May 8, 2010

We were supposed to "outgrow" religion...

This always interests me. I picked up that "conventional story line of modernity" from reading science fiction as a boy. The imaginary futures were invariably religion-free. Frank Herbert's Dune was quite original and odd in imagining a future where religion was a dominant force. And even there the ruling elites of the galaxy were areligious. But I can see now that all the SF writers of my youth assumed a future where the virtues and morality of Christianity and Judaism would persist.

They just took them for granted. None of them imagined, for instance, a future where people would stop getting married, where 41% of children would be born out of wedlock. Nor did they imagine a situation where whole civilizations would be dying because people just stopped having children at all. The authors were incapable of seeing that they themselves retained a great deal of Judeo-Christian thought and behavior as habits. And that habits wear off over time...

...According to the conventional story line of modernity, "modernization" means secularization—the withering away of traditional religious belief and practice. On this reading of things, "religion" and "modernity" are a zero-sum game: the more modern you are the less religious you become; and the more religious you are, the less susceptible yo are to modernization. At the beginning of the twentieth century, advanced thinkers widely predicted that the new century then unfolding would witness a maturing humanity, tutored by science, lose it's "need" for religion. Religious belief and practice were for children, perhaps adolescents.. A mature adult humanity had no "need" of God.

We've already talked about what happened when those predictions held true—great swaths of the world were turned into an abattoir in the name of humanism. In the 1940's, the French theologian Henri de Lubac, who would later become an influential figure at the Second Vatican Council, tried to parse this strange lethal phenomenon , which he called "atheistic humanism." Atheism, of course, was nothing new; the village atheist and the radically skeptical intellectual had long been stock figures in the human drama. Atheistic humanism was something altogether different, Father de Lubac suggested. This wasn't a matter of skeptical intellectuals scratching their particular itches to discomfort the neighbors or impress the faculty tenure committee.This was atheism with a developed ideology and a program for remaking the world. And its prophets—prominent among them Comte, Feuerbach, Marx and Nietszche—all taught that the God of the Bible was an enemy of human dignity...

      -- George Weigel, Letters to a Young Catholic

   

Posted by John Weidner at May 8, 2010 5:19 PM
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