Archive for May 1, 2017

Secularism’s Struggle

Church

Last month, a group of social scientists from the United States, Malaysia, Finland, and Denmark published an article in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science titled, “The Future of Secularism.”  In it, the researchers noted that even though social scientists have generally assumed that secularization would increase as scientific inquiry and discovery continued to mature, thereby sidelining the need for religious beliefs to explain the machinations of the cosmos, secularization has not burgeoned the way these scientists had predicted.  Instead, internationally at least, religiosity is actually on the rise.  This article put forth some theories as to why this is the case.  First, because religious people tend to have more children than non-religious people, religious parents have more opportunity to pass along their beliefs and values to their children than do non-religious people.  Second, these researchers see a correlation between secularization and smarts.  The smarter one is, the more secular he tends to be, these researchers say.  And since there has been an overall decline in people’s IQs, these researchers suggest that such declines have led to increases in religiosity.

Obviously, there is much that could and should be said about a study such as this.  For starters, the story these researchers tell about how secular societies arise is hotly disputed.  These researchers assume what has been called by philosopher Charles Taylor a “subtraction story.”  A subtraction theory of secularization asserts that as science is able to explain more and more, less and less space becomes available for the explanations of religion.  Taylor rejects this theory and instead sees that, in more religious societies, people’s concerns are centered not just on imminent things that science can observe, but on transcendent things that are beyond the purview of science as a discipline.  In other words, people in religious societies are not simply asking questions that, one by one, have been answered by science so religion is no longer needed; instead, they are asking questions that are fundamentally beyond the realm of science – questions of meaning and purpose and morality and perfection.  Hence, religion occupies a primary place in some people’s imaginations because of the questions they are asking.

It should also be noted that though these researchers’ glib assertion that as intelligence decreases, religiosity increases may be the finding of some isolated social science studies, it is certainly not born out by the overall the arc of history.  The contributions of Christianity to architecture, literature, and even science are innumerable.  So much of what we know now was driven by Christian intellectuals.  Indeed, a quick look at the histories of our nation’s auspicious ivy league universities demonstrate that we owe a great debt to Christianity intellectually.

For all that is questionable about this article, certain aspects of this study are not surprising.  For instance, it is not surprising that religious parents tend to raise religious children.  This is what they should be doing.  In fact, this is part of what is commanded by Scripture:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

Faith formation begins at home, Deuteronomy says.

It is also not surprising that the reports of religion’s impending death always seem to turn out to be premature.  There appears to be a religious impulse in humanity that just won’t quit.  The apostle Paul notes that this religious impulse finds its root in the religious reality of the creation of God:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  (Romans 1:20)

In their study, the social scientists acknowledge that even some fellow researchers have suggested “that human needs for a spiritual life are actually strong evidence for the reality of a supernatural realm.”

Beyond a family’s religious heritage and humanity’s general religious impulse, it should also be noted that, from its inception, Christianity specifically has been an evangelical faith.  To know of good news and not to share it, in the Christian conception of things, is cruel to people in need of a Savior.  So share we do.  And, every once in while, through the Spirit’s ministry and by the power of God’s Word , when we share Christ, a person is converted to Christ and religiosity increases.

All of this is to say that the belligerent endurance of religion is due to much more than higher birth rates and lower IQs.  Indeed, religion endures not just because it stands athwart secularism yelling, “Stop!”  It endures because it looks at all that is around us and processes the human experience and says, “There’s something more.”

Religion is the search for that “something more.”  And, I believe, Christianity reveals the One who is more.

May 1, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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