I found this via Gene Veith, at Cranach, From “God is dead” to “too many gods”. Gene is a Missouri Synod Lutheran whom I have always found to have very sound opinions and thinking on our faith. Much of this article is drawn from Peter Berger’s (who is an important sociologist of religion and not incidently an ELCA Lutheran) interview with Gregor Thuswaldner for The Cresset, which can be found here. The interview took place on 12 September 2013, so a few things have developed since.
We’re going to cover a lot of ground quickly here, so you’ll likely want to follow the links at some point, otherwise I’ll be writing a book! 🙂
First some of you may be familiar with the secularization thesis. Its heyday was in the fifties and sixties. It held (and in a few cases holds) that modernity inevitability produces a decline of religions. It was held by just about everyone in the field. But in one of those funny occurrences, the data didn’t support the thesis, and so as is supposed to happen, the thesis was (mostly) discredited.
Part of that was that the world is not heavily secularized, in fact, it is arguably more religious than it has ever been. Note that for this discussion we are including all religions, we as Christians may say and believe they are false religions, but they are not non-religions. there are two major exceptions to that: Central and Western Europe, and an intellectual class.
So the theory is wrong, that means there is room for a new theory, and so it has proved: that theory is pluralism. And the theory states that modernism does necessarily produce plurality, which means in his context: The coexistence in the same society of different worldviews and value systems.
And that changes religion’s status, and it’s a challenge, not the challenge of God being dead, but the challenge of too many gods. That’s a different challenge. Theodore Kuhn in his The Structure of Scientific Revolution said that when one theoretical paradigm collapses it open up the possibility of new paradigms. That is indeed exciting, at least intellectually, and sometimes on the ground as well.
Professor Berger cooperated with Grace Davie, a professor at the University of Exeter, in the UK, on a book in 2008 (Religious America, Secular Europe), she is also a CofE lay canon. they came to the conclusion that there are eight reasons, and we’re not going to go into all of them (not least because the interview didn’t). But I also think it’s true that no important event has a single cause.
The one talked about here is the relation between church and state. All of the major traditions, Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox—all were or are a state church. As in so many things, Britain comes off as sort of a middle ground, or maybe a microcosm, because its tradition of nonconformism is considerably stronger, and dissent in both directions is quite a little higher. In the US, pluralism began almost at once, albeit unwillingly. There were just too many Quakers, or Puritans, or low church Anglicans to hang them all, nor could you convert them all, and so they had to learn to get along better. In truth, there’s more than a little of this in England as well.
One of the problems with a state church, of course, is if you get irritated with the state, you’re likely to get irritated with its church as well, not to mention vice-versa. That’s not very good for the church or the state, and it echoes down history. You’ll note that in the French Revolution after they got rid of (most) aristocrats, it wasn’t long until they came for the clergy.
And the Elites
Berger posits that it is a particular type of elite, specifically grounded in the social sciences and the humanities, not so much the natural (or hard) sciences. Again we run into pluralism, and the relativism of worldviews and values, which affects the people in literature, or history, or anthropology more than it does chemists or engineers (I would say because 2+2 is not subject to being relative).
He notes that we are seeing a massive change in this, using the example of Turkey. The Kemalist elite was very secular, indeed, and now they are finding their children are returning to that old time Islam or even its Islamist form. this happened as Turkey democratised, the people were never all that secular, supposedly, which makes sense to me. And so now, Turkey’s intelligentsia is becoming islamicised or even Islamist, which is not particularly good news for Europe, I suspect.
He also speaks a bit of Sweden, which has at least been portrayed as a sort of secular heaven. Well, what they thought so obvious, hasn’t seemed so when confronted with African Pentecostals, let alone fundamentalist Muslims. This is something that has gotten worse, according to reports, as Malmø, and other areas, become the rape capital of Europe, as well as a seriously increasing violent crime rate. Not to mention who is going to support all these immigrants, who seem indisposed to work. If I was in Germany, I’d be worrying about Merkel’s plans.
To be continued in Part 2, where we’ll speak of why the United States is different.