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The Post Secular Age 
By Frank Morales

The last two centuries have been a conspicuously unique era in the history of the human race. For, unlike any other epoch in our history, the last 200 years have witnessed the systematic and seemingly unstoppable deconstruction of religion as an important element of Western society. So successful has the exorcism of religion from public life been, that many twentieth Century American scholars went so far as to pronounce the imminent death of religion in our age.
As is becoming increasingly apparent, however, religion’s obituary may have been written somewhat prematurely. The latter part of the twentieth century is witnessing one of the greatest world wide religious resurgences ever recorded in the annals of human history. And America has not been immune to this trend. Rather than ushering in a new secular age, an age free of the influence of religion, spirituality and contemplation, the evidence seems to indicate that we are actually entering a Post Secular Age: an age wherein religion will necessarily fill up the vacuum created by the failure of twentieth-century secularism.

The idea that religion would meet its eventual demise (and, according to some, should meet its demise) had been espoused by a large number of Western intellectuals in the last two centuries. Perhaps the most famous of these individuals were, what Christian theologian Martin Marty termed, "The Bearded God-Killers" (National Public Radio, 1996). These primarily nineteenth century figures included: Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Equating all human religious expression with an enslaving opiate designed to keep the proletariat in psychic chains, Karl Marx predicted both the inevitable death of religion and the subsequent emergence of a new atheistic world order. Similarly, Freud saw in religion the greatest threat to humanity’s social and psychic development. Indeed, to Freud religion and philosophy represented no more than a "...black tide of mud...," designed solely to keep humanity enslaved in the chains of superstition (Ernest Becker, Denial of Death, p. 94). Overt atheists were not the only individuals to pronounce the imminent end of religion.

Quite a few Judeo-Christian theologians also felt that secularism would ultimately triumph over the human religious impulse. Among these religious leaders were several who felt that the inevitable secularization of the world merely represented a coming of age for homo religiosus (religious man). Included among these were Harvey Cox (author of "The Secular City") and Bishop John Robinson (who wrote "Honest to God"). Succumbing wholesale to the seemingly unstoppable secular tide seen in twentieth century history, some Christian theologians went so far as to declare the death of God in the early 1960’s. If God is indeed dead, however, such ongoing phenomena as the belief in the importance of the spiritual dimension of human life and the search for God seem to be very far from it.

As we approach the beginning of the 21st Century, it appears that religion has made a powerful comeback onto the world stage. Throughout the Third-World, nation upon nation is rejecting the current Western materialistic paradigm. Nations that were traditionally Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Jewish are rediscovering their ancient religious heritage and turning to these time-tested spiritual world-views for answers to today’s many social, political, economic and ethical dilemmas - dilemmas, many of which were created directly as a result of the failures of secular materialism. Indigenous peoples - peoples ranging from the aborigines of Australia to the many hundreds of Native American tribes in North and South America - are reconnecting with their own, long oppressed, spiritually-based cultures: cultures which have proven themselves to be gentler, saner, and more Earth-centered spiritual outlooks than anything secular materialism had to offer. Moreover, with the failure and consequent collapse of Marxist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the people of this region of the world have expressed an unprecedented resurgence of interest in more religious ways of life. Indeed, in today’s Russia, two of the fastest growing philosophies of life are Hinduism and Buddhism.

This world-wide rediscovery of the importance of religion has also had a dramatic impact on the American scene. There are several recent trends in American culture which readily reveal this fact. One of these trends has been the explosive popularity of the New Age movement in recent years. As a movement deeply grounded in the belief that personal spiritual development is essential to social and political change, New Age thought has had a deeply penetrating influence on the American public. The rebirth of interest in religion is seen on the popular stage by the amazing number of books with spiritual themes that have become run-away best sellers. These include the works of Deepak Chopra, Bernie Siegal, Thomas Moore and Marianne Williamson.

Coupled with the success of New Age spirituality has been the growing popularity of Asian religions in America. Over the past several decades hundreds of thousands of Americans have joined various Asian religious traditions. Famous actors like Richard Gere and musical performers like Madonna and Sting, among many others, now consider themselves to be practicing Hindus, Buddhists or Taoists. To legions of college students and youth across America, nothing is considered cooler than studying and practicing Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and spirituality. Every major American city has at least several dozen Hindu temples and Buddhist meditation centers. Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation are spiritual techniques which are now practiced by millions of average, middle class Americans.

The recent religious resurgence in America is effecting society not only on a more popular level, but within the realm of academia as well . The latter phenomenon is evidenced by the recent successes of overtly religious scholars in philosophy departments across the land. Such philosophers of religion as Alvin Plantinga and Keith Yandell have begun to make tremendous inroads into an area which, until recently, was almost the exclusive domain of Human skeptics.

On a more ominous note, the new religious resurgence in America has also included a rise in Evangelical Fundamentalism. This new evangelical revival has taken on increasingly political tones in recent years. Beginning with such individuals as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the late 1970’s, conservative Christian activists began to take their theological opinions into the partisan political realm. Through supporting politicians and ballot initiatives viewed as being pro-family values, Evangelicals have made their views forcefully known and implemented throughout the nation. The success and acceptability of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition in the Republican Party reveals to us that this is a movement that is immensely powerful and that is here to stay.

That religion, both in America and throughout the world, is becoming an increasingly important factor is well established knowledge. Let us now explore some of the possible reasons for this fact. One reason is certainly the dramatic failure of the most powerful anti-religious ideology in human history: Marxism. First presented as a rational, scientific and humanistic alternative to religion, the fall of Communism in Europe in 1989 revealed Marxism to be a more repressive, inhumane and destructive system than any religion had ever been. As only one of many examples of the failure of Marxism we have the example of Cambodia. A peaceful and beautiful Buddhist nation previous to the Marxist Khmer Rouge shooting their way to power in 1975, Marxist rule led to the genocide of at least 1.5 million of Cambodia’s inhabitants - over an eighth of the population - over a three year period. Interestingly, Marxists and secularists throughout our century had repeatedly accused religion of being responsible for all of humanity’s many historic sufferings and injustices. As we now know, however, more human beings have been persecuted, murdered, tortured and dehumanized by Marxism in our century alone than have been harmed by all of the world’s many religions combined since the beginnings of human history.

Indeed, it could be argued that the failure of secularism, as a whole, is responsible for the new religious renaissance now being experienced globally. The omnipresent human need for meaning simply could not be adequately addressed by the cold, impersonal institutions and ideologies of secularism. Consequently, we are now witnessing an increasing worldwide reaction against all forms of Western materialism - both Marxist and capitalist. America, as we have seen, has been far from immune from this rather dramatic global shift.
Some might argue that it is still somewhat premature to proclaim the advent of a new religious era for humanity. However, the data reveals that there is definitely a current global shift away from institutions and philosophies which have urged the abandonment of the human spirit. Additionally, the currently ongoing rediscovery of humankind’s many diverse spiritual traditions reveal to all impartial observers that we are at present experiencing nothing less than the beginning of a Post Secular Age. It is quite apparent that those scholars who earlier this century had predicted - and in some cases, even looked forward to - the death of religion were exceedingly mistaken. Rather than being on the verge of extinction, as we approach the second Millennium, the natural phenomenon of human religious expression seems to have been born anew.

source: Dharma Central



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