In a way the critics of religion are right: the category of religion is somehow anomalous in the modern era. But the reformation clearly addressed this issue and created what antiquity did not quite generate: a ‘religious’ mode in civil society that was a participant in a non-theocratic culture of multiplicity. Protestantism thrived in that context, but now seems to be trying to recreate itself one more time to encounter the complexities of scientific commentary on religion. But there science has virtually abdicated the task, or else foundered in transient brands of scientism that can’t do justice to the issues of religion. But now the category of ‘modern’ religion is being attacked as anti-modern or anti-secular in a misunderstanding of what modernity is. The real problem is the failure so far of science to come to grips with so-called ‘spiritual’ categories. There is a simple way to proceed: science must understand consciousness after the fashion of ‘buddhism’ and cosmology after the fashion of monotheism, but in a new rendering without primitive god concepts. This era was inaugurated by figures such as Kant who saw better than the fundamentalists of scientism that cosmological questions had a core of uncertainty and that these would replace or represent the old ‘god’ questions. The revolutionary implications of Kantian philosophy remain to be worked out, although a streamlined version in Schopenhauer might give us a glimpse of the (post-)spirituality of the future. But the issues of consciousness and cosmology are the futuristic standins for the legacies of ‘buddhism’ and ‘monotheism’.
The consciousness of man is highly elusive and its culture has been repeatedly recycled with Jain/Buddhist movements since the Neolithic. Their global future remains to be seen.
Religion can remorph over world history and we see in modernity in the wake of the French Revolution, the emergence of a substitute for religion in the attempts of socialist and communist movements to refound society beyond capitalism. These are not religions, but they do shows the way the category of ‘religion’ mutates over world history to respond to the challenges of social evolution.