Wednesday, January 13th 2016
“The 20th century was probably the high point of secularization, while the 21st century will likely be dominated by religion,” wrote Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry (of the Ethics and Public Policy Center) in an essay, “Why religion will dominate the 21st century,” in TheWeek on May 18, 2015. If this is accurate, U.S. Public Diplomacy, which was blindsided in the wake of 9/11, needs to deepen its understanding of religion and learn to shape appeals to religious publics. Gobry briefly looked at Europe, Poland, Russia, South Korea, China, Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Here are some of his key points:
- One of the most common assumptions is that religiosity is linked to economic and technological underdevelopment. As a society gets more technologically and economically advanced, the thinking goes, religiosity naturally fades away and is replaced by a more secular worldview.
- . . . let's dispense with the notion that there is some necessary causal link between economic and technological advancement and secularization. One need only look at South Korea, which was one of the poorest countries on the planet at the end of World War II, and is now one of the richest and most technologically advanced — indeed, on some metrics, more advanced than Western Europe or the U.S.
- What about the rest of the world? Is it secularizing? To the contrary, religion is becoming one of the most important forces shaping the fate of most countries in the world.
- By some estimates, pretty soon there will be more Christians in China than in the United States. What that will mean for the future of the country is anybody's guess, but it will certainly mean something.
- In the Middle East and the broader Arab world, the same phenomenon prevails: The most dominant cultural-religious trend of the 1950s was anti-colonial, socialist, secular pan-Arabism. That led mostly to autocracies presiding over corrupt governments, which resulted in a backlash that took the form of political Islam, which was the strongest vehicle for resistance to the jackboot of tyranny.
- This religious revival is much broader than terrorism — most varieties of Islam that are growing are not extremist, even if they are robust and vociferous. We don't know what the Middle East will look in the future, but one thing is clear: It will certainly not be European-style secularism.
- . . . theology has consequences. The post-Enlightenment secular worldview tends to treat religion as nothing more than a private hobby. It rejects out of hand the notion that people's spiritual beliefs matter in a broader context. When evolution tells us we're just genes trying to spread, when economists tell us all we do is maximize our self-interest, when psychologists tell us we just want to get laid — we become convinced that humans act on nothing but narrow material desires.
- As a matter of fact, human beings are spiritual beings first, with a natural orientation toward transcendent realities. More prosaically, to state the obvious, human beings make decisions partly based on how we understand our self-interest, yes, but also based on our worldviews, on our vision of what is true and good and beautiful.
- Religion has been the most intense worldview-shaping phenomenon in history, and it will continue to be the most important worldview-shaping phenomenon of the 21st century.
- Ignore this reality at your peril.