Friday, October 06, 2006

Local maxima and minima in religion's decline

Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason posted this interesting entry today, in response to a piece in the NY Times about teenagers leaving evangelical churches in supposedly large numbers (we can only hope!).

I left the following comment.
I think that in general, in the long view, it's abundantly clear that civilization is becoming less religious. If we look back 100 years, 500 years, we see that the prevailing wisdom always tends toward fact over superstition.

However, along this long historical decline there have been local maxima and minima. Certain religious movements gain favor and adherents for (relatively) short periods of time. I think the current swell of Christian fundies and evangelicals is basically a reaction to the experimental excesses of the Sixties, which, and I speak from experience here, were a reaction to the stifling conformity of the Fifties. It is also, I think, a long-wave backlash to the civil rights movement. Lyndon Johnson, upon securing the passage of the Civil Right Act, told the then young Hubert Humphrey something to the effect of, "Son, I believe I have just given the South to the Republicans for my lifetime, and perhaps yours." How true. I think the rise of Muslim fundamentalism is similar in nature. In many ways I think it reflects a panic that American culture is inundating and submerging traditional Middle Eastern (not necessarily Muslim) culture.

So I suppose I'm saying, "don't worry, it won't rain forever". However, when the river's at your doorstep, it's hard not be worried.


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