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Peter L. Berger
t has been more than a century since Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God. The prophecy was widely accepted as referring to an afieged fact about increasing disbefief in refigion, both by those who rejoiced in it and those who deplored it. As the twentieth century proceeded, however, the afieged fact became increasingly dubious. And it is very dubious indeed as a description of our point in time at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Refigion has not been declining. On the contrary, in much of the world there has been a veritable explosion of refigious faith. Ever since the Enfightenment, intellectuals of every stripe have befieved that the inevitable consequence of modernity is the decline of refigion. The reason was supposed to be the progress of science and its concomitant rationality, replacing the irrationafity and superstition of refigion. Not only Nietzsche but other seminal modem thinkers thought so—notably Marx (refigion as opiate of the masses) and Freud (refigion as illusion). So did the two great figures of classical sociology. Enule Durkheim explained refigion as nothing but a metaphor of social order. Max Weber befieved that what he cafied "rationafization"—the increasing dominance of a scientific mindset—would destroy the "magical garden" of premodern worldviews. To be sure, the two had different attitudes toward this afieged insight. Durkheim, an Enfightened atheist, saw modem secularity as progress. Weber was not happy about what he saw—ostensibly the imprisonment of modem man in the "iron cage" of rationafity. But, happily or nostalgically, both agreed on what was supposedly happening. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were mistaken. Modernity is not intrinsically secularizing, is direaor of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University. This essay, in a slightly different form, was delivered as a William Phillips Memorial Leaure at the New School for Social Research on October 10, 2007. Permission to publish it here is gratefully acknowledged.
PETER L . BERGER
though it has been so in particular cases (one of which, as I wifi argue in a moment, is very relevant for the phenomenon of secularism). The mistake, I think, can be described as a confusion of categories: Modernity is not necessarily secularizing; it is necessarily pluralizing. Modernity is characterized by an increasing plurafity, within the same society, of different befiefs, values, and worldviews. Plurafity does indeed pose a chafienge to afi refigious traditions—each one must cope with the fact that there are "afi these others," not just in a faraway country but right next door. This chafienge, however, is not the one assumed by secularization theory. Looked at globafiy, there are two particularly powerful religious explosions—resurgent Islam and dynamic evangefical Protestantism. Passionate Islamic movements are on the rise throughout the Musfim world, from the Atlantic Ocean to the China Sea, and in the Musfim diaspora in the West. The rise of evangefical Protestantism has been less noticed by intefiectuals, the media, and the general pubfic in Westem countries, partly because nowhere is it associated with violence and partly because it more directly challenges the assumptions of estabfished efite opinion: David Martin, a leading British sociologist of refigion, has cafied it a "revolution that was not supposed to happen." Yet it has spread more rapidly and over a larger geographical area than resurgent Islam. What is more, the Islamic growth has occurred mosdy in populations that were already Musfim—a revitafization rather than a conversion. By contrast, evangefical Protestantism has been penetrating parts of the world in which this form of refigion was hitherto unknown. And it has done so by means of mass conversions. By far the most numerous and dynamic segment of what I am calling this evangelical diffusion has been Pentecostafism. It began almost exacdy one hundred years ago in a number of locations in the United States, as smafi groups of people began to speak in tongues and experience miraculous healing. From its beginning, Pentecostafism was actively proselytizing, mostly in
as in the practice of the Soviet Union and other communist regimes. First. Orthodox Judaism has been rapidly growing in America and in Israel. This moderate attitude toward refigion is then expressed in a moderate understanding of the separation of church and state. in Sweden). But the big Pentecostal explosion began in the 1950s. Refigious symbols or actions arerigorouslybarred from pofitical life. as it is in contemporary France. "you can go in. is characterized precisely by antirefigious animus. must now be speciafiy trained to undertake their task in teacher-training institutions. entire commumty is now organized in specialized institutions. We might distinguish three versions of secularism. however. Shapiro—his wife has been taken to the hospital. at least as far as the public role of refigion is concerned. who used to be family members with no special training. The education of children. There have been tendencies in America toward a French version of secularism. can be relatively benign. This second type of secularism. curiously enough. provided a prototype of refigious speciafization—the realm of Caesar separated from that of God. and the latter has had some successes in proselytizing in America and Europe. The causes and present shape of what one may cafi Eurosecularity constitute one of the most interesting problems in the sociology of contemporary refigion. and it has been intensifying ever since." says the man. long before the advent of modernity. with refigion considered a strictly private matter. "But it is a matter of life and death. has been doing well in the Global South. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have experienced revivals. but privatized refigion is protected by law. as an ideology that accepts the institutional speciafization of refigion. The boundaries of Pentecostafism are somewhat vague: It is a multidimensional phenomenon. What may be cafied the ACLU viewpoint is pithily captured in an old Jewish joke: A man tries to enter a synagogue during the High Hofidays. in trouble in Europe. Simply put: Modernity is not characterized by the absence of God but by the presence of many gods— with two exceptions to this picture of a furiously refigious world. Social activities that were undertaken in premodern societies within a unified institutional context are now dispersed among several institutions. The Christian Church. but it is useful to think here of a spectrum of seciilarisms: There is the moderate version. with a plurafity of separate refigious institutions available on a free market." The punch line accurately describes the ACLU's position on any provision of pubfic services (from school buses to medical facifities) to faith-based institutions. The third type of secularism is anything but benign. essentiafiy a globafization of the Enfightened intelfigentsia of Europe. there are four hundred milfion of them. typified by the traditional American view of church-state separation. The American case makes clear that secularism. which in tum spout further institutions. But what characterizes both the benign and the malevolent versions of laidte is that refigion is evicted from pubfic life and confined to private space. and Pentecostal-fiike emptions within mainline Protestant and Cathofic churches. Then there T S ecularism thus finds itself in a global context of dynamic refigiosity. The usher stops the man and says that only people with reserved seats may enter. What modernity does is to make the differentiation much more ample and diffused. The other exception is perhaps even more relevant to the question of secularization. with expficitly Pentecostal denominations. for it is constituted by an international cultural efite. All typologies oversimpfify social reafity. If one subsumes these groups under the general heading of charismatics. such as state certification agencies and teachers' unions. he second type of secularism. need not imply an antirefigious animus. Refigious dynamism is not confined to Islam and Pentecostafism. There is a revival of the Orthodox Church in Russia. which means that it faces some serious chafienges."says the usher." "Afiright. Refigion has gone through a comparable process of differentiation—what used to be an activity of the . One path for this development is the denominational system typical of American refigion. used to occur within the family or tribe.24 FIRST THINGS America (though there were early outposts abroad— even. The Cathofic Church. located in such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. local Pentecostal congregations with no denominational affifiations. The French understanding of the state originated in the anti-Christian animus of the continental Enfightenment and was pofiticafiy estabfished by the French Revolution. but it is now handled by specialized institutions. the term may refer to accepting the consequences for refigion of the institutional dSferentiation that is a crucial feature of modernity. It is everywhere a minority of the population—but a very influential one. "I must speak to Mr. One is geographical: Western and Central Europe. But don't let me catch you praying. according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. especiafiy in the developing countries. The state is not hostile to refigion but draws back from direct involvement in refigious matters and recognizes the autonomy of refigious institutions. Educational personnel. for example.
In progressive circles in America. the last time it sought to estabfish a Cathofic state was when it supported the Nationafist side in the Spanish Civil War. There are. yes. and they speak the same language. with people paying fip service to the Kemafist ideology but at the same time passively resisting it in family and community fife. Regardless. As to the Cathofic Church. notably in Eastern Europe. Many Musfims who have no inclination toward terrorism or holy war have similar views. Nor is such a view of refigion dominating afi of society pecufiar to Musfims. In recent years. As P. in the United States and elsewhere. They look alike. this resistance turned pofiticafiy active. typified by French laidte and more recendy by the ACLU. by the way. that they are used to legitimate the "root causes" underlying a conffict. fairly clear instances of both. Latin America. the call for an afi-embracing Islamic state resonates strongly among contemporary Musfims. A series of avowedly Islamic parties entered the pofitical process. In India. It was dominant in urban. in which refigion is both confined to the private sphere and protected by legafiy enforced freedom of refigion. For a while. and civifization for him meant the secular culture of Europe. Back in the Anatofian hinterland. as have powerful groups within Russian Orthodoxy calling for a "monofithic unity of church and state" (a phrase used recendy by a high official of the Moscow Patriarchate). "I'm an atheist. comparable ambitions are frequendy attributed to evangefical Protestants and Cathofics. Only a very smafi minority of evangeficals. In afi these cases. Their alternative is the dominance of refigion over every sphere of human life. "Are you Cathofic or Protestant?" "Actuafiy. His pofitical model was the French one—pubfic fife made. had a very visible anti-Islamic impfication: It is difficult wearing headgear with a visor in front to touch one's forehead to the ground in the mandatory obeisance of Muslim prayer. For obvious reasons. most attention is now focused on the radical Islamic chafienge. which none of them befieve in. who want to estabfish such a state by violent means. antisepticafiy free of refigious symbols and behavior. Since the Second Vatican Council. Another case is Northern Ireland. want to set up a Christian state. The Turkish Repubfic was founded in 1923 by Atatiirk. (This. particularly in the Kemafist pofitical and mifitary efite. Thus Atatiirk proscribed the traditional fez as male headgear. And then there is. the Cathofic Church has become an important factor in democratization. however. One must make an important distinction between movements animated by genuinely refigious motives dmittedly it is difficult to decide which motives are genuinely refigious and which are not. Its adherents can be as fanatical as any refigious fundamentafists. He wanted to "civifize" Turkey.J. O'Rourke once put it: There are three groups in the Bosnian conflict.FEBRUARY 2008 25 is the more radical version.) This secularist ideology was firmly estabfished in large sectors of Turkey's society." says the man. and movements where refigious labels are attached to agendas that are nonrefigious. as it were. insisting that Turkish men don European-style hats or caps. Even the moderate version of secularism. "but are you a Cathofic or a Protestant atheist?" A country in which the chafienge to secularism is pofiticafiy prominent right now is Turkey. And yet there are also clear instances of refigious labels stuck on agendas rooted in very material interests. The attribution is empirically untenable. It is by no means limited to Jihadists. middle-class populations. who was decidedly anti-Islamic and probably antirefigious in general. Social scientists (most of whom are quite secular in outlook) tend to befieve that refigious motives are suspect. and the Phifippines. And this case is again nicely illustrated by a joke: A gunman jumps out of a doorway. a secularism that privatizes refigion and seeks to repress it. One such case is the Bosnian confiict. a deeply Musfim culture continued to prevail. the mifitary intervened to stop such parties . as Samuel Huntington has pointed out. as institutionafized in an American-style separation of church and state. The ideal of a Shari'a state has strong similarity with the ideal of a halakhic state propagated by some Orthodox Jewish groups in Israel. chafienging the Kemafist orthodoxy. where refigious markers were attached to clashes of pofitical and ethnic interests." "Ah. Indeed. such a stance is unthinkable. is being challenged by the contemporary refigious movements that reject the differentiation between refigious institutions and the rest of society. Musfims differ as to whether this view is essential to the faith as proclaimed in the Qur'an or whether it is a later accretion that could be modified." repfies the gunman. They are divided only by refigion. the term fundamentalism is appropriate. as in the Soviet case. of a society in which every aspect of pubfic and privatefifeis subjected to Islamic law. holds a gun to a man's head and asks. the ideology of hindutva has similar ambitions. A A fi these types of secularism are being vigorously chafienged. This chafienge is represented by the ideal of a Shari'a state—that is. This is a bias that fails to understand the motivating power of refigious faith. A suicide bomber in the Middle East may be trusted when he says that he is doing so to witness to the greatness of God.
Another is that Turkey (partly motivated by the efite's desire to have the country admitted to the European Union) has become more democratic. Hindu or other. But this has become progressively more difficult. bringing their Musfim culture with them. now called the BJP. But Ankara has expanded enormously since the 1920s. Like India. afi the intellectuals I met were opposed to the shah. "Not at afi. At present. two years before the Islamic revolution. None of them expected the revolution that actuafiy occurred. I had an experience that may serve as a metaphor for the refigious chafienge to secularism. Inevitably. It is an imposing building.) The outcome of these Turkish debates has importance far beyond Turkey. On her way through Istanbul. in the center of the city one can see only one big mosque (built quite recendy by the Saudis). but this identity in no way impfied that it would be a state with Judaism as the estabfished refigion. in pubfic institutions—a practice stifi prohibited. With one exception. an Islamist party is in power. But the major opposition comes from a party rooted in a vigorous affirmation of Hinduism as the core of Indian civifization. and more than 80 percent of its population is Hindu. and its non-Jewish minorities of Musfims and Christians were supposed to be fufi citizens. India today is stifi defined in its constitution as a secular repubfic. was quitefiterafiya pubfic space cleansed of afi refigious symbofism. afi those unenfightened people are actuafiy voting. Israel has been a democracy from its beginning.26 from taking power. India was understood as a state in which afi refigious communities were to feel at home—Hindus as wefi as Musfims. the symbol of Islamic modesty." FIRST THINGS On a much more recent visit to Turkey. In Turkey. has continued to uphold the secularist ideal (which is why Muslims mostly vote for it). At the time of my visit. this has pofitical repercussions. "they are just put up by migrants from the provinces. who wifi never have much of an influence. in the sense of neutrafity with regard to all refigious communities. and I never heard mention of the Ayatofiah Khomeini. as a result. Thus the city center. As far as one can see. Sikhs.fimitingitself to muttering threats. on a hifi from which one gets a panoramic view of the city. an Islamic state has been set up by revolution and is marked by an oppressive dictatorship in which the Shi'ite clergy exercise hegemony. which had presided over the founding tryst. and most of them expected a revolution. But. India is one of the most refigious countries in the world. T wo instmctive additional cases of a secular efite facing a popular refigious chafienge are India and Israel. . Thus Islam is besieging the capital of Kemafist secularism not only pofiticafiy but physicafiy.emafists continue to have dark suspicions) it has not only observed the mles of the secular state but has actuafiy made it more democratic. The most visible chafienge from the refigious side has been the insistence by many Musfim women on their right to wear the headscarf. which became independent at the same time. defined as a state for Muslims. Mainly it was to set India off against Pakistan. About the same time. and. she noticed greenfiags(symbols of Islam) flying from houses and storefronts. After afi. my wife was lecturing in Turkey. And yet another reason is that some in the efite have come to doubt the old secularist orthodoxy and become lukewarm in their resistance to pofitical Islam. Ataturk's capital. Again there was passive resistance by a strongly refigious populace. not only in Turkey but everywhere: A main tourist attraction in Ankara (indeed. and Christians." repfied the professor. the Islamic party came to power through democratic elections. however. The Pahlavi regime in Iran consciously tried to emulate Ataturk's secular state. In recent decades. One reason is that masses of Aiiatofians migrated to the urban centers. every one of these has a mosque. She asked her host (an Enfightened university professor) whether these fiags signified a resurgence of Islam. The state proclaimed its independence a year after India. No hostifity to refigion. was impfied by that phrase. Israel is remarkably similar in its secular and refigious dynamic. ignorant people. the Congress party. Its leaders say they have no desire to overthrow the secular repubfic or to estabfish a Shari'a state. It did identify itself as a Jewish state. What the two cases have in common was the blindness of the Enfightened intelfigentsia to see what was coming. and the center is ringed by a great number of newer urban areas. has periodically held power both in several states and in the Union government. And again the latter finafiy attained power. By contrast. So far the mifitary has not intervened. And the party. (It is interesting how often headgear has become a flashpoint for conffict between secularists and pious Musfims— from the male fez to the hijah. and thus far (though the K. Gandhi served (and stifi serves) as a national icon. just about the only tourist attraction) is the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk. But the difference between the two paths to power clearly shows that the chafienge to secularism can take very different forms: In Iran. Jains. as a matter of fact. My only visit to Iran occurred in 1976. WTien India became independent in 1947—and Nehru gave his famous speech celebrating India's "tryst with destiny"—the new state was expficitly defined as a secular repubfic.
Mencken was just as much a fundamentalist as Wilfiam Jennings Bryan (though Mencken was wittier). but the major opposition party. aggressive. the general population continued to be stubbornly refigious. hobbies. Sooner or later. who ring doorbefis. What has changed in more recent times (I suspect. The rest of us have other interests: family. contemptuous of anyone who differs from them.L. the least democratic of the three arms of government: the 1963 prohibition of prayer in the pubfic schools and the 1973 prohibition of laws against abortion. India. especiafiy in its evangefical version. But it is very important to understand that there are secularist as wefi as refigious fundamentalists—both unwilfing to question their assumptions. the Likud. Mencken's contemptuous treatment of evangeficals in his writings (notably in his account of the so-cafied Dayton Monkey Trial) ably represented this efite perception—and still does. The United States continues. there have been tensions between the dual identity of Israel as a democratic and a Jewish state. They supply the activists—the people who write checks. fundamentafists are fanatics. has drawn much of its strength from Jewish voters who resent the secular efite (to be sure. Repubficans won the allegiance of the refigious rebels and Democrats reflected die secularist biases of the efite. the nonprogressive popu- lace was going to rebel against the efite—and it was going to use the mechanisms of democracy to do so. Just as in Turkey. There is the general view that fundamentafism is bad for democracy because it hinders the moderation and willingness to compromise that make democracy possible. E3 . vices. in a curious reversal of the earfier relation to class by the two major parties. and finafiy to just about any refigious community that does not engage in illegal or clearly outrageous behavior. Both involved the Supreme Court. And the circle of tolerance has expanded steadily— from the different Protestant denominations. In recent elections. H. This arrangement worked very well for a long time.L. There is no precise equivalent to India's BJP in Israel. But what is directly relevant to the present topic is that many refigious Jews have been uncomfortable by the secular. degree of religious commitment—Protestant. Y et another instructive case is the United States. Should it matter to anyone else? The answer is yes. to Catholics and Jews. In plain language. and Israel. to be the most refigious society in the Western world. Nor did the First Amendment have a secularist intention but rather was intended to preserve peace between the different denominations of what was then a mainly Protestant nation. militant. There are fundamentafists of the other stripe who befieve that the nation is about to sink into moral anarchy if the Ten Commandments are removed from a courtroom. though some were not particularly pious Christians. if one is concerned for the future of democracy in the contemporary world. though. It is not surprising that Arab citizens of Israel have been uncomfortable as a result of these tensions. beginning in the 1930s) was what could be cafied a Europeanization of the cultural efite. as a result. Afi along. There are fundamentalists of one stripe who think that refigious tyranny is around the comer if a Christmas tree is erected on pubfic property. Fair enough. were certainly not antirefigious. A fi this is fascinating for any social scientist trying to understand contemporary cultural and pofitical developments. I think the positioning of the two parties was accidental. or Jewish—was the single best predictor of how people were going to vote. But once the dichotomous identification became estabfished. And fanatics have a built-in advantage over more moderate people: Eanatia have nothing else to ^o—they have no life beyond their cause. Yet we too must be mifitant in defense of certain core values of our civilization and our pofitical system. was looked down on by the efite. it turns out. India. for many reasons. especiafiy since the acquisition of the Palestinian territories after the 1967 war. and Israel. and who address envelopes. not just because of its secularity). refigiously neutral character of the state.FEBRUARY 2008 27 As it turned out. This efite was increasingly secular. by any measure. There were two clear fiashpoints sparking the rebelfion. many Arab citizens have been voting for Labor. work. and the Founding Fathers. it might just as wefi have been the other way around. H. the American republic was not created under a secularist banner. To be progressive came to mean secular. And. This refigiosity. For a long time the pofitical and cultural efite was strongly secular. and its pofitics became increasingly secularist (a sort of Kemafization. Cathofic. The religious chafienge to secularism has been an important fact of American culture and politics for the past forty years or so. It seems to me that a very important task in our time (and probably in any time) is to be mifitant in defense of moderation—a difficult task but not an impossible one. who volunteer in campaigns. Unlike modern Turkey. if you wifi). this situation had to lead to a pofitical clash. Again not surprisingly. The American Enfightenment was very different from the French. secularists and strongly refigious voters both became important elements of the two parties.
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