The Rise of Secularism and the Future of Religion
In the west, secularism is slowly becoming the norm in an increasingly irreligious world — a logical end of progressivism. This has resulted in beliefs (or perhaps lack thereof) in Atheism and Agnosticism growing to new heights the modern world. Undoubtedly a result of the rise of secular humanism growing from the days of the Age of Enlightenment, this movement originally based on giving people the freedom to choose, has evolved into a method for people to opt-out of religion. That people have the choice to be irreligious is, of course, a good thing, as forcing people to follow a religion is in itself an inherent contradiction. If one is forced to believe in God, then they are not truly believing in God, but in the belief that they must follow God. This method of choice has, however, allowed people to grow increasingly out of tune with religion, and that has led to a culture that has started to scoff at many of the religious principles of old. This divide is between the libertarians and progressives on one side and the traditionalists on the other is most specifically seen with the issue of religion.
Freedom only works when others respect each other’s right to have that freedom, which has not been the case these days. Nowadays, those who adhere strictly to their religion are being more and more discriminated against in the new secular society. To many religious people, issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion have always been personal, due to their faiths. Even then, religious people have acquiesced to the modern culture of secularism and let these topic issues become accepted in modern society (except abortion in the US), for good reason too. Other people should not be forced to abide by religious morality if they do not wish to. In that same vein though, those who support same-sex marriage and topic issues like that should not force their views on religious people. Unfortunately, this has not happened, and discrimination against religious ideals has become more and more common, especially in the US. In the past few years, there have been numerous cases of non-religious people forcing the religious to abide by the new cultural norms. Gay marriage is a good case to analyze, to understand this argument. A notorious case in the US was the case of a gay couple filing a lawsuit against a religious baker who refused to bake them a cake for their marriage. Rightfully, the lawsuit was shot down by the US Supreme Court, but the larger theme here is that culture has become such that religious people who believe in their ideals are becoming discriminated against, and having their beliefs called old-fashioned. This has been exacerbated heavily in the more urban cities in the US, where marches for equality have become less focused on the issues of LGBT rights and more on bashing the religious people who are entitled to their beliefs against homosexuality. This growing lack of respect for religious ideals unfortunately not a small subculture anymore. It has pervaded the mainstream culture, and its apex was during the 2019 Democratic Party LGBT town hall. In it, mainstream Democratic presidential candidates were becoming increasingly hostile towards religious people who did not believe in homosexuality. In specific, mainstream (now former) candidate Beto O’Rourke even advocated removing the tax-exempt status from religious institutions that did not recognize gay marriage. Ideas such as this, that would bankrupt numerous religious institutions in the country Christian, Muslim, or Jewish aside have enough backing to find a place in a Democratic Party town hall, is appalling. The fact that politicians are now pandering to the secular culture by disrespecting religious culture is disheartening to see. The right to believe in whatever one wishes is enshrined in the constitution of all modern western countries. Where religious people have given respect to the modern secular culture and given in to let issues such as gay marriage to become legalized, the secular humanists have been failing to give religious people that same respect recently. This has caused a serious divide in the culture in the west.
To paraphrase Andrew Breitbart, cult and culture have the same root. What the culture worships, is what determines the nature of not only the culture itself but also its politics. Whatever people might think of the guy, the above statement has a strong amount of truth to it. The divide between the secularists and the traditionalists have been exacerbated, and this is seen none more than in the conservative political movement. Where the liberals in the west are more unified when it comes to their support of secular causes, the conservatives are not. This stark divide in the conservative movement has grown itself into two factions: the traditionalists and the libertarian conservatives. This debate is representative of the larger debate in society, as the libertarian view on this matter is similar to that of liberals: that the society, not the government, should decide on their own morality. The traditionalists, however, are in favour of having government legislate religious morality, as they believe that without them doing so, religious will slowly be driven out of society. And their arguments are not unfounded, given the example of exactly this being shown in the previous paragraph. But, as the author, if I were to give a strong value statement, in an already value-laden article, it would be in favour of the libertarians. The point of fact is, the government should never have the ability to adjudge religious morality on people. Doing so would open up numerous unsavoury avenues, such as religious bigotry if one does not follow the state-mandated religion, or even becoming something akin to the dangerous Islamic theocracies in the east. On a practical level, letting a government mandate morality is a disaster in the making. The past and present have proved that. On a philosophical level, letting a government force religious principle on the populous draws too many comparisons between government and a higher authority — God. When the government can play God, once again, it is a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, everyone has the freedom to choose what they will, and they should not be boxed into a belief they do not want to follow.
That is not to say that the traditionalists do not have a point in all of this mess. There is certainly a culture war at play here, and religious people have been under the axe for some time now. When there are regular lawsuits by liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union who often go after religious institutions, there is a real fear that if society were to be left alone, religious people would just be pushed farther into a box in an increasingly secular society. So, the common view among the traditionalists is that if the traditionalists don’t fight back by having the government or at least, authority figures espouse religious values, then society will never face a religious resurgence.
Of course, while the method of reaching a religious resurgence is wrong on the part of the traditionalists, it does not mean that their understanding of the problem is wrong. Humans have always inherently realized that they are flawed, whether they admit it or not. Therefore, following a morality based on humanism — secularism is an unsustainable one. There is always a meaning shaped hole in the human heart, and if humans do not fill it with God, they will fill it with other things. We are already seeing this in our modern-day in a variety of forms. The most pervasive form of this is materialism, which a common problem in society, where people try to find meaning in the new, popular fads of the day. Another form this is the newfound “cult” of belief around environmentalism. The current iteration of the more radical forms of environmentalism has all of the hallmarks of religion: a day of judgement in the form of climate change killing all humans, searching for salvation in the form of recycling, and even indulgences in the form of cash donations to climate change activists, or directly participating in these activist protests themselves. Those who adhere to it, do so with almost a religious fervour (see Greta Thunberg). The problem with these new age “cults” or belief systems is that none of them has the divine aspect to them, which is what restricts them from truly helping humans find salvation and meaning. In fact, it is because of this that according to studies, religious people are on average, significantly happier than non-religious people, more involved with family, and more likely to give charity. When society fails to realize that following only reason does not give meaning, and that one truly does need the transcendental in their lives, it declines heavily. One can already see this in post-religion, hyper-secular societies like those in South Korea and Japan where birth rates are exceptionally low, family cohesion is growing less and less, and suicide rates are off the charts. Work ethic, as it is in those societies, can never truly replace God-given meaning. After all, the human ideal can never match the divine. No matter how much progressives disagree and nowadays mock the religious ideal, this will always be an undeniable fact.
Lest the west reaches the same conclusion as troubled societies like Japan and South Korea, religion must return as an important aspect of life. In my personal point of view, the answer lies in the middle of the solutions reached by the libertarians and the traditionalists. Like the libertarians, I believe that no matter how secular a society becomes, the federal government should never attempt to institute federally mandated religion. But like the traditionalists, I still believe that a sense of authority is required, so I think that civic governments or communities should be able to mandate religious-based legislation. This is because these organizations would have an intimate understanding of the needs of their constituents and whether any kind of religious-like legislation is required. Change has to be organic, and community or civic action is a lot closer to that, than federal action in favour of religion. Ultimately, this is not an easy problem to solve, especially as a significant plurality of the population don’t even think that irreligion is a problem. Secularism has already started to hurt the religious cause, but that does not mean that the cause has been extinguished. There is still ample time before the west turns into a country like Japan or South Korea.