January 10, 2016


The God Profusion : Europe's churches are empty--but don't take that as a sign of reason's triumph. More than half of Icelanders believe in elves and trolls. : a review of THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH By Rodney Stark (NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY, Jan. 3, 2016, WSJ)

Mr. Stark pushes back against the secularization thesis in several ways. In a section called "The Myth of Medieval Piety," he notes, for example, that during the so-called Dark Ages of Europe--when religion supposedly stifled the life of the mind and benighted the populace--more than 90% of the population lived in rural areas, while churches were to be found mostly in towns and cities: "Therefore hardly anyone could have attended church. Moreover, even after most Europeans had access to a church, whether Catholic or Protestant, most people still didn't attend, and when forced to do so, they often misbehaved."

In short, the poor and less educated are not by definition more pious. As for the other half of the secularization thesis, Mr. Stark shows that, in one country after another today, more educated people are choosing religion in larger numbers than their less educated peers. This is certainly true in the United States, where college-educated Americans are more likely to attend religious services than their counterparts with only a high-school diploma.

Indeed, religious fervor has taken hold in many countries where modernity is a settled fact. In majority-Muslim countries the percentage of people attending mosque is highest among those with a college education. Mr. Stark writes that the people in these countries who are most offended by Western culture tend not to be village hicks but people living in modernized, urban areas.

Scholars like Philip Jenkins have for years observed that in the Southern Hemisphere religious belief--particularly Christianity and Islam--has been spreading rapidly. Here Mr. Stark cites a poll that he trusts: the Gallup World Poll, which has been conducted annually since 2005 and now includes more than a million interviews from 163 different countries. According to Gallup, almost all South American countries are now less than 5% secular. While Catholicism used to be the dominant form of Christianity, because it was the official religion of the colonizing powers, Protestantism "has become a major religious presence in most of Latin America."

Posted by at January 10, 2016 7:49 PM


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