From non-religious families to ISIS

It turns out that 80% of the French citizens who joined ISIS come from non-religious families.  These converts to Islam and jihadism describe it in terms of religious liberation, a putting away of meaningless materialism to find personal meaning and transcendent purpose.  Can it be that human beings have an innate need for transcendence, and that suppressing and denying the religious impulse causes it to break out in extreme, violent, and twisted forms?

Ross Douthat discusses the phenomenon in the New York Times. [Read more…]

The three types of secularism

I stumbled upon this article from seven years ago–another one by the great sociologist of religion Peter Berger.  He distinguishes between three kinds of secularism:  one that separates church and state but is not anti-religous; one that has an animus against public religion but is fine with privatized faith; and one that actively tries to suppress all religion. [Read more…]

From “God is dead” to “too many gods”

Peter Berger, a Lutheran in the ELCA, is an important sociologist of religion.  Back in the 1970s, he was one of the scholars who advocated the “secularization” thesis, that as societies grew more modern, they grew less religious.  But now he says that he was wrong.  Today, as societies in Asia, Latin America, and Africa are modernizing, they are becoming MORE religious.  Berger says that what modernity brings is not secularism but religious pluralism.  He says that what we face today is not “God is dead,” but “too many gods.” [Read more…]

Why do so few Europeans go to church?

The distinguished sociologist of religion Peter Berger once promoted “the secularization thesis,” arguing that as societies become more modern, they become less religious.  But he has since said that thesis has been falsified, that the world is getting more religious than ever (and that modernity actually has contributed to the growth of religion).  The more interesting question, he says now, is why Europe has resisted that trend.

I am wondering now, though, after my speaking tour of Scandinavia, if Europe is as secular as it appears.

Nearly 80% of the population of Denmark belongs to the state church.  This requires paying a church tax of from .4% to 1.5% of one’s income, on top of an already crushing tax burden.  These members have been baptized and confirmed and they will be married and buried in the church, but only 3% of them go to church on any given Sunday.

Here are further statistics about the religious climate in Denmark:  According to a 2010 poll, 24% are atheists; 47% believe more vaguely in “some sort of spirit or life force”; and 28% believe in God.  Another poll found that 25% of Danes believe Jesus is the son of God and 18% believe He is the savior of the world.

So, yes, Denmark is a very secular country, with lots of non-believers (about a fourth) and liberal believers (about a half), but another fourth appears to confess Christ.  Perhaps a fifth are Gospel-believing Christians.  That’s actually not bad for a supposedly secular country.

But let’s put the statistics together.  If 80% of the country belong to the Church of Denmark, that must include lots of people who do not particularly believe in Christ, or even God.  And if only 3% of the population attends church regularly, that means that lots of Christians are not attending church either. [Read more…]

Being Christian without believing in God

In Judaism, it’s fairly common to hear, “I’m an atheist, but I’m culturally Jewish.”  So why can’t a person be an atheist but culturally Christian?

It turns out that some people like going to church–singing hymns, performing rituals, being part of a community, getting morally inspired–but they have trouble with the God part.  An op-ed by Alana Massey calls for churches to make a space for unbelievers who nevertheless want to be “cultural Christians.” [Read more…]

How (Not) to be Secular

I was one of the many judges of the  Christianity Today Book Awards, charged with picking the top two books on Christianity & culture.  I was glad to see that my top two were the magazine’s top two.  I thought I would post my reviews.  The winner was James K. A. Smith’s  How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.  Read what I had to say about it after the jump. [Read more…]


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