By Dr Rebecca McLaughlin (adapted by Kaley Payne from Episode 18 ‘Confronting Christianity’ of the Undeceptions Podcast)
Just about everything we see in the media tells us that religion is on the way out. I’m actually quite sure that it’s not. And that’s not just my opinion. Forty-odd years ago, pretty much every sociologist of religion worth their salt thought exactly what that – that religion was on its way out, that as the world became more modern, more scientific, more educated, religious belief would decline. But that prophecy has failed. Not only are we not seeing a less religious world now, but as sociologists look out over the next 40 years to 2060, they’re anticipating an increasingly religious world.
In the upper echelons of the educated world in the West right now, which is that this idea of global secularisation is still very much preeminent, but it’s actually been proven false by empirical evidence.
Part of the foundational thought behind what is called the “secularization hypothesis” was the idea that the world as it became more modern would become more secular. That’s what was thought, because that’s what had happened in Western Europe. And where Western Europe led, obviously the rest of the world would follow!
Turns out, that’s pretty much a kind of white, Western-centric arrogance that we’re only just now realising. There’s an irony in the upper echelons of the educated world in the West right now, which is that this idea of global secularisation is still very much preeminent, but it’s actually been proven false by empirical evidence.
Fenggang Yang, a leading expert of sociology of religion in China anticipates that academica in the West is going to have to go through a paradigm shift, much like a scientific revolution, when the failure of the hypothesis that the world is becoming less and less religious comes home to roost.
One thing to keep in mind here is that there is the reality that religious people have more children. So that’s absolutely at play. But the idea that education necessarily produces atheism or agnosticism is actually pretty weak as a hypothesis.
Another of the deep ironies of the secularisation hypothesis is that Christianity is just white and male. Despite this perception that atheism – or at least secular humanism is the worldview of diversity and progress – it’s actually the worldview of white Western men and communist regimes. If you look at America, the proportion of people who identify as atheist is much higher among white men than it is among the average population. And the most typical Christian – both in America and globally – is a woman of color.
At the moment, America is the country with more Christians than any other country. By 2030, it may be China. Fenggang Yang has predicted that by 2060, China could be a majority-Christian country.
Secularism, as it happens, is not on its great march at all.