Greatly Exaggerated

In Christianity & Atheism on June 12, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , , , , ,

The publication of a number of high-profile books attacking religious faith in general and Christianity in particular have once again brought to light that old saw that claims that Christianity is doomed. Per A.C. Grayling (from among many examples):

Remember what happened to the dictators of eastern Europe in 1989: they turned out to be cardboard figures, who suddenly turned soggy and collapsed into nothing at the first dose of real opposition. A 1989 is in process of happening to religion. The hard truths spoken about it in these books and the public debate surrounding them are as genies freed from the bottle: they cannot be put back.

Or Austin Cline:

Unless a radical reversal occurs, it’s not too far off the mark to say that orthodox, traditional Christianity has already lost — this is because hardly anyone accepts such Christianity anymore. A resurgence isn’t impossible, but it also isn’t likely. Christianity is on a steep decline, even among Christians.

Apparently wishful thinking isn’t limited to Christians after all. To paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous comment (delicious irony here), the reports of Christianity’s death (and God’s too for that matter) are greatly exaggerated.

Indeed, sociologist Peter Berger of Boston University is much closer to reality and has recanted on his secularization thesis:

I think what I and most other sociologists of religion wrote in the 1960s about secularization was a mistake. Our underlying argument was that secularization and modernity go hand in hand. With more modernization comes more secularization. It wasn’t a crazy theory. There was some evidence for it. But I think it’s basically wrong. Most of the world today is certainly not secular. It’s very religious. So is the U.S. The one exception to this is Western Europe. One of the most interesting questions in the sociology of religion today is not, How do you explain fundamentalism in Iran? but, Why is Western Europe different?

There’s virtually no disputing that Christianity is essentially irrelevant to western European culture and that American Christianity is largely drunk on perceived political clout (even despite recent very significant losses) and thus devoid of the countercultural impact that was so crucial to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. By contrast, however, it almost goes without saying that Christianity is strongest when it is politically weak, speaking truth to power. If the bloated, mealy-mouthed institutionalized American religion that masquerades as authentic Christianity within the prevailing power structure were to disappear, so much the better.

To this point, however, the discussion has been far too “west-centric.” Neither Grayling nor Cline even mentions the explosive growth of Christianity in areas where people are poor, exploited and marginalized, often in the Southern Hemisphere. Some countries which once received American missionaries are now sending them, sometimes even here. Since at least the Enlightenment, opponents of faith have been predicting its demise, with unanimous and unmitigated failure. What we’re seeing today is just another round of same ol’, same ol’….


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