Thursday, June 11, 2015

[Opinion] The Secularization Theory is Flawed

The Case for Civility (2008)

1. Since the rise of modern science in Enlightenment Europe, the atheistic wing of Enlightenment believes that religious beliefs are superstitions that are not scientific.

With the advance of science, they believe religions will disappear.

But history has proven this Secularization Theory wrong; good or bad, the world is more religious than ever.

One of the symptoms of the culture wars in the US is the disappearance of a civil public square.

Os Guinness argues that in this age of globalization, the civil public square should be neither sacred (religious) nor naked (secular) but truly public.

One should not try to exclude the other.

Extending this, the Global Public Square should also be a "civil" public square.

In Chapter 1 of his book The Case for Civility (2008), Os Guinness gives 5 challenges that confront Americans for a civil public life.

The second challenge concerns the Secularization Theory.

2. (Guinness 2008, 11-13):

"Second, all members of the world’s educated classes must face the fact that the perspective that has dominated Western thinking about religion for more than a century -- namely, the secularization theory -- is seriously flawed and damaging in its influence. To be carefully distinguished from the philosophy of secularism (according to which there is no such thing as God, gods, or a supernatural), the theory of secularization purports to explain the fate and future of religion in the modern world."

"Claiming Europe’s experience as their pattern for the world, secularization theorists have argued that modernization necessarily entails the decline and disappearance of religion -- so that the more modern a nation becomes, the less religious it also becomes. But if Europe was therefore the vanguard, the United States was recognized as the one possible exception. Because of its unique historical circumstances, it bucked the trend and was both the most modern country in the world and the most religious of modern countries."

"This view of secularization, trumpeted by many as 'progressive, universal, and inevitable,' has been decisively called into question. We are living, however, between the lightning and the thunder, and public discussion, including much educated opinion, has yet to catch up with the better understanding. The last thirty years have witnessed a much-needed revision of secularization theory. Today, following the Iranian revolution of 1979 and an explosion of varied evidence from around the world, it is widely recognized that secularization theory is empirically wrong, and that all too often it has been philosophically biased as well. The theory simply does not do justice to the realities of human experience in real life in today’s world."

"For one thing, in the words of the eminent sociologist Peter L. Berger, the overwhelming evidence is that 'religion is as furiously alive as ever.' For another, the United States is no longer held to be the exception, though two important exceptions have taken its place. One is geographical -- the secularity of Europe, although closer study shows that Europe is not as secular as it was once thought to be. The other exception is social -- the secularity of the educated classes, a highly significant fact because of the dominance of the educated classes in key sectors of modern society where their tone-deafness about religion has wider consequences for others: above all, in the universities and colleges, in the press and media, and in the discussion of international relations."

"This crucial revision of the secularization theory is noteworthy, but more is at stake than academic accuracy. As we shall see, there are deeper practical issues that need to be considered. On the one hand, there is the question of justice and freedom for those whom secularization theory has victimized. On the other, there is the recognition of the irony that as the theory of secularization has weakened, the philosophy of secularism has grown stronger, or at least louder -- the result being a secularist fundamentalism that matches the rise of religious fundamentalism and creates one of the two poles of today’s extremism in religion and public life."

"The net effect of this intolerant secularism must be assessed with the same clear-eyed realism that we use to assess the menacing rise of fundamentalism and religious extremism. From the murderous coercions of communism, to the forced silences of French secularism, to the brazen intolerance of the new atheists, Europe and many of the educated classes in other parts of the world have developed a way of thinking that has excluded religion from public life more decisively than at any other time in human history. That this unprecedented attitude and its policies may be just as damaging to freedom as religious extremism must be considered."


Guinness, Os. 2008. The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It. HarperCollins e-books.