Let me share a thought experiment. This experiment involves current affairs and the state of things to come. Mot a cheery portrait but light awaits at the end of the tunnel.
In Christian evangelical and charismatic circles, there is a widely shared meme and speculation about the imminent "one world religion" coupled with "one world government," both prophesied to take over the life of our world. Many believe that this one world religion involves the amalgamation of the plurality of world faiths (including perhaps myriad iterations of new age spirituality) on the planet, with the interfaith and ecumenical movement as precursor to this imagined religious reality. I think this is complete hogwash.
Wait no longer. The one world religion is already here. It has been here for a while now. Its name is global capitalism. Moneytheism has long displaced monotheism. The cathedrals and temples of the world are our shopping malls, stock markets, investment corporations, and even halls of government. The one world government bounded together by a common ideology with all its operational apparatus is already here. No, not the United Nations but the global neoliberal capitalist political economy.
The latest iterations of this world religion and world government is confluenced in the borderless paradigm of "dataism" (Yuval Noah Harari). Data is the new coal and the new gold. Buttressing and supporting this one world religion are not only the governments of the world (even seemingly communist ones) but all the major world religions including new age paraphernalia and arguably also variants of political Islamism (of the global jihadist kind). On the surface, there seems to be a religious ideological fanaticism seeking universalization, a motive not absent or trivial. Yet, dig deeper and perhaps we see that the hidden forces driving global Islamism is money, power, and all that these can give in prosaic pleasure. Look at how religious institutions function. Look at the monetary imperative and the power imperative of institutionalized religion. Look at the concealed motivations of the secret heart. And tell me that you see light. No. There is much darkness.
In the face of this looming catastrophe that millennialists call the Tribulation—seven years of unprecedented affliction and chaos both natural and manufactured unleashed upon the world by the "wrath of satan" yet allowed by God whose sovereign grace and control can never be shaken—I see humanity ill-prepared for the unimaginably dark days to come, a foretaste of which is already here in minutiae. Pause the thought experiment here.
If this scenario I've painted is true, what will you do about it? Are you ready to face the Tribulation?
Are our leaders in all segments of society ready to meet this looming catastrophe or are we pussy-footing around the deck and shifting deck chairs on the Titanic?
For many decades, I've found solace and hope in the Asian spiritualities of Buddhism and Tantra. Surveying the range of Asian spiritual worldviews, I do not see any real and lasting hope for the future of the world or humanity. Yes, there are many worthwhile spiritual practices and meditations: jhana, aruppa, vipassana, satipatthana, anussati and brahma vihara, chan/zen, buddha-name recitation, mantra and yoga, lamrim, lower tantras, highest yoga tantra, mahamudra, dzogchen. I've diligently and seriously done them all. There are many principles of moral living and precepts that guide mental, verbal, and physical conduct: the five precepts, ten precepts, over 200 vinaya and pratimoksa vows for monastics, 18 root vow and 46 auxilliary vows of a bodhisattva, over 100 tantric vows and so on. I've vigilantly kept most of them at different times in my life.
At most, certain forms of Buddhism and Tantra offer socially-engaged perspectives and principles for seeking transformation of our social order towards peace and altruism. Social and political renaissance is not outside the scope of spirituality. A contemporary form of Tantra propounded by my teacher P. R. Sarkar even has a theory of history and social change to boot. But the punchline is this: we are the ones to enact and actualize it all; for we are the ones we are waiting for. Through our moral cultivation, meditative attainments, and spiritually-inspired social action, we change our inner and outer worlds into some form of utopia. Confucianism in its various iterations would have a pragmatic and social slant to ethical formation, but the ultimate impetus for change is still the individual junzi or sage or a bunch of them working together. That said, many Asian perspectives (as in traditional Buddhism) do not even have a concept of social and political change, or an applicable theory of history. The telos (final goal) in early Buddhism is total and irreversible exit from history, both personal and social, in the form of nirvana. Mystical Daoists would call it union of heaven and man or oneness in the Dao.
None of these paradigms offer an eschatological and material hope. All are centred on individual and collective efforts of humanity, an ideal that places an impossible burden on the shoulders of fragile, weak, and fallen human beings who can never pull this off in the end. Ultimately, they advocate a form of moral and spiritual meritocracy that relies too heavily on human will and endeavour but that can never deliver what is aspirationally promised. Even so, these paradigms do serve a key purpose: they can, if we let them, bring us to the end of ourselves. We come to the cessation of all our self-striving at the foot of the cross, where Christ meets us on all our roads.
Seven years ago, I came to a definitive end to my self at that old rugged cross splattered with the pure blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus of Nazareth. He was God the Son who became flesh for me, for us, for all of creation. He who was divine by nature became human by grace, so that now we who are human by nature can participate in His divine nature by grace. He not only saved me from the grave literally and spiritually, but He also gave me new life in Himself. I died that day with Him on the cross. And I was raised with Him on the third day, into a resurrected life that shared in His sufferings even as I carried my cross every day, not by my own strength but by His gracious might. With Christ comes a new vision for the end of days: God's protection in the Tribulation; the imprisonment of satan; a new hope of Christ's kingdom to come; and the final demolition of satan at the end of Christ's millennial rule. Beyond that comes the new creation—a new heaven and new earth beyond anything we can conceive, where God Himself is the Light of the new city in which we who are His people from every nation and tribe all dwell. Heaven comes down to earth in a transfigured new reality that we cannot even begin to imagine. Oh, what joy and sweetness it will be!
The one world religion we speculate about is already here: predatory global capitalism. Many may see it as a friend and a help. It is anything but. We are sacrificing ourselves and our children at the altar of mammon, the god of this world, and we do not even know it or recognize the perils we are in. We work like hell to the point of burnout in all industries, and like tissue paper that has served its purpose, we get thrown away as waste on the roadside. Our political and societal masters call it "retirement." Politicians continue to wallow in their thought bubbles as creation burns and groans in pain. History continues to march towards its climactic end, with dataism continuing to morph into incredible and formidable beasts, merging with genomic science, artificial intelligence, cybernetics, and biotechnology over which we have no control (despite our misplaced confidence to the contrary).
Tribulation is near. So is the end of the end times. Christ is coming soon. Are we ready to receive Him and usher in Christ's kingdom? I pray and hope so, even as I continue to work in my mission from God as that day draws near. Maranatha! Come, Lord!