Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Revival of Religion

MelbournePhilosopher

Wherever you look, there's a Christian success story lurking just under the front page of the nearest discarded newspaper - discarded by a member of the old guard, a scientifically-minded professional who has read all he needs to understand the world on page one. Just as it looked like Religion was dead, it came back again. Why?

The article which prompted this is located at http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/10/18/1097951626195.html, and brings up the old issue of the separation between the church and the state. This blog post contains a lot of conjecture, but I don't think it's unreasonable..

More or less everyone admits that there were some shocking examples of bad leadership by religious groups - cue the sad music and a documentary about the Crusades, religious war and the justification of the monarchy through divine imperative. The masses revolted, and instituted democracy in the place of these old-school anachronistic institutions. Religion, it seemed, had been left behind by science and economic rationalism.

So why is it coming back, and how is it coming back? Well, the how is easier - political candidates are no longer ashamed of their religion, and churches have improved their behaviour. Shedding their ties to barbarism, and adopting the love of God and ones fellows as their marketing buzzwords, religious groups have been re-awakening interest in the community in groups of people who had previously just been living next to eachother. Economic power, the choice brought by the industrial revolution, the fight for equality - these have all improved our quality of life immensely in terms of our physical comfort. But they haven't done so much for our souls. Youth suicide is high, marriage rates are down, fear, uncertainty and doubt stalk the land like two ... giant stalking things.

Your standard physical church is a building which contains
a) Wooden benches
b) Symbolic imagery
c) People who will welcome you
d) People who want to hear what you have to say
e) People who will help you understand your problems, albeit on their terms

For the disenchanted, these are powerful attractions. While most people pooh-pooh the idea that a church can help them with their troubles, actually walking into one (especially if you have a friend to help you through this socially frightening process) is really very comforting and rewarding. People are finding out that all the economic choice in the world can't buy them happiness. Sure, the lack of economic choice brings pain and misery, however it does not logically follow that economic abundance necessarily breeds happiness. Issues of personal power, relevance, feelings of inadequecy in an impersonal world all come to the fore when our needs are met. Thomas Aquinas once describe "a god-shaped hole in the human heart." Myself, I think the hole is more philosophy-shaped, but there's room on our planet for a few different kinds of people.

Most people still view the political intervention of religion as an essentially bad thing, because it scares them to think that people with a scientifically unjustified socio-economic agenda might make terrible mistakes in the running of the country. However, it is also true that more and more people are coming to see the economy as not such a big problem after all, and maybe we're ready to move on and consider religion.

I really must point out that this post describes only one way of looking at a complex situation - it's not something that I defend as being a rigorous philosophical position, but it is a viewpoint, and I think it has merit.

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10/04/2005 07:52:00 PM  

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