Archive for February 2008

Secularism Still “Winning”

February 16, 2008

Those readers who might be discouraged by the inability of enlightenment ideas and ideals to replace the dedication to the superstitions of organized religion might be encouraged by reading Alan Wolfe’s “And the Winner is. . .” in the March Atlantic. He argues that the assumption that secular values are losing out to religious values is wrong.

His thesis is based too much, in my opinion, on the fact that the more wealthy countries become, the less religious they are — with the singular exception of the United States. Religious countries do tend to be poor countries, which is perhaps another way of saying that religious countries are relatively uneducated. After all, the pleasant Mr. Huckabee is probably the only major candidate in a while to not believe in the theory of evolution (although President Bush tinkers with the idea, I am not sure he has ideas).

It is remarkable that with all the talk of the evangelical vote and all the hype about Huckabee, and the fierce (if unconventional) religiosity of Romney, the Republican candidate in November will be a moderate, centrist who makes relatively little of his religiosity — while the democratic candidate will stick largely to a secular script with spiritual decorations.

Looking back at the world, the less progressive countries in Europe are the poorer cousins to the east. The rising stars of Asia are largely secular, with the notable exception of the Republic of Korea. A few years ago the secular Congress Party was ousted in India, but the Hindu nationalists have lost their steam and seem to be both less popular and less fanatic. Today’s New York Times tells us that Pakistan is actually much less religious and much less fanatic than we have been led to believe. The real heart of religion in the country is in the Sufi orders, and they notably believe in live and let live. We hear relatively little of them in the news because they are generally apolitical. Elsewhere in the country, the people are sick and tired of the Taliban. In the upcoming parliamentary election, the religious parties are expected to lose out nearly everywhere, including the Northwest Frontier Province.

Another strong current within the religious communities, even in the Middle East and Africa, is an evangelism that sees religion as the road to wealth and pleasure. This new current is found in Egypt and Nigeria. In the latter, there is even a competition between a Christian and Muslim versions of this gospel of wealth and pleasure. This may be religion, but I doubt it is what the enlightened have feared.