Re the religious “surge”: Things are not the way the seem

Dear Baruch,

Another example of how the conventional wisdom is wrong, and how we Spinozists can rejoice a little at the prospects for our and future generations:

Survey: Americans switching faiths, dropping out

(AP) — The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds.

[…] One in four adults ages 18 to 29 claim no affiliation with a religious institution.

So no, Americans are not becoming more religious, but less, and we have demographic trends to thank. One in four is still not all that much, but at least more and more people are understanding that it is a logical fallacy to think that the faith of your parents is true because it is the faith of your parents. (Of course, we’re still stuck with an Ireland full of Catholics and an Iran full of Shi’ites, and not vice versa, but it’s a start.)

This is perhaps a good time to bring up what I believe is another piece of fallacious conventional wisdom: That Islam is on the rise as a religion. It certainly seems that way at 30,000 ft.: More veiled women in the streets, more Muslims in western countries, a militant streak among a few… But the situation on the ground is different: Well over 90% of programming that the innumerable satellite dishes of Cairo can receive is thoroughly western in format and aspiration. The music videos and radio songs are by (very) unveiled vixens girating in ways that can give Kylie a run for her money. Muslims in Europe are doing a great job of assimilating, and more want to join them for the opportunities that are there. The west is a threat to religious conservatives precisely because it is being so successful at luring the faithful to the pleasures of this life as opposed to those of the next one.

The “resurgence”, then, is something of a last stand, a shoring up of the faithful to combat this (accurately perceived) smothering of traditional cultural and religious values. I don’t think the conservatives stand much of a chance, in the very long run — I see them read the same book over and over again, ad nauseam, in the Cairo subway (and nobody ever reads any other book), parrotting the words to themselves; it’s not conducive to intellectual vitality or new ideas, but it provides a sense of rootedness in a world where most things you want aren’t endemic but come from a civilization you perceive as different.

The situation is reminiscent of 19th century Russia. It was the poorest and most backward of the European nations, but its conservative backbone, the Russian Orthodox Church, was convinced it guaranteed the empire’s moral superiority. They might not have been as advanced technologically, but at least they had true religion. It was a mighty struggle between the Westernizers, who looked to emulate the West, vs. the Slavophiles, who wanted to build something uniquely Russian. This tension simmered for a century, until we got something uniquely Russian alright: Bolshevism.


5 thoughts on “Re the religious “surge”: Things are not the way the seem”

  1. Well that’s very cheerful, Bento. The religious loonies in the middle east get replaced by totalitarian loonies instead, but this time with tanks, and just maybe, nukes.

    Otherwise I applaud your thoughts on this. It drives me up the wall when some bunch of numbnut fuckwits in the US or Asia who has never been to Yurp starts banging on about how we are going to be swamped by Muslims and have give up our yummy schnitzels. Like that prick Mark Steyn.

  2. Are the totalitarian loonies with tanks and nukes going to relocate from D.C. to the Middle East?

    Perhaps, with time, more and more people will begin understanding that it is a logical fallacy to think that the country, or culture, of their parents is good and righteous simply because it is the country, or culture, of their parents.

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