On the evolution of religion

Consider the following sayings from two prophets of different religions:

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

An honest merchant has a guaranteed place in paradise.

Now if you had to predict, which religion would you suspect would be more compatible with markets and modernity?

The first quote, of course, is from Jesus the second is a saying attributed to Muhammad.

My point is not to argue that Christianity or Islam are either more or less compatible with capitalism or liberal democracy.  In my view all religions of reasonable age and numbers contain traditions and teachings compatible with modernity and all religions of reasonable age and numbers contain traditions and teachings incompatible with modernity.  Call it the completeness theorem.

It’s how religions adapt and evolve to modernity that is important.  Religions are constantly changing, emphasizing certain features, downplaying others, creating new interpretations.  Given enough time, I believe that any religion will evolve towards compatability with modernity because it’s the memes that combine modernity and religion which will survive and prosper. 

The problem is that Christianity has had hundreds of years to adapt itself to modernity while Islam has had modernity thrust upon it.

Fish don’t walk overnight and neither do religions.  Nevertheless there are Islamic leaders who, under the pressure of current events, see the direction in which Islam must move and who are actively encouraging evolution in that direction.  Dan Drezner, for example, points to this article on developments in Morocco:

42-year-old King Mohammed VI has discovered religion as a means of
modernizing his society — and progress through piety seems to be the
order of the day. By granting new rights to women and strengthening
civil liberties, the ruler of this country of 30 million on Africa’s
northern edge, which is 99 percent Muslim, plans to democratize Morocco
through a tolerant interpretation of the Koran.

350-year-old dynasty, the world’s oldest next to the Japanese imperial
dynasty, claims to be directly descended from the prophet Mohammed. And
as "Amir al-Muminin," or leader of the faithful, the country’s ruler
enjoys absolute authority.

The Conseil Supérieur des Oulémas, or
council of religious scholars, which the king installed a year and a
half ago, has been issuing fatwas on the most pressing questions of the
21st century — and, surprisingly, they’ve been well-received by both
young people and hardened Islamists. If the king’s reform plan
succeeds, Morocco could become a model of democratic Islam.

Addendum: For more on Islam, markets and democracy see the Minaret of Freedom Institute.

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