Faith in Our Future?
If you read
the headlines, you run the risk of thinking we are headed toward
note that George W. Bush invokes his religious faith in many speeches
and that his positions on abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research
and faith-based charities are informed by it. They decry the law
Congress passed to provide federal judicial review in the Terri
Schiavo case. Vocal American Catholics bewail the election of
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.
Sullivan called it "a full-scale assault" on liberal
Catholics. One of his correspondents called the new pope "this
headstrong, self-assured, anti-democratic and egotistical little
man." We all look abroad at the violence done by Islamist
fanatics and wonder, without any clear way of being sure, how
far such doctrines have taken hold among the world's 1.2 billion
Muslims. We note, more reassuringly but perhaps with some wariness,
that most Iraqi voters seem to have followed the lead of the country's
most powerful cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
the United States is on its way to becoming a theocracy is actually
a silly question. No religion is going to impose laws on an unwilling
Congress or the people of this country. And we have long lived
comfortably with a few trappings of religion in the public space,
such as "In God We Trust" or "God save this honorable
question is whether strong religious belief is on the rise in
America and the world. Fifty years ago, secular liberals were
confident that education, urbanization and science would lead
people to renounce religion. That seems to have happened, if you
confine your gaze to Europe, Canada and American university faculty
movement has not been as benign as expected: The secular faiths
of fascism and communism destroyed millions of lives before they
not moved in the expected direction. In fact, just the opposite.
Economist Robert Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening"
argues that we've been in the midst of a religious revival since
the 1950s, in which, as in previous revivals, "the evangelical
churches represented the leading edge of an ideological and political
response to accumulated technological and social changes that
undermined the received culture."
In the 2004
presidential exit poll, 74 percent of voters described themselves
as churchgoers, 23 percent as said they were evangelical or born-again
Protestants and 10 percent said they had no religion.
This is in
line with longer trends. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark in "The
Churching of America 1776-1990" used careful quantitative
analysis to show that in America's free marketplace of ideas,
the religions and sects that have grown are those that make serious
demands on members. Those that accommodate to secular critics
and make few demands decline in numbers. The Roman Catholic Church
continues to grow in America; the Assemblies of God and the Mormon
Church grow even faster. But mainline Protestant denominations,
which spend much effort ordaining gay bishops or urging disinvestment
in Israel, lose members.
world, we see continuing secularism in Europe but healthy competition
among faiths elsewhere. In Latin America, the competitors are
Catholicism (even though shorn of liberation theology by John
Paul II) and evangelical Protestantism. In Africa, competitors
are Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. In East Asia, Christianity
has grown in Korea and, underground, in China. In South Asia,
the competition for 500 years has been between Hinduism and Islam.
the future? In free societies, each generation makes its own religious
choices, but people tend to follow the faith of their parents.
Secular Europe, with below-replacement birthrates among non-Muslims,
could be headed for a Muslim future, as historian Niall Ferguson
In the United
States, as pointed out by Phillip Longman in "The Empty Cradle"
and Ben Wattenberg in "Fewer," birth rates are above
replacement level largely because of immigrants. But, as Longman
notes, religious people have more children than seculars. Those
who believe in "family values" are more likely to have
mean we're headed to a theocracy: America is too diverse and freedom-loving
for that. But it does mean that we're probably not headed to the
predominantly secular society that liberals predicted half a century
ago and that Europe has now embraced.
Copyright 2005 US News & World Report
Distributed by Creators Syndicate
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