Religion is once again one of the most urgent fields of human experience. Now an important new book has startling things to tell us about its futureby E K / June 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
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God is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith Is Changing the World by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (Allen Lane, £25)
“God is dead” proclaimed Nietzsche, without fanfare, more than a century ago. In the post-cold war era, Francis Fukuyama’s Nietzschean End of History described “last men” whose faith would fail when exposed to the cosmopolitan reality that their creed was merely one among many. Religion, it seemed, was being consigned to the past by serious western thinkers.
In 1993, however, the late Samuel Huntington poured cold water on Fukuyama’s argument. And since then, a host of others—Philip Jenkins, David Martin, Peter Berger, Rod Stark, Tim Shah and Monica Toft, to name but a few—have charted the global revival of religion and the retreat of the secular, something that has rapidly become one of the most pressing intellectual themes of our times. Now, in God is Back, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge—both leading lights at the Economist—have synthesised these arguments into a vivid and important volume.
Most original is their attempt to frame their story as a clash between European and American forms of modernity. America, they write, hit upon a winning formula for reconciling religion with liberty, equality and rationality. The new republic, prodded by both its fractious dissenting sects and deistic founders, like Jefferson, did away with its established church and separated religion from politics. This arrangement forced religions to compete for souls in an open market, stimulating religious vitality. Divorced from the state, religions could both champion equality and adapt to capitalism and individualism without fear.
Conversely, in Canada and Europe, religious establishments cosied up to the state in order to protect themselves from competitors. This limited innovation and reined in religious entrepreneurialism. The result—much as with socialism—was a poor product that failed consumers. In addition, religion came to be viewed by the general public as something reactionary and elitist: the enemy of liberty and modernity. Little wonder that modernity took on anti-religious form in much of Europe while it thrived in America.
This “religious markets” argument was first advanced by Rod Stark and Lawrence Iannaccone and is, in itself, a familiar one. But God is Back breaks fresh ground by hitching this wagon to the…