Not the past, the future or today, but what direction is religion going in.
Christianity was, as we all know, first established in the Roman empire, in the days when that empire was just past its peak. An empire that most people today would consider extremely violent, repressive and even fascist. And there is little doubt, that the new religion became popular, because it was, to a small degree, a moderating and civilizing influence. Even despite the fact that early Christianity indulged in several acts of genocide, against other factions and those it considered heretics, from the very outset. But in the violent and fearful world of a violent empire, now in decline, they were far from alone in that.
However with the fall of the western empire and the onset of the dark ages, politically, things got even worse. Very soon the best secular government, if any, that most people could expect to live under was that of, violent and morally depraved warlords. Making the stable if cruel and autocratic days of the empire seem like a golden dream. So that the church, by nature like most religions ultra conservative, began by carrying forward the traces of its early liberal and humane ideals, and soon became the alternative voice of reason, the small twinkling light in the darkness. Coming over time to be a deeply civilizing influence, valued for its humanity and moral guidance. Which often made it, literally, a place of safety, for the vulnerable and those with liberal ideas and values. Growing in strength as it attracted all the little learning and the ideology then available, and with that the remaining people of conscience, and the power and wealth that came with them.
By the Middle Ages, life had become formalized, with secular government in the hands of absolute monarchs and their supporters, still glorifying violence, and the harsh division of wealth and power by a rigid hierarchy of military might, with little care for the unfortunates at the bottom. While the church still provided the only alternate voice, requesting some human rights and some rule of law. The need for which alternative, vastly increased its power and wealth, even more.
Until eventually however, the inevitable happened, the two great powers of church and secular autocratic state had to achieve a compromise. Especially given that they were increasingly led by the same people, as the state increasingly wanted its wealth and power established on firmer foundations than the dice rolls of war. While the church itself grew in wealth, until it became a prize worth winning for the sons of the aristocracy. There followed therefore an ever deepening marriage between church and state, gradually eroding its willingness to question the established government, but thereby weakening its original power base, among those looking for an alternative voice.
Which of course only made things worse. Not only by dividing it from the leading moral trends, but in part by empowering those many factions within the secular state, who were willing to listen to the demands for reform, the rule of law, and the early primitive beginnings of ideas of human rights. Quite simply, many in the state saw that there was good and profitable business to be done, with wealth and power for those who were willing to be the protectors of the people and their rights, so they jumped at the chance. From which the idea of the modern state, as an institution existing or the benefit of the people gradually grew.
That process has of course continued to this day, so much so that, now in the twenty first century, it is hard to use a term like 'human rights' without it being automatically thought that you are making statements of a political nature. While government for the people, is seen not merely as a national commitment, but often as an international political issue as well.
Which leaves the church where exactly ? Since it has lost its role as the main promoter of human rights and humane values on the international and national stages, to the increasing power of secular government, the growth of democracy, and an increasingly international and multicultural world growing towards a moral consensus of what constitutes human values and rights. Where is the church to find a role in the market place of ideas, to win over hearts and minds to keep a share of wealth and power ? Especially as religion has always been at its most powerful when offering an alternate voice, what alternative can you find, when your opponents have taken the moral high ground ?
Fortunately the churches and perhaps all the religions of the world, had a bit of luck in the twentieth century. Because the far right, especially the extreme far right, was also loosing power to those same secular international forces. So that the extreme right was forced in the last century, to make several desperate and violent bids for power. Which as we all know, with a few exceptions it for the most part lost.
Leaving the extreme right also out in the cold, without much of a voice or seemingly any moral, or serious democratic authority. While religion was always the alternate voice to the state, and an institution with authority and organization, looking for a message to spread, and an audience to spread it to. Not only that, but the far right had got itself a bad name, 'Fascism', which left it in desperate need of a rebranding, and a new public image. ( You see of course, where things are going now.)
The failing which we call religion, is not believing in churches and temples, they are just buildings, but in awarding authority to things, like gods, buildings, tradition and words, which do nothing to earn that authority. And fake unearned authority, is just the thing which every criminal, with bad ideas to pedal wants more than anything. People who have good ideas to present, generally will try to use reason and evidence to sell them, since they are usually convinced themselves by reason and evidence. But if you want to tell the world that it is perfectly moral, even good, to beat your wife with a stick until she can't stand. For that you need to get yourself some really good fake authority.
And for that you can't beat religion.
Of course in some places religions like Islam never faced the reformation, so that truly medieval values can still find a direct voice against the growing power of the modern secular and international moral consensus. Fueled in many cases by real anti-western grievances, often exasperated more, by the real frustration engendered by medieval style governments, who have no use for human rights. But the end result is the same, since it is still the ultra conservative right which is left in partnership with the promoters of god.
It may be of course, that religion has gone as far now as it can, to becoming the new face of fascism. Predicting the future is a fools errand, like trying to bottle rainbows. But I honestly think that it still has a long way to go yet. And there certainly does not seem to be any other direction for organized religion, especially theist religion to go. If you are wanting to find clear ground by offering an alternate voice, then there really is only one place to go if the mainstream is humane.