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The Future of Religion In Europe

“Spirituality” and not only “Religion” is declining according to this study.

I’d like to introduce you to my favorite article on the future of Religion in Europe.

You can read a short summary below or just go here for the article: “The Rise and Fall of Fuzzy Fidelity in Europe”

A Short Summary

David Voas is an eminent quantitative social scientist with a background in demography.

He is currently leading an investigation of religious and secular morality in Europe.

In this article he challenges the popular assumption that as religion declines a liberal theology or “spirituality” is flourishing.

The Main Argument

As we all know, traditional religious groups are in decline – no one argues this.

However, what Voas does argue is that the dramatic rise of “fuzzy fidelity” (or liberal, non-traditional spiritual groups) at the beginning of the twentieth centure is NOT a new form of religion destined to grow but is itself a transitional stage on the path to more fully secular culture.

In other words, liberal or non-traditional spiritual groups have not been successful at handing on their orientation to a new generation.

There has been a deep and possibly abiding disconnection. In fact liberal believers have been just as bad at handing on their faith as traditional religious groups, though perhaps for different reasons.

It is a startling study, in part, because it challenges the popular assumption, “if people don’t value religion they at least value spirituality.”

In terms of organizations which represent both groups – they are both drying up according to Voas.

-Greg Barker

Atheism: An Extremely Brief Introduction

A*the*ism (popular meaning:) focusing on the power of science over superstition. synonyms: naturalism, humanism, European enlightenment thought, irreligion and skepticism

This brief article introduces the idea of Atheism and some religious objections to it. It ends with a discussion question.

Atheism, literally “no-God-ism”, arose in societies weary of the power of the clergy and aware of the many ways in which religion could be used to abuse rather than liberate.

As Europe became more aware of scientific explanations for what had been previously considered supernatural phenomena, many intellectuals became emboldened to criticize a religious understanding of the world.

More recently, atheists have even challenged agnostics (those who claim to be uncertain of God’s existence) to get off the fence and join with them to counter what they view as the dark forces of religion: ignorance, bigotry, sexual repression, superstition, manipulation and violence.

A number of recent writers are now using the phrase “spiritual atheist” to describe their views, a combination which tries to balance the “no” of atheism to religion with a “yes” to ideas of beauty, truth and goodness.

These writers insist rather than leading to a dry and analytical approach to life, atheism provides a solid foundation for a sense awe and connection between all of life.

Religion Fights Back

Many religious believers have not been happy with these developments.

They object to the characterization of faith as innately violent and have charged that atheism itself is lacks the ability to teach and inspire that one critical element which the church imparts to society: morality.

Thus, religionists have observed that renowned atheists of the past, like Stalin, have led the world into darkness.

The logical outcome of an atheist future, they charge, is a “godless immorality” resulting in the eventual emergence of one megalomaniac dictator guided by nothing but pride, greed and desire for more power.

What the world truly needs, say these believers, is the moral inoculation of religion. Only then can society be sustained through inevitable “political infections” like atheism.

Peaceful Atheists?

“He [Gene Roddenberry] was a secular humanist and made it well known to writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion and superstition and mystical thinking were not to be part of his universe. On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist. And that world is the better for it.”
-Brannon Braga, producer with the most writing credits in the Star Trek franchise. ‘Every Religion Has a Mythology’

The dark vision of an atheist future painted by some religionists is at odds, however, with the reality of atheism in many western countries.

In contrast to Stalin, there are many atheists who promote a peaceful political agenda and even a secular spirituality.

Many atheist figures hated by religious people arose in times of social upheaval when the religion of the state was itself complicit in supporting an oppressive status quo.

Discussion:

What if society were to gently and consistently become atheist by nature? Would this future be the immoral night of terror envisioned by some religious adherents?

-Greg Barker
www.gregbarker.consulting

The Divinity of Kate Middleton

The church may be in decline but we still create saints -says Greg Barker

An estate agent showed a news reporter around the home where Katherine Middleton spent her childhood.

There it was: a generously sized brick home in a middle class British neighborhood. Was this special BBC report worthy of the evening news?

I was about to turn channels, but the scene shifted from the house to Kate herself – and kept me glued to my seat as much was revealed about our human religious impulse.

It appears that the estate agent had bumped into a 13-year-old Kate when he sold the home some years ago.

This fact was too hard for the reporter to resist – “What was Katherine like?” “Was she like other girls – was there anything different about her?” “Did she say or do anything that stood out in your mind?”

The estate agent overflowed with praise for Katherine: her fine manners, her maturity, her intelligence…one would have thought that if the lights had been turned out in the house, Katherine would have been seen glowing.

Here we were already we were re-writing her life history so it would better accompany her fairytale marriage to a prince.

Instead of a girl with “ups” and “downs” normal for her social class and cultural context, instead of a girl who could be moody as well as delightful – and even perhaps pick her nose behind closed doors – we were being introduced to…

…a saint.

Even in this modern day and age we can still invent a divine figure: Kate Middleton. She reflects what we associate with contemporary divinity – wealth, good looks and media attention.

This human tendency to re-write history, to see what we want to see, is what makes the study of Religion so fascinating.

Our task, with our students, is to roll up our sleeves and dig around in history – using all of the tools at our disposal – psychology, archaeology, sociology, anthropology – and examine what people believe and why.

We do this to better understand what people in other eras called “divine”. This quest also helps us to become aware of our own “divinities” – and even be a little more skeptical of our “news”.

Gregory A. Barker
www.gregbarker.consulting