no faith at all.
Others who are disenfranchised with divine duality delve into different formats of spirituality. Some define their own paths. Some have become enchanted with Eastern-influenced versions Monism; either that there is but one God (who is more of the deist persuasion) or, more usually, that God is in everything and/or is everything.
Today, within some mainstream denominations of Christianity, while God persists, Satan has become a figurative or metaphorical character representing our reprobate desires within (as is possibly suggested in Peter's episode of rejecting Jesus' plans in Matthew 16:22-23 and Mark 8:32-33). In some denominations, while Heaven persists, Hell is no longer a physical place with perpetually burning fires of torture, but has morphed into either a place of eternal separation from God or a state of annihilation. O divine wrath, where is thy sting? (Matthew 3:7-10, Luke 3:7-9)
Of course, any time traditional ideas are challenged, there will be a faction which digs in, conservatively clinging to the past, willfully oblivious of the evidence against them. We see this in the resurgence of Christian Fundamentalism. I wager that we still have about a decade, maybe even two, before Fundy-lunacy reaches its peak and begins its painfully slow decline. The shift will come primarily from the younger generations, who will be less willing to take such hard line stances against reality, or will be lured by more-tolerant, more-metaphorical denominations of the faith, or by the charismatic mega-churches with better religi-tainment, if they remain "Christian" at all.
Restriction of knowledge and cultural isolation are the strongest forces to abate the inclination toward Christian apostasy. These strategies are increasingly difficult to execute in our modern world. That is why I predict that within three decades, Christian Fundamentalism in the United States will become highly regional; down to specific smaller cities and towns, like Decatur, Alabama, as well as certain rural swaths, like the Appalachian Mountains.
I'll go into some of Carus' answers to those questions next time...