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32879Destroying the Myth of Secularism

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  • Siobhan
    Feb 14, 2005
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      Secularism: indifference to of exclusion of religion. What's the best
      label, the best terminology? And furthermore, what does it matter is
      we don't overcome our irascible individualism and join in numbers?
      And even furthermore, will it make any difference? Hell yes, it's a
      philosophical war. The one thing that irritates me more than anything
      in this war is the arrogance of god-believers to assume we haven't
      been where they are or haven't ever considered the possibilities.
      It's like trying to explain parenthood to a child or another adult.
      Parents and adults have been children, but children haven't yet been
      adult or parents; and they won't understand until they are. Then on
      the other hand, the torture-reward ratio might be the same. Altered
      states of consciousness are not evidence of the gods, but it's a
      guarantee that you have to alter your alterity to accept one. The
      chasm between an imaginary creator and a human creation render the
      possibility infinitely impossible. There may be as great a gulf
      between individual human beings, but at least we can talk with one
      another. We must educate ourselves to their tactics . . Siobhan

      Kicking the Secularist Habit
      by David Brooks - The Atlantic Monthly, February 2003

      A six-step program

      Like a lot of people these days, I'm a recovering secularist. Until
      September 11 I accepted the notion that as the world becomes richer
      and better educated, it becomes less religious. Extrapolating from a
      tiny and unrepresentative sample of humanity (in Western Europe and
      parts of North America), this theory holds that as history moves
      forward, science displaces dogma and reason replaces unthinking
      obedience. A region that has not yet had a reformation and an
      enlightenment, such as the Arab world, sooner or later will.

      It's now clear that the secularization theory is untrue. The human
      race does not necessarily get less religious as it grows richer and
      better educated. We are living through one of the great periods of
      scientific progress and the creation of wealth. At the same time, we
      are in the midst of a religious boom.

      Islam is surging. Orthodox Judaism is growing among young people, and
      Israel has gotten more religious as it has become more affluent. The
      growth of Christianity surpasses that of all other faiths. In 1942
      this magazine published an essay called "Will the Christian Church
      Survive?" Sixty years later there are two billion Christians in the
      world; by 2050, according to some estimates, there will be three
      billion. As Philip Jenkins, a Distinguished Professor of History and
      Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, has observed,
      perhaps the most successful social movement of our age is
      Pentecostalism (see "The Next Christianity," October Atlantic).
      Having gotten its start in Los Angeles about a century ago, it now
      embraces 400 million people—a number that, according to Jenkins,
      could reach a billion or more by the half-century mark.

      Moreover, it is the denominations that refuse to adapt to secularism
      that are growing the fastest, while those that try to be "modern"
      and "relevant" are withering. Ecstatic forms of Christianity
      and "anti-modern" Islam are thriving. The Christian population in
      Africa, which was about 10 million in 1900 and is currently about 360
      million, is expected to grow to 633 million by 2025, with
      conservative, evangelical, and syncretistic groups dominating. In
      Africa churches are becoming more influential than many nations, with
      both good and bad effects.

      In the "Left Behind" novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins things
      get very bad—the planet is invaded by "200 million demonic horsemen,"
      for example, and that's before Armageddon and the Last Judgment. By
      Michael Joseph Gross The third step is getting angry. I now get
      extremely annoyed by the secular fundamentalists who are content to
      remain smugly ignorant of enormous shifts occurring all around them.

      They haven't learned anything about religion, at home or abroad. They
      don't know who Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are, even though those
      co-authors have sold 42 million copies of their books. They still
      don't know what makes a Pentecostal a Pentecostal (you could walk
      through an American newsroom and ask that question, and the only
      people who might be able to answer would be the secretaries and the
      janitorial staff). They still don't know about Michel Aflaq, the
      mystical Arab nationalist who served as a guru to Saddam Hussein. A
      great Niagara of religious fervor is cascading down around them while
      they stand obtuse and dry in the little cave of their own
      parochialism—and many of them are journalists and policy analysts,
      who are paid to keep up with these things.

      The fourth step toward recovery is to resist the impulse to find a
      materialistic explanation for everything. During the centuries when
      secularism seemed the wave of the future, Western intellectuals
      developed social-science models of extraordinary persuasiveness. Marx
      explained history through class struggle, other economists explained
      it through profit maximization. Professors of international affairs
      used conflict-of-interest doctrines and game theory to predict the
      dynamics between nation-states.

      All these models are seductive and partly true. This country has
      built powerful institutions, such as the State Department and the
      CIA, that use them to try to develop sound policies. But none of the
      models can adequately account for religious ideas, impulses, and
      actions, because religious fervor can't be quantified and
      standardized. Religious motivations can't be explained by cost-
      benefit analysis.

      Over the past twenty years domestic-policy analysts have thought hard
      about the roles that religion and character play in public life. Our
      foreign-policy elites are at least two decades behind. They go for
      months ignoring the force of religion; then, when confronted with
      something inescapably religious, such as the Iranian revolution or
      the Taliban, they begin talking of religious zealotry and fanaticism,
      which suddenly explains everything. After a few days of shaking their
      heads over the fanatics, they revert to their usual secular analyses.
      We do not yet have, and sorely need, a mode of analysis that attempts
      to merge the spiritual and the material.

      The recovering secularist has to resist the temptation to treat
      religion as a mere conduit for thwarted economic impulses. For
      example, we often say that young Arab men who have no decent
      prospects turn to radical Islam. There's obviously some truth to this
      observation. But it's not the whole story: neither Mohammed Atta nor
      Osama bin Laden, for example, was poor or oppressed. And although
      it's possible to construct theories that explain their radicalism as
      the result of alienation or some other secular factor, it makes more
      sense to acknowledge that faith is its own force, independent of and
      perhaps greater than economic resentment.

      Human beings yearn for righteous rule, for a just world or a world
      that reflects God's will—in many cases at least as strongly as they
      yearn for money or success. Thinking about that yearning means moving
      away from scientific analysis and into the realm of moral judgment.
      The crucial question is not What incentives does this yearning
      respond to? but Do individuals pursue a moral vision of righteous
      rule? And do they do so in virtuous ways, or are they, like Saddam
      Hussein and Osama bin Laden, evil in their vision and methods?

      Fifth, the recovering secularist must acknowledge that he has been
      too easy on religion. Because he assumed that it was playing a
      diminishing role in public affairs, he patronized it. He
      condescendingly decided not to judge other creeds. They are all valid
      ways of approaching God, he told himself, and ultimately they fuse
      into one. After all, why stir up trouble by judging another's
      beliefs? It's not polite. The better option, when confronted by some
      nasty practice performed in the name of religion, is simply to avert
      one's eyes. Is Wahhabism a vicious sect that perverts Islam? Don't
      talk about it.

      But in a world in which religion plays an ever larger role, this
      approach is no longer acceptable. One has to try to separate right
      from wrong. The problem is that once we start doing that, it's hard
      to say where we will end up. Consider Pim Fortuyn, a left-leaning
      Dutch politician and gay-rights advocate who criticized Muslim
      immigrants for their attitudes toward women and gays. When he was
      assassinated, last year, the press described him, on the basis of
      those criticisms, as a rightist in the manner of Jean-Marie Le Pen,
      which was far from the truth. In the post-secular world today's
      categories of left and right will become inapt and obsolete.

      The sixth and final step for recovering secularists is to understand
      that this country was never very secular anyway. We Americans long
      for righteous rule as fervently as anybody else. We are inculcated
      with the notion that, in Abraham Lincoln's words, we represent
      the "last, best hope of earth." Many Americans have always sensed
      that we have a transcendent mission, although, fortunately, it is not
      a theological one. We instinctively feel, in ways that people from
      other places do not, that history is unfulfilled as long as there are
      nations in which people are not free. It is this instinctive belief
      that has led George W. Bush to respond so ambitiously to the events
      of September 11, and that has led most Americans to support him.

      Americans are as active as anyone else in the clash of eschatologies.
      Saddam Hussein sees history as ending with a united Arab nation
      globally dominant and with himself revered as the creator of a just
      world order. Osama bin Laden sees history as ending with the global
      imposition of sharia. Many Europeans see history as ending with the
      establishment of secular global institutions under which nationalism
      and religious passions will be quieted and nation-states will give
      way to international law and multilateral cooperation. Many Americans
      see history as ending in the triumph of freedom and
      constitutionalism, with religion not abandoned or suppressed but
      enriching democratic life.

      We are inescapably caught in a world of conflicting visions of
      historical destiny. This is not the same as saying that we are caught
      in a world of conflicting religions. But understanding this world
      means beating the secularist prejudices out of our minds every day.
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