Everybody knows the world is becoming more secular, right? Wrong.
A new book by Dr. Rodney Stark, titled The Triumph of Faith, subtitled "Why the World Is More Religious Than Ever," is causing quite a stir. Stark is the co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University where he also serves as Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences.
Stark takes on no less a task than debunking the "secularization thesis," supporters of which have asserted vigorously for at least half a century that religious belief and devotion are the domain of the ignorant and the poor. Their thesis asserts that as education, technology, and the resulting increased affluence advance, religious devotion and belief inevitably weaken, wither, and decline.
Dr. Stark's Triumph of Faith pushes back hard against this thesis (which the secular left has readily accepted as proven fact, not theory) with a treasure trove of relentless facts that indicate exactly the opposite of the assumptions contained in the secularization thesis. Stark documents that in much of the present-day world, more-educated people are more devout and religious than their less well-educated fellow citizens. This is demonstrably true here in the United States where the college-educated are more likely to attend worship services on a regular basis than their high school graduate counterparts.
Of course, it is often argued that America is an exception to the prevailing paradigm that more-educated and industrialized equals a less religious society. Occasionally, America has been cited as the proverbial exception that proves the rule of the secularization thesis.
In fact, Stark points out what fellow scholars like Philip Jenkins (Stark's fellow co-director of the Institute of Social Sciences) has been demonstrating and publicizing for years (The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity, has been translated into several languages, including Chinese, German, and Korean), that religion is waxing rather than waning around the world.
Dr. Stark documents voluminously the rapid spread of religion, particularly both Christianity and Islam, in the Second and Third Worlds, unfazed by the seemingly inexorable march of modernity. Stark argues that even in Europe, where "official" organized religion is clearly in steep decline, some would argue a "death spiral," belief in the supernatural, both in more and less orthodox forms, persists and appears to even be flourishing.
Stark cites the British sociologist Grace Davie's observation that many Europeans remain "believing non-belongers," a phrase that will also apply to most of the Pew Research Center's "nones," many of whom remain religious though "unaffiliated" with organized religion.
Stark also notes that while traditional faith in Europe is low, "unconventional supernaturalism is thriving." Even in Sweden, often cited notoriously as the poster child for secularization, belief in such things as reincarnation, mental telepathy, astrology, and spiritual mediums persists and thrives. One Swedish researcher, sifting through this evidence, "concluded that 78 percent of 'young Swedes are religious'" and spoke of "the reality of Swedish faith in 'a kind of private or invisible religion.'"
This would appear to support the observation purportedly articulated by G. K. Chesterton (and if he didn't say it, he should have): "When people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything."
Dr. Stark's The Triumph of Faith concludes an encyclopedic articulation of facts with a moving answer to "why religion endures":
"People want to know why the universe exists, not that it exists for no reason, and they don't want their lives to be pointless. Only religion provides credible and satisfactory answers to the great existential questions. The most ardent wishes of the secularization faithful will never change that.
"Secularists have been predicting the imminent demise of religion for centuries. They have always been wrong—and their claims today are no different. It is their unshakable faith in secularization that may be the most "irrational" of all beliefs." (p. 212)
The evidence and our experiential knowledge of human nature strongly suggest his conclusions are correct. It appears that Dr. Stark's research has found overwhelming evidence for what the Apostle Paul calls the "law written on the conscience," which explains why we have never found a human society that did not have some form of religious observance.
Can we conclude that human beings are "incurably religious" because God made them that way?
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