Modern religion

Secularists have long hoped that modernization would work against religion, or at least the more mindless varieties of religion. As we did better in fulfilling human needs, there would be less that religious belief would compensate for. In modern societies with multiple overlapping social roles and fragmented identities, religions as complete ways of life would seem less compelling. Scientific explanations would substitute for invocations of supernatural forces.

It isn’t happening, with the exception of Western Europe. People are certainly becoming religious in different ways — modernization is transforming religion — but in the main, not in a liberal, secular direction. In Islam and Christianity (and I supect other major traditions as well), there is a trend toward individualism and therapeutic religion. But this typically comes together with naive fundamentalism. The individual faith-experience and the feeling of being born again takes precedence. And this works against the intellectual, high-culture traditions sustained within religions as well as against secularization of belief. Modernization often replaces traditional religiosity, where religion is just an unquestioned part of social reality, with fundamentalisms that insist on making commitments of faith explicit. But this development does not favor intellectual elites and their institutions. Right-wing religious populisms attract large constituencies.

We are not necessarily moving toward a world where rationality has a more prominent role. Faith-based and ideological commitments very often seem to have the upper hand. I don’t know if this is so bad for individual nonbelievers — we’re used to life as a small minority. And interestingly, even fundamentalists these days invariably feel like a persecuted minority, as a small group of true believers afloat in a hostile overall culture that is at best indifferent to their deeply held moral convictions. To a certain extent, that perception is accurate — fundamentalisms cannot plausibly hope to control much more than a narrowly religious sphere of life these days. But still, this is a sort of cultural environment that is not good for institutions, such as science, that secularists have typically cared about.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Ian

    fundamentalisms cannot plausibly hope to control much more than a narrowly religious sphere of life these days.

    Is this a statement or a wish? Because in the United States, as well as in many Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries, fundamentalisms can certainly hope to control huge aspects of life (if indeed they do not already)..

  • Immo Vitae

    As someone who lives in the South, I think the number of religious adherents has increased… primarily because the lifestyle changes to become a Christian / etc aren’t as significant as they were in the past.

    These days, you can join some mega-church, go for your weekly Sunday spiritual fix and networking, then live a completely secular lifestyle the rest of the week.

    Churches operate as businesses with marketing departments. A Sunday service is a rock concert / general moralist message.

  • The Rendezvous

    I don’t think you have seen the rise of Islam as a religion above all religions as what is happening in the world now.

    9/11 was created to show Islam to the west so that it penetrates all spheres of their life.Otherwise Islam was growing very slowly before 9/11 especially in the western countries.

    Now the situation is different.Islam has increased millions of converts from Latin America, The North America/canada, Europe and as far as Australia and New Zealand.

    I think partly because of “Genius flow of it’s spiritual teachings”..that sorts all contradictions in the former religions of the world.

  • Jennifer

    I have to agree with immo vitae and (just a bit) with thh rendezvous. Islam is a stupid, stupid religion with its own contradictions and b.s. so I am not sure how it sorts out all the contradictions in the religions of the world.
    But as for megachurches…in my experience I know more about the Bible than most of the Christians I meet. I used to live in the same town as Rick Warren and Saddleback Community Church and ALL the parents on my sons’ soccer and baseball teams attended that ONE church. Yet whenever they began to proselytize the lonely pagan in the group, it always turned out that I could quote more verses, reference more books and chapters, and quote from more apologists than any of them. I think THAT explains a lot of the popularity…ignorance.

  • George Shollenberger

    Secularism and atheism are coming to an end because God has recently been proven scientifically. (See my new book, The First Scientific Proof of God and my blog at

    The proof also unifies Science and Religion. The new and highest concepts of thought are God, life, and life’s infrastructure.

  • Yogi ‘s World and Music


    Can you print the scientific proof so it can be parsed through by scientists and educated laymen alike, somewhere on the web.

    Scientific proof includes formal priciples of logic and/or pure mathematics, or acceptable physical proof (based on accepted physics, such as the standard model, for example).

    No “x” factor wildcards – no “fields of pure potnetiality”, or “spiritual DNA” or other such nonsense.

    You are claiming scientifc proof, and you yourself are an engineer. Let’s see it freely accessible on the web. I am sure Stephen Hawking and other prominent physicists would love to parse through your proof, and many mathematicians and ligicians would love to analyze the logic and correctness of the calculations.

    If this is earth-shaking, at least a few of Earth’s greatest physicists should be able to independently verify your proof.

    Thank you.

  • beepbeepitsme

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.” Steven Weinberg

  • Pingback: cat 4 brother()

  • Pingback: blue ofica()

  • Pingback: water ionizer comparisons()