Monday, April 20, 2009

Modernity and Religion

Since I had posted recently about the export and import of Christianity in the US, here is a brief Newsweek interview that caught my attention. It is with the authors of a new book, God is Back: How the global revival of faith is changing the world, and their surprising assertion that religion is getting stronger in the US - even in politics:

This magazine's cover story last week detailed how the number of self-identified Christians is falling and how the religious right has failed as a political movement. Yet you say those who bet against the strength of American Christianity have invariably been proved wrong.
One of the things the article argued in NEWSWEEK was that religion would retreat a bit in American politics. We're not so sure about that, for two reasons. [First] you have perhaps an even bigger split than before—between a bigger number of people who are not keen on religion, and then a larger core of people who are. The other issue is that religion has stopped being just a Republican issue. The religious right has run into real problems. But the sort of religiosity that Obama typified—there's a way in which those religious elements could spread rather than go down.

Huh!? But - the kind of religiosity that Obama typifies is more private - and certainly away from politics. And here is their take on modernity and religion:

You write that the developments many thought would destroy religion—such as democracy and markets—have made religion stronger. Might our economic crisis change that?
It could. But globalization has two kinds of effects in terms of encouraging people to be religious. In the Islamic world and in the poorer bits of India, or Arkansas, religion is a shield against the modern world. [Also,] there are a lot of people for whom religion is a way to get ahead. If you go around the megachurches you can discover self-help books on how to run your business better. The people who the old-style secularists expected not to be religious are actually religious in very large numbers.

Are these things good?? So while I was puzzling over their bizarre assertions, I found a review of their book and discovered that these are the same guys who were spectacularly wrong in their 2004 book, The Right Nation. And guess what? As a reward, they got to impose another useless book on the world:

The authors made similarly sweeping generalizations in their previous book, “The Right Nation” (2004), generalizations that were proven almost comically wrong by the midterm elections of 2006 and the 2008 election of Barack Obama. In that earlier book Mr. Micklethwait and Mr. Wooldridge contended that “the center of gravity in American politics has moved to the right,” that the 2004 election might have represented “something of a last chance for the Democrats,” and that “conservatives have succeeded in part because, in a country where only half the electorate bothers to vote, they are better organized than other sorts of Americans.”

One of the problems with “The Right Nation” was that the authors selected information and examples that supported their thesis, while ignoring or diminishing data that contradicted it, and they employ a similarly flawed methodology in “God Is Back.”
On the other hand, they seem to be consistent and are not letting facts come in their way:
In arguing that “religion’s power” has “continued to increase,” they contradict considerable evidence to the contrary. (The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, released this month, found that “the U.S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every five Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.”) In arguing that modernity and religion are compatible, Mr. Wooldridge and Mr. Micklethwait play down that Osama bin Laden and other radical jihadis embrace highly puritanical, backward-looking forms of Islam that stand in direct opposition to much of modernity. (The authors also fail to grapple with the anti-progressive impulses of Christian and Jewish fundamentalism.) And in arguing that religion is increasingly a matter of choice, they ignore the plight of people (like women under Taliban rule) who are forced to live by strict religious codes they themselves may not believe in.
and, it seems, that much of Pakistan will be finding about it soon - first hand. The only interesting thing about the book, it seems, is their description of some of the churches in the US:
In America, Mr. Wooldridge and Mr. Micklethwait assert, the free market in religion “forces clergymen to compete for market share,” and as a result it’s produced “relentless innovation” in the form of “new religious ‘products.’ ” There are “biker churches for bikers, cowboy churches for cowboys, sports-minded churches for the sporty.” Keith Moore, the founder and head of Moore Life Ministries and Faith Life Church in Missouri, they report, has given lectures on the subject of whether Jesus would wear a Rolex. (The answer, the authors write, “is yes: Jesus happily accepted expensive personal gifts, and it was actually Judas who suggested giving them to the poor.”)
and my favorite bit:
And the Golgotha Fun Park (talk about oxymorons!) in Kentucky features a Bible-theme miniature golf course starting with the Creation at the first hole and ending with the Resurrection at the 18th.
Yeaay! So is one supposed to celebrate or mourn if you go under-par on the hole with Crucifixion? On a sad note, it seems that Golgotha Fun Park is now closed (nooooo!).

In any case, read the full review here.