John Gray, reviewing the book God is Back (by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge), predicts, for the rest of the 21st century, the decline of Western secular ideologies (like atheism and liberalism):
[A]s energy and power flows eastwards, the secular ideologies that developed from Christianity are likely to dwindle in influence.
Rightly, Micklethwait and Wooldridge note that the grand secular belief systems of the past two centuries continued Christian ways of thinking: “Marx found it impossible not to think in terms of grand eschatologies . . . He employed numerous religious tropes – communists are latter-day gnostics, communism is heaven on earth, the revolution is the Last Judgement, workers are saved and capitalism is damned.”
In other words, God never really went away, for secular political projects were continuations of Christianity by other means. But if Marxism is a post-Christian creed that is now obsolete, why should liberalism – in its militant, proselytising form – be any different? In fact, it has been in decline for some time, a process that began with the fall of communism.
Put another way, when it comes to religion, the American Dream, not the European Dream, seems to be the 21st century’s future:
The notion that modernity and religion are at odds is a generalisation from the experience of some parts of Europe. Europe is now largely post-Christian and the majority no longer follows any conventional creed, but things are otherwise in much of the rest of the world, and notably so in the US, which, during most of its history, has been intensely religious and self-consciously modern.
European Enlightenment thinkers have tended to see the US as the exception that proves the rule – an unexplained lag in a universal trend towards secularisation.
So ha, ha, says John Gray to secularists like me: we are on the wrong side of history:
Whether Marxian or Millian, socialist or liberal, secular rationalists have held one tenet in common: religion belongs to the infancy of the species; the more modern a society becomes, the less room there is for religious belief and practice. Never questioned, this is what lies behind the hot-gospel sermons of evangelical atheists: if you want to be modern, say goodbye to God.
At bottom, the assertion that religion is destined to die out is a confession of faith. No amount of evidence will persuade secular believers that they are on the wrong side of history, but one of the achievements of God Is Back is to show how implausible, if not ridiculous, their view of history actually is.
John Gray may well be right. But it’s hardly anything to be gloating about. And the world’s colleges and universities (where elite intellectual culture flourishes) are overwhemlingly secular, and they represent global humanity’s long term trends. The Enlightenment continues to be winning where it counts most (among opinion leaders). It’s not entirely irrational to think that the world, a hundred years from now, will be less religious than it is today. Sooner or later, news of what the academy has learned gets out. The Enlightenment—not the anti-Enlightenment—deserves to win the future because it is closer to the truth and to reality, and I continue to have faith that truth and reality are more powerful than lies and delusions.
I can hear John Gray laugh: what a silly and naive secular humanist I am. But they laughed at Noah, too.