Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Will Future Secularism Be Like?

10/9/2010—Elizabeth Drescher had a great piece in RD magazine yesterday (Gen X, Gadgets, and God). She drew a line among baby boomers, Gen-Xers and Millenials. These represent the generations born, respectively, from 1946-1959, 1960-1981 and then on through 2000. The research shows gradual decline in religious affiliation and thus a growing secularism, as you would expect from what we have been reading.

But, surprisingly, (or maybe not), is that for the Gen-X and Millenials the intensity of religious commitment among those who have it, is “as strong as that of pre-Boomer believers.” And their religious beliefs and practices tend to be “fairly traditional”.

If you assume that this just means that younger people divide among non-belief and orthodoxy, you would be wrong. Both groups of believers “churn” among religious traditions until they find a place they feel they belong. And they blend faith practices of different religions (I don’t know how that fits with traditional beliefs).

There is here, according to Drescher, a tremendous degree of shared spiritual exploration using social media and other technologies. (Blogs like this one are old hat). No religious experts needed.

What is unfortunate here is the lack of knowledge. I had envisioned, or hoped, that in the future a scientifically committed people would reinterpret the old myths in order to create a new kind of religious practice, without the supernatural, but with the wisdom of our religious traditions. What may happen instead, is that a very spiritually hungry people will create its own spirituality, much like we now try to create our own news, and will make the same mistakes that idolatry has always made.


  1. "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything."

    -- GK Chesterton

  2. Part of the problem is that we are not "a scientifically committed people". As a society we gladly use the products of science, but we as a rule we are not committed to the skeptical attitude that underlies the methodology of science and gives it its power to uncover natural truth. Without that skeptical attitude we can fashion any ragbag of ideas into a religious faith. Perhaps the only hopeful note is that with the fading power of religious authority in the Modern West (I don't include the Islamic countries) these individual faiths that people cobble together are less dangerous. 500 years ago Calvin or the Pope could tie someone to a stake and burn them alive for denying their religious authority over some doctrine that we might find inconsequential. In the society of the Modern West that couldn't happen. Over the last several hundred years medieval religious authority has been separated from political power and been neutered. So - there is some progress, it’s simply measured in centuries and perhaps with this new crop of faiths we won't repeat "the same mistakes that idolatry has always made".

    Paul W.

  3. One reason for the enduring popularity of "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" is that science has become the post-enlightenment avatar for all the gods and demons of mythology.

    As Arthur C. Clark said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

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