Total Pageviews

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Triumph of Faith

The Wall Street Journal reviews a new book:


 His real battle, though, is with intellectual elites of the West, who have been declaring the demise of religion for centuries and have been advancing a secularization thesis for decades. For them, religious belief is a susceptibility of the illiterate and ignorant. With education, in their view, people see the foolishness of their ways and abandon their beliefs. Education is spreading ever further, thanks to affluence and technology: Hence the slow decline of faith.
Mr. Stark pushes back against the secularization thesis in several ways. In a section called “The Myth of Medieval Piety,” he notes, for example, that during the so-called Dark Ages of Europe—when religion supposedly stifled the life of the mind and benighted the populace—more than 90% of the population lived in rural areas, while churches were to be found mostly in towns and cities: “Therefore hardly anyone could have attended church. Moreover, even after most Europeans had access to a church, whether Catholic or Protestant, most people still didn’t attend, and when forced to do so, they often misbehaved.”

In short, the poor and less educated are not by definition more pious. As for the other half of the secularization thesis, Mr. Stark shows that, in one country after another today, more educated people are choosing religion in larger numbers than their less educated peers. This is certainly true in the United States, where college-educated Americans are more likely to attend religious services than their counterparts with only a high-school diploma.

Here's my favorite part:

 Not in Europe, however, where the churches, once so important, are now empty. For the champions of the secularization thesis, such a development is nothing to complain about: Empty churches are a sign of reason’s progress. Mr. Stark offers some amusing evidence to the contrary. Drawing on the Gallup poll, he notes that Europeans hold all sorts of supernatural beliefs. In Austria, 28% of respondents say they believe in fortune tellers; 32% believe in astrology; and 33% believe in lucky charms. 

“More than 20 percent of Swedes believe in reincarnation,” Mr. Stark writes; “half believe in mental telepathy.” More than half of Icelanders believe in huldufolk, hidden people like elves and trolls. It seems as if the former colonial outposts for European missionaries are now becoming more religious, while Europe itself is becoming interested in primitive folk beliefs.