Free market faith
Globalisation is leading to more belief, not less. Caspar Melville talks to the editor of The Economist about his new book tracing the rise and rise of religion
Another day, another denunciation of Dawkins and Hitchens and their fellow New Atheists. No sooner have we absorbed Chris Hedges' I Don't Believe in Atheists (2008), Tina Beattie's The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion (2008) or David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions (2009) when along comes God is Back: How the Revival of Religion is Changing the World, by Economist journalists John Micklethwait (pictured right) and Adrian Wooldridge.
But this "God book" is of a rather different order. Unlike its rivals it contains a wealth of fact and subtle argument, empirical evidence and expert witness. As we might expect from The Economist its perspective is global - it sweeps comfortably from the corridors of the Pentagon to a front room church in Shanghai, and speaks authoritatively about events in Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt. Altogether it lays down a very serious challenge to any of us who had waved God a not-so-fond farewell.
The challenge is threefold. First in line is the secularisation thesis, the argument that religion simply fades away as a natural consequence of modernisation. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Modernity doesn't usher in secularisation, it actively promotes religious pluralism. They then train their sights on the equally popular notion that religion contaminates all those who subscribe to its bogus myths and stories. Not true, argue Micklethwait and Wooldridge. Religion brings out both the best and worst in man, and secularists need to come to terms with the positive role religions have played in providing meaningful care and support for the oppressed as well as in the nurturing of aspirations for political freedom from Poland to Burma to El Salvador. Secularists should therefore recognise the corollary of these two facts. While it is perfectly appropriate to demand that religionists should accept the separation of church and mosque from state as a guarantee of freedom of conscience for all, secularists should play their part by accepting that religion is here to stay.
Consider the United States. It is both the most modern and one of the most religious countries in the world. It also provides solid evidence of how religions can provide a commendable array of social services in the absence of an effective welfare state. But it is also a perfect example of how religion can be kept separate from the state. If we could all become more like America, the book argues, we could all get along famously.
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