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HVK Archives: The Post Secular Age

The Post Secular Age - The Telegraph

Frank Morales ()
Mon, 05 Oct 1998 22:21:31 +0530

Title: The Post Secular Age
Author: Frank Morales

The last two centuries have been a conspicuously unique era in
the history of the human race. For, unlike any other epoch in
our history, the last 200 years have witnessed the systematic
and seemingly unstoppable deconstruction of religion as an
important element of Western society. So successful has the
exorcism of religion from public life been, that many 20th
Century American scholars went so far as to pronounce the
imminent death of religion in our age.

As is becoming increasingly apparent, however, religion's
obituary may have been written somewhat prematurely. The
latter part of the twentieth century is witnessing one of the
greatest world wide religious resurgences ever recorded in the
annals of human history. And America has not been immune to
this trend. Rather than ushering in a new secular age, an age
free of the influence of religion, spirituality and
contemplation, the evidence seems to indicate that we are
actually entering a Post Secular Age: an age wherein religion
will necessarily fill up the vacuum created by the failure of
twentieth-century secularism.

The idea that religion would meet its eventual demise (and,
according to some, should meet its demise) had been espoused
by a large number of Western intellectuals in the last two
centuries. Perhaps the most famous of these individuals were,
what Christian theologian Martin Marty termed, he Bearded
God-Killers (National Public Radio, 1996). These primarily
nineteenth century figures included: Karl Marx, Charles
Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Equating all
human religious expression with an enslaving opiate designed
to keep the proletariat in psychic chains, Karl Marx predicted
both the inevitable death of religion and the subsequent
emergence of a new atheistic world order. Similarly, Freud
saw in religion the greatest threat to humanity's social and
psychic development. Indeed, to Freud religion and philosophy
represented no more than a ..black tide of mud...=94, designed
solely to keep humanity enslaved in the chains of superstition
(Ernest Becker, Denial of Death, p. 94). Overt atheists were
not the only individuals to pronounce the imminent end of
religion.

Quite a few Judeo-Christian theologians also felt that
secularism would ultimately triumph over the human religious
impulse. Among these religious leaders were several who felt
that the inevitable secularization of the world merely
represented a coming of age for homo religiosus (religious
man). Included among these were Harvey Cox (author of he
Secular City=94) and Bishop John Robinson (who wrote onest to
God=94). Succumbing wholesale to the seemingly unstoppable
secular tide seen in twentieth century history, some Christian
theologians went so far as to declare the death of God in the
early 1960's. If God is indeed dead, however, such ongoing
phenomena as the belief in the importance of the spiritual
dimension of human life and the search for God seem to be very
far from it.

As we approach the beginning of the 21st Century, it appears
that religion has made a powerful comeback onto the world
stage. Throughout the Third-World, nation upon nation is
rejecting the current Western materialistic paradigm. Nations
that were traditionally Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Jewish
are rediscovering their ancient religious heritage and turning
to these time-tested spiritual world-views for answers to
today's many social, political, economic and ethical dilemmas
- dilemmas, many of which were created directly as a result of
the failures of secular materialism. Indigenous peoples -
peoples ranging from the aborigines of Australia to the many
hundreds of Native American tribes in North and South America
- are reconnecting with their own, long oppressed, spiritually-
based cultures: cultures which have proven themselves to be
gentler, saner, and more Earth-centered spiritual outlooks
than anything secular materialism had to offer. Moreover, with
the failure and consequent collapse of Marxist regimes in
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the people of this
region of the world have expressed an unprecedented resurgence
of interest in more religious ways of life. Indeed, in today's
Russia, two of the fastest growing philosophies of life are
Hinduism and Buddhism.

This world-wide rediscovery of the importance of religion has
also had a dramatic impact on the American scene. There are
several recent trends in American culture which readily reveal
this fact. One of these trends has been the explosive
popularity of the New Age movement in recent years. As a
movement deeply grounded in the belief that personal spiritual
development is essential to social and political change, New
Age thought has had a deeply penetrating influence on the
American public. The rebirth of interest in religion is seen
on the popular stage by the amazing number of books with
spiritual themes that have become run-away best sellers. These
include the works of Deepak Chopra, Bernie Siegal, Thomas
Moore and Marianne Williamson.

Coupled with the success of New Age spirituality has been the
growing popularity of Asian religions in America. Over the
past several decades hundreds of thousands of Americans have
joined various Asian religious traditions. Famous actors like
Richard Gere and musical performers like Madonna and Sting,
among many others, now consider themselves to be practicing
Hindus, Buddhists or Taoists. To legions of college students
and youth across America, nothing is considered cooler than
studying and practicing Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and
spirituality. Every major American city has at least several
dozen Hindu temples and Buddhist meditation centers. Yoga, Tai
Chi and meditation are spiritual techniques which are now
practiced by millions of average, middle class Americans.

The recent religious resurgence in America is effecting
society not only on a more popular level, but within the realm
of academia as well. The latter phenomenon is evidenced by the
recent successes of overtly religious scholars in philosophy
departments across the land. Such philosophers of religion as
Alvin Plantinga and Keith Yandell have begun to make
tremendous inroads into an area which, until recently, was
almost the exclusive domain of Human skeptics.

On a more ominous note, the new religious resurgence in
America has also included a rise in Evangelical
Fundamentalism. This new evangelical revival has taken on
increasingly political tones in recent years. Beginning with
such individuals as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the
late 1970's, conservative Christian activists began to take
their theological opinions into the partisan political realm.
Through supporting politicians and ballot initiatives viewed
as being pro-family values, Evangelicals have made their views
forcefully known and implemented throughout the nation. The
success and acceptability of Pat Robertson's Christian
Coalition in the Republican Party reveals to us that this is a
movement that is immensely powerful and that is here to stay.

That religion, both in America and throughout the world, is
becoming an increasingly important factor is well established
knowledge. Let us now explore some of the possible reasons for
this fact. One reason is certainly the dramatic failure of the
most powerful anti-religious ideology in human history:
Marxism. First presented as a rational, scientific and
humanistic alternative to religion, the fall of Communism in
Europe in 1989 revealed Marxism to be a more repressive,
inhumane and destructive system than any religion had ever
been. As only one of many examples of the failure of Marxism
we have the example of Cambodia. A peaceful and beautiful
Buddhist nation previous to the Marxist Khmer Rouge shooting
their way to power in 1975, Marxist rule led to the genocide
of at least 1.5 million of Cambodia's inhabitants - over an
eighth of the population - over a three year period.
Interestingly, Marxists and secularists throughout our century
had repeatedly accused religion of being responsible for all
of humanity's many historic sufferings and injustices. As we
now know, however, more human beings have been persecuted,
murdered, tortured and dehumanized by Marxism in our century
alone than have been harmed by all of the world's many
religions combined since the beginnings of human history.

Indeed, it could be argued that the failure of secularism, as
a whole, is responsible for the new religious renaissance now
being experienced globally. The omnipresent human need for
meaning simply could not be adequately addressed by the cold,
impersonal institutions and ideologies of secularism.
Consequently, we are now witnessing an increasing worldwide
reaction against all forms of Western materialism - both
Marxist and capitalist. America, as we have seen, has been far
from immune from this rather dramatic global shift.

Some might argue that it is still somewhat premature to
proclaim the advent of a new religious era for humanity.
However, the data reveals that there is definitely a current
global shift away from institutions and philosophies which
have urged the abandonment of the human spirit. Additionally,
the currently ongoing rediscovery of humankind's many diverse
spiritual traditions reveal to all impartial observers that we
are at present experiencing nothing less than the begining of
a Post Secular Age. It is quite apparent that those scholars
who earlier this century had predicted - and in some cases,
even looked forward to - the death of religion were
exceedingly mistaken. Rather than being on the verge of
extinction, as we approach the second Millennium, the natural
phenomenon of human religious expression seems to have been
born anew.

(Frank Morales has been a practicing Hindu for the past 20
years. He is a follower of the ancient Shri Vaishnava
tradition, which is found predominantly in South India. At
present, Mr. Morales is a Fellow working on his Ph.D. in South
Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-
Madison. He specializes in Sanskrit, Hindu Studies, Philosophy
of Religion and History of Religion. Additionally, he is the
Advisor of the Sanatana Dharma Student Association, the
Unversity of Wisconsin's Hindu student and faculty
organization.)


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