Welcome to Faith & Reason (or welcome back if you followed my blog for years at USA TODAY). This is where readers make the blog happen. I raise questions on issues in the news and you chime in (thoughtfully and politely please).
My Q. today arose at this past weekend’s gathering of sociologists, political scientists and other academics at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
“Is Secularism Working?” SSSR president Michele Dillon asked four experts. Last year, the number of people who claim no religious identity reached one in five in the USA. But what impact is that having on the wider culture and where does America fit in the global picture?
It depends on how you define “working,” said Roger Finke, of Penn State University.
Finke ventured a definition: “Secularism is working when it preserves the collective peace without infringing on the civil rights of others.”
However, he said, cutting religious ideas and symbols out of the larger culture offers no assurances of peace or respect for religious rights. A secular state does not automatically ensure individual freedoms. Neither does a democracy, which is vulnerable to the tyranny of the majority.
“Working” also varies by where you look. Harvard’s Pippa Norris saw a global disconnect: “Affluent countries are increasingly secular” but “the world as a whole has more people with traditional religious values than ever before.”
Religion, said Norris, functions to relieve anxiety and stress and support, providing a basis for psychological well-being. The more “existentially insecure” people feel, the higher their rates of prayer and worship attendance. “If your country is more secure, you need less of what religion offers.”
Genevieve Zubrzycki, of the University of Michigan, took a close look at Poland and Quebec where, she concluded “secularism is not working” because it is not creating peace or safeguarding individual rights.
Wade Clark Roof, of University of California Santa Barbara, saw a problem with Dillon’s question. It sets up a simple binary that does not match most American’s lived experiences. American culture is a dynamic interplay between an enlightenment emphasis on reason, tolerance, nature and progress and the dominant evangelical Protestant emphasis on the experience of Jesus, the authority of biblical truth and salvation through faith, Roof said.
“Both are working in individual lives,” he said.
What do you see? Is secularism “working” in America? Is that a good or a bad thing?
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