Modernity & Religion

Modernity & Religion June 2, 2009

One Eternal Day quotes from The New Humanist, “the magazine for free thinkers,” interviewing John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, who wrote God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World:

Modernity doesn’t usher in secularisation, it actively promotes religious pluralism. They then train their sights on the equally popular notion that religion contaminates all those who subscribe to its bogus myths and stories. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Religion brings out both the best and worst in man, and secularists need to come to terms with the positive role religions have played in providing meaningful care and support for the oppressed as well as in the nurturing of aspirations for political freedom from Poland to Burma to El Salvador. Secularists should therefore recognise the corollary of these two facts. While it is perfectly appropriate to demand that religionists should accept the separation of church and mosque from state as a guarantee of freedom of conscience for all, secularists should play their part by accepting that religion is here to stay.

Consider the United States. It is both the most modern and one of the most religious countries in the world. It also provides solid evidence of how religions can provide a commendable array of social services in the absence of an effective welfare state. But it is also a perfect example of how religion can be kept separate from the state. If we could all become more like America, the book argues, we could all get along famously. ….

Wooldridge took up the question of what we can learn from American religious pluralism: “European secularists assume that the church is on the side of the ancien régime, of the establishment, that it’s against reason and democracy and liberal emancipation, and there is a lot of evidence for that in Europe. But in America the evangelical movement advanced alongside democracy and liberal enlightened values. They were not oppositional forces but comrades in arms. If you give people more freedom and more democracy they will talk about what they want to talk about and obviously for many people that is God. Religion itself has also been important for advancing democracy – it’s an example of the little platoons of civil society. Churches nurture certain civic values, that’s why the Chinese government, and all totalitarian governments, have been very suspicious of them and have tried to crush them.”

Micklethwait was quick to provide reinforcement. “In Eastern Europe religion has served as a battering ram for opening up the post-communist world because it serves as a focus for discontent. In Poland or Latin America even the Catholic Church has been a focus for dissent. The church can act as a barrier to democratisation, as the Catholic Church did for a long time in Europe, but it can also inspire democratisation.”


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