Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Oh, that religious thingy

As the regulars know, one of my preplanned admonitions is; "You may not think you are in a religious war; but if your enemy thinks he is in one ... then congrats; you're in one too."

Often, it isn't what you think about religion that matters, it is what the other guy thinks.

It is easy, especially for those who run in rather closed-loop Western cosmopolitan intellectual circles and don't travel much - and when they do either don't leave the resort or stay someplace they get "club points" - to think that, like them, the world is a much more secular place.

Too many important people in our national security apparatus discount religion when looking forward. Some either dismiss it or patronize its adherents. Others simply look at religious conflict using the template of the "-ism" power-dynamic in the Cold War. 

In spite of over a decade in another round of religious warfare, many either cannot see it or - because it is so difficult and uncomfortable to contemplate - will not see that they are in a religious war.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry over at TheWeek yells bollocks to all that and does a nice summary to remind everyone that if you want to "think globally" - you need to know your confessions.

The high/low points;
One of the most common assumptions is that ... As a society gets more technologically and economically advanced, the thinking goes, religiosity naturally fades away and is replaced by a more secular worldview.

Exhibit A is usually Western Europe, which grew more secular as it grew richer (and much, much more violent) across the 19th and 20th centuries. Exhibit B is the world's most religious continent — Africa — which happens to be its poorest.

Under this view, the 21st century will be the century in which secularization spreads even further as the rest of the world catches up.

But when you look at the actual trends of religiosity across the world, what becomes apparent is actually the opposite: The 20th century was probably the high point of secularization, while the 21st century will likely be dominated by religion.
As you raise an eyebrow;
... 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.

At the same time that South Korea experienced this astonishing growth, Christianity in the country grew from less than 1 percent of the population to about 30 percent today.
Religion is also a common theme in any discussion of Russia, where the Orthodox Church has stepped in to provide a sense of Russian identity and become — for better or worse, given its alliance with the Putin regime — a key force shaping the country's culture.
By some estimates, pretty soon there will be more Christians in China than in the United States.
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. Not long ago, a few hundred thousand Muslims made the yearly hajj pilgrimage to Mecca; today, the number is more than 2.5 million.
Before I get a few more teaser quotes to entice you to read the whole thing, let me repeat another one of my maxims.

One of the reasons in a generation many of the most advanced Islamic nations went from women being uncovered and men in suits, to both wearing the height of 7th Century fashion couture, was that so many of those leaders were educated in a West whose institutions of higher learning became dominated by the culturally self-loathing. No one wants to join someone who hates themselves.

Back to those swaddled in comfortably projected self-denial, and their assumption that because their circle has drifted ...
America, disaffiliation is changing the face of American religion, but at the same time, higher proportions of people today than in the 1950s declare believing in God, or having had a religious experience, or praying frequently.
... and in Europe;
And even in Western Europe, that bulwark of secularization, the main debate over national identity is inseparably linked to the question of the growth of Islam there (from both conversions and immigration). Indeed, Europe may be sowing the seeds of a Catholic revival.
Strong close ... and a note of caution; regardless of your confession.
It matters because 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.

But that's just not true. 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.
Is a more religious world better or worse for US national interests? Don't know, but as the author points out, not thinking about it or trying to ignore or dismiss it surely isn't.

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