The Myth of Secular Inevitability

One of the memes often proffered by secularists is that due to the advances of science and atheism, the inevitable trend of modern nations is to become more secular. Europe is often cited as an example of such a trend given its modern economy, extensive social welfare programs and overt secularism.

The reality however isn’t so simple or even that supportive of such a theory. Anyone who knows something about history (and by history, I mean knowledge of a time previous to the 1980s. Or even the 1880s) knows that religious belief (particularly the advance of Christianity) waxes and wanes, sometimes exploding in great awakenings, sometimes languishing during times of great prosperity and materialism. The idea that secularism is inevitably and irreversibly advancing is based on trends that really only encompass the last few decades and that focus primarily on a few places in the world. Of course this theory also is a wish fulfillment of the New Atheist movement who are trying desperately to demonstrate they are more than a tiny, transient movement fueled primarily by disgruntled and disenfranchised young single men.

Nonetheless, there is of course no little evidence that the belief in the inevitability of secularism is misplaced. One example would be a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor concerning the growth of Christian churches in France:

For years, intellectuals proclaimed the end of Christianity in France, swallowed by the tides of modernity, science, and reason. Protestants were mostly evicted or “invited to leave” during the Counter-Reformation in the 17th century. The use of religious language and symbols was outlawed in public in the years after the French Revolution against the Catholic nobility. “Having faith” or “being spiritual” is often seen as odd, or a form of ignorance, or superstition.

Yet studies show a different story on the ground. Daniel Liechti, vice-president of the French National Evangelical Council, found that since 1970, a new evangelical church has opened in France every 10 days. The number of churches increased from 769 to 2,068 last year.

Evangelicalism has been growing quietly since the 1950s. The number of practitioners has risen from 55,000 to 460,000 today, with another 140,000 believers who identify as faithful. Gypsy Protestants account for roughly 70,000 of evangelicals in France. Half of the country’s Protestants are evangelicals, according to CNRS figures.

Such growth belies many of the polls New Atheists often rely on to advance the idea of secular advancement. Certainly the populations of Christians are smaller than those in the US, but they are growing – and not only in France but in other places presumed to be securely secular like China.

New Atheists will no doubt dismiss this as an anomaly or outlier and continue to assert the future is theirs. Knowledgeable Christians who pay attention to history and societies beyond the West will know differently. The wise in general will know that the best test of such beliefs is the passage of time itself or as a great sage was once said to respond to every supposed turn of events, “We shall see”.

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One Response to The Myth of Secular Inevitability

  1. If we lived in an educated society, secularism would eventually be the norm. That doesn’t mean that Christians or other religious adherents would be silenced or would disappear. It would simply mean that our society – particularly our government and education systems – would be guided by what could be seen, measured and proven, and that people’s religious convictions, while being respected, would not be the main consideration in the making of public policy. In short – a more perfect society, one dedicated to improving this life instead of worrying about the next.

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