One of Britain's most notable physical scientists, Martin Rees, stated in his recent book, Our Final Hour, that the very survival of the human race is dependent on actions we take in the current century. Rees, Our Final Hour (New York: Basic Books, 2003). Although it is not meant to scare people, the book is a call to wake up. Weapons of mass destruction, whether they are nuclear, biological, or chemical; the risk of increasing environmental degradation; or the unknown effects of scientific experimentation, of dramatic climate shifts, and so on are among these dangers.
What is clear to many thinkers is that humanity has reached a crossroads. Both the physical and mental culture in which we live continue to change rapidly, and many individuals don't know how to deal with that change. Sociologists say that people must learn to love more broadly, to take all of the human race into consideration when they make national or even individual decisions. Traditionally, the Church, (by which I mean all the individual churches that together constitute one of the institutional "legs" of Western culture) has given humanity a footing from which to deal with life's challenges—both on an individual level and as part of the larger community. But what happens when religious institutions worldwide don't respond to changing needs in society?
Although it's not a perfect analogy, the early days of the Protestant Reformation offer some guidance. There were valid theological reasons behind Martin Luther's part of the Reformation. His insight into the importance of the Bible and his understanding that salvation can't be "bought," but must come through the grace of God, transformed many people's lives. The Reformation was also helped along in both Germany and England by the development of regional and national leaders who felt that they had legitimate power in both religious and temporal affairs. It was also immeasurably aided by the arrival of the printing press, which made the Bible accessible to ordinary people, not just the nobility and the clergy.