This social scientist is observing the decrease in religious identity in the West due to secularization and modernization. He argues that if children are not brought up with religion, they are less likely to feel comfortable with it. As the population enjoys prosperity and comfort, they are less likely to turn to religion for solace. It is his opinion, that religion in the West will continue to erode and will never rebound.
I do think this sociologist makes correct observations about factors that are contributing to decreased religious identity in the West. However, this scientist discounts many factors which run counter to his conclusions. First, he says religious identity in a country is inversely proportional to its modernization. Yet he notes that for many Muslim middle eastern nations, this is not the case. Also, he doesn’t really talk about religious revival in US history such as the second great awakening or in other countries but only speaks of limited revivals followed government suppression.
I am making the argument that religion provides many inherent benefits to society. Accordingly, religion will always experience eventual revival for several reasons:
1. God really does exist and really created the universe and really does manifest Himself to His children. So, rebellious children can only deny reality to a point. As long as God remains a caring parent, He will continue to convince His children of His existence.
2. Human have an innate drive to believe in God. Belief in God is what makes us human. Man originally believed our relationship with God is what made man different from the other animals. Scientists had tried to redefine humanity in terms of our ability to use tools or language or other factors but have been disappointed by documenting other animals with those same capabilities. In the end, religion continues to set humans apart from animals. Religion is what defines us as human. If we lose religion, we lose our humanity.
Opponents to religion try to claim religion oppresses and controls behavior through fear and creating a system of contrived and imaginary punishments. Religion does discipline behavior, but in reality, the opposite is true. Animal behavior is fear- and survival-based; even animal group behavior. Human’s who respond to conscience, on the other hand, can choose to act motivated by love and not fear.
3. Religion is a matter of culture, but also has enduring benefits, even in times of prosperity. Modern religion has gotten away from its true purpose in many cases which has led to its devaluation. But ideally, religion is about welfare and virtue (James 1:27). Religion is about setting up a community focused on helping and ministering to its members. The State may have tried to ursurp the role of religion, but religion will always do a much better job of administering welfare because of increased efficiency, and accountability.
4. Religion is also about defining, upholding and maintaining virtue in society. If man knew nothing of God, how would we know not to kill, lie, or steal. Animals only follow instinct. but because man has a knowledge of God and His will, we have a choice to act counter to the natural man and follow conscience. Man can feel hungry but choose to fast. Man can feel offended but choose to forgive. Man can feel greed, but choose to tithe. Man can feel self-absorbed, but choose to serve.
5. Religion upholds and institutionalizes virtue in society by administering covenants in the same way the millitary and judicial system has its officers make oaths of office, oaths of honesty, and pledges of allegiance. The world continually gives us excuses to break our promises. Covenants with God gives man reason to keep our promises despite our seemingly valid excuses and rationalizations. Through baptism and the Lord’s Supper believers covenant to follow Christ, follow His example, and keep His commandments at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances.
6. Religion provides man a promise of ultimate justice, hope and solace. God reminds man in scripture agaun and again “vengance in mine, saith the Lord, and I will repay”. How liberating this concept is for man. We can leave justice to God and move on with our lives and self actualization and not get bogged down with revenge and personal vendettas. Also, God give us hope in an afterlife that selfless altruistic service here in this life leads to greater rewards in the next life. A selfless community living to help one another is much better than living in a self-centered community where everyone is only ever looking out for their own self interest. Religion also provides solace to deal with death and loss. In addition to helping us deal with death by a promise of afterlife, God promises to make up to us all our losses and wipe away every tear.
7. If society gets to the point of secularization where prosperity leads to a loss of its moral foundation, than history demonstrates and warns that corrupt nations will collapse. Prosperous societies that uphold false religion which do not uphold virtue or discharge the duties of individual welfare, become demoralized and corrupt and eventually and suddenly collapse. The ruins of Egypt, Rome and Greece are stark reminders. The scriptures tell the accurate tale that demoralization leads to increased poverty in society, and increased demoralized behavior and poverty leads to a greater consolidation of political power and political corruption. The eventual collapse of corrupt demoralized societies always leads to increased humility and greater religious identity. This is the well-known “pride cycle” recorded in scripture.
The United States is the model of Constitutional government based on limiting corruption by the separation of power. Constitutional self-government can only be maintained by a moral society. Religion is supposed to define and uphold individual morality. As society becomes demoralized, increased poverty and problems enter and government increasingly encroaches upon and usurps the duties of religion. There becomes to be a consolidation of political and economic power that promise to solve social problems and provide social justice. But consolidation of power is never the answer, is unamerican, and always leads to increased corruption. Consequently, the West seems to be increasingly controlled by Big Government, Big Industry, Big Pharma. and now Big Data propagandized by Big Media.
If religious identity is waning in the West, it is not because archaic religion has lost its value in a modern society, but because modern religion is getting away from its traditional foundations, purposes, and inherent usefulness. When I talk to millennials about why they are religious. they invariably list its many benefits. Modern society is increasingly seeing modern virtue-less religion as no more beneficial than a local Kiwanis or Rotary Club or even less benefit than some global NGO’s.
Religion can also give itself a black eye by over-interpreting virtue and being too strict. Religion becomes less of a support and more of a burden when it enforces overly restrictive clothing standards that go beyond modesty, for example. Evil likes to take us the the extremes when the correct road is down the golden middle.