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Religion Is Incompatible With Modernity Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Theology
Wordcount: 2569 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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As a cultural condition, modernity colors religions perception in various ways. Popular modernization theorists such as Daniel Bell and Karl Marx have asserted that the result of economic development is persistent cultural changes. However, other scholars such as Samuel Huntington and Max Weber have argued that cultural values are an autonomous and enduring influence on society. Religion, which is the broad cultural heritage of society, leaves an imprint on values, which endure in spite of modernization. This paper presents a discussion the impact of religion on modernity.


What is modernity? A traditional meaning of this term refers to the social conditions that resulted from the rise of industrialization. Certainly, the term modernity is normally used to describe the social patterns that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, which commenced in mid-eighteenth century in Western Europe. Therefore, modernity is the process of urbanizing, industrialization, increasing use of new and scientific technologies, and social, cultural and political changes, which have accompanied these developments. Though popular scholars such as Marx and Bell predicted the decline of religion because of modernity, it is important to note that religion or spirituality has not faded.

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In the twentieth century, modernization was broadly viewed as distinctively Western processes, which societies in non-Western countries could follow as they deserted their conventional cultures, and incorporated ethically ‘superior’ and technologically Western ways. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, non-Western societies surprisingly surpassed their Western role models in significant elements of modernization (Dawkins, 2006 pp. 167). For instance, East Asia achieved the highest rate of economic growth in the world. Japan led in consumer electronics and automobile manufacturing, and had the highest life expectancy globally. Presently, few scholars would attribute ethical superiority to the West, and economies of Western countries are no longer believed to be the model for the globe.

With regard to secularization, secular simply means without religion. Individuals who are non-religious live secular lives. Secular government runs along humanistic and rational lines. In democratic nations, this is the norm. People, who make up the government, have the freedom to whatever religion they want, as is the population. In a multi cultural world, because of this freedom, there is a requirement for authorities not to cause divisions by identifying itself with a certain religion. Secularism is the belief that religion should be a personal, private, and voluntary affair, which does not impose on others. Thus, secularization is the process of things becoming more secular. The Western world has witnessed this standard come to dominate civil and political life. Because religion causes issues, it retreats from the public sphere because individuals choose to meet in peace in neutral terms. Secularization theory is a sociology theory that argues that religion retreats when the society advances in modernity. Scientific and intellectual developments have undermined the supernatural, paranormal, spiritual and superstitious ideas on which religion relies for its authenticity. There are three forms of secularization: privatization of religion, social differentiation, and the decline of religion.

According to secularization theory, as contemporary society advances, it will become more secular and religion will in turn become hollow. Ever since the emergence of science in the seventeenth century, scholars have asserted that religion might be in a permanent decline, while others have proposed to intelligence and science are anathema to spirituality or religious faith. Bruce (1992 pp. 78) asserts that though contemporary church membership is dropping, religious belief is still strong.

One aspect of conventional secularization theory is that one widely questioned fact among modern religion sociologists is the claim that modernity leads to the decline of religion. Rather than withering away, organized religion has a large presence in many parts of the modern world (Thompson, 1992 pp. 148). Whereas participation in churches has sharply fallen in many modern societies in Europe, the picture is still complicated. In the 90s eighty one percent of the British, and forty percent of Italians attended church at least once a week. In the U.S, a modern society, approximately forty percent attend church on a regular basis. Secularists have tried hard to explain this theory.

Is Secularization occurring in Britain? If being a secular nation means keeping religion out of education and public life, then it is evident that Britain is not a secular nation. The Church of England, which can be dated from the seventh century, predates Britain itself. Although the influence of Christianity in formal ways in public life is less that it previously was, it is still apparent. The presence of prayers in the English Parliament, church legislation passed by parliament, exercise of patronage by the Lord Chancellor reveals that religion is still very much tangled in British national life. This demonstrates that the Christian religion is largely part of British national life.

The afro mentioned can also be observed at the local level. Secularism is just not about removing religion from national life. It is rather about removing it from public life (Ruthven 2004 pp. 167). Numerous Anglican churches still hold countless civic services and in some places, they are actively involved in local life, for example when selecting Bishops and so on. This reveals the observation of many people involved in the selection process, which the Bishop does and should play a notable role in symbolizing the Church in public matters.

Another notable area where Britain shows that it is not a secular state is in education. Almost all of the primary schools in Britain are Church of England schools. In addition to this, the high number of public schools has Christian foundations. Latest statistics reveal that at least seventy two percent of the British refer themselves as Christians. That is almost three-quarters of the overall British population. But, these statistics do not prove much, it is possible to have a country where all of its population is of one religion, but the state is secular. Because the Christian religion is deeply entangled in national life in Britain, the statistics are quite relevant. However, it should be noted that relatively few people in Britain have altogether opted out of religion; atheists are rare. Additionally, although it has been observed that there can be little doubt about trends, Beyer (1994 pp. 104), asserts that by the twenty first century, believers in religion are highly likely to be only found in small numbers likely resisting global secular culture.

The U.S is a secular country both in its government and most of its private sector. The population in the United States is still mostly Christian, yet by any ballpark figure, secular Americans make up a larger section of the public than any religious minority. Still, secularists do not start to exert influence exerted by religious institutional; whether they represent large Christian denominations or small minorities such as Judaism. In the United States, the reason as to why secular groups have little influence in states governed by Christian fundamentalists is scientifically clear, but the issue of why secularists are mostly ignored by the President is more complicated.

The United States demonstrates that the impact of religion on national life is simply not one of formal engagement. The customs and laws of countries are not draw from a vacuum due to the fact that law makers are individuals themselves and thus, normally reveal the values of those around them. When the individuals of a country have been severely shaped by a certain religion, the values of that particular religion will in general, be echoed in the national life. In the United States, the influence of Christianity has been felt in spite of the contrasting degrees of separation of the state and the church. However, to a large extent, this situation is changing. There is an increasing observation that Christian ethics are been abandoned. In this context, Christians will wish to influence the life of the country and those around them. In Britain, this appears to be largely accepted due to the nature of the Church to the state. On the other hand, in the United States, a region where Christians are more in numbers and actually more aggressive, the opposition of their views is not on certain issues, but on the very notion of Christians influencing national life with secularists disputing that it is unconstitutional (Bruce, 1992 pp. 137).

Also, no secular institution can affect the lives of its sympathizers and members to the scale that churches can. This is somewhat about the social pressure and partly about money, which binds church members together as a population. No secular group can claim special authority in attempting to convincing secular Americans to support a certain position.

However, during trying times, such as during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there is strong religious unity. For example, immediately after this attack, shocked political enemies gathered together for prayer at a National Cathedral, including a Muslim imam who even read verses from the Koran. But, it did not take long for the tender feelings of tolerance and togetherness to be replaced by hostility and division. Some policymakers and leaders embraced Samuel Huntington’s argument that the West was busy in a clash of civilizations with Islam (Gray, 2003 pp. 289). On the other hand, secularists embraced the idea that the world was split between dangerous religionists and secularists. Secular scholars have hoped and predicted for years that as our societies become more advanced, religion would become less significant.

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However, while the last decade has inspired countless challenging discussions about the link between democratic societies and religious communities, it has also proven that religion decline is not inevitable in modern society. Trust in religious leaders and institutions as well as secular institutions have declined. However, Americans still continue to value religion with about eighty percent telling pollsters that religion is a significant part of their lives. And the relocation of religious immigrants to America and Britain has shown that Western societies are by no means a civilization in which religion is imperceptible.

What is more, many conflicts are occurring in modern societies over religion: banning of hijab in French schools, debates over teaching evolution in schools, and so on. Nevertheless, when focusing on such conflicts, we normally miss a fascinating fact. In the face of modernity, old religious traditions are not fading away. Instead, they are acclimatizing and forcing modern societies to adapt to them.

According to the conventional view, major universal features of modernity tend to wear away religious faith. Rationalization and industrialization have often been mentioned as forces that would divide the world. However, it is not evident that churches and other religious institutions can thrive in highly rationalized and industrialized societies. At times, urbanization coincides with the decline of religion, but it is regularly linked with church growth, and in various parts of the globe, the megacity has generated the mega church (Beyer, 1994 pp. 87). Another major element that corrodes religious faith is mass entertainment. No country has a lot of mass entertainment than the U.S; however, it does not seem to have led to any clear decline in church attendance. Just like in Britain, Sunday in the United States has become a day to watch football or shopping day. In the U.S, the great secular holiday is the Super Bowl Sunday. There are also other indications. Many Americans prefer to get buried or married without any kind of religious ceremony. At education institutions, such as universities, departments dedicated to the study of secularism are starting to be established. Books written by authors who are atheists are bestsellers. And there is still little uncertainty that religious groups still wield a lot of influence in American public life and politics, particularly in major parties.

Another element of modernity that seems to corrode religion is the pluralism of modern societies. Sociologists have regularly argued that pluralism corrodes religion; the existence of so many religions challenges the plausibility of religious faith. However, pluralistic societies contain numerous people with strong religious belief. But, we all know that pluralistic societies contain numerous people with strong religious beliefs and if this was not false, then pluralistic societies could not exist. According to a recent study, evangelicalism in America positively thrives on pluralism due to the fact that living in a pluralistic society causes evangelicals to sharpen their different religious identities.

Norris & Ingle-hart (2004, pp. 245) asserts that post-modernity with its expressive consumerism and individualism, challenges tradition religion. Some types of religion appear to blossom in a post-modern environment. This is most noticeably true in Pentecostal and charismatic forms of evangelicalism that strike in with easy-to-read individualism of post-modernity. Still, there is no strong evidence that science is a key agent of secularization. According to a 1996 survey, roughly forty percent Americans believe in a personal god. Science is not a secularizing force. But, a factor that appears to closely correlate with secularization is the western style higher education. Though Americans are known for their religiosity, there is compelling evidence that social elites are rather highly secularized. Still, in the United States and Western Europe, individuals with a higher education are more likely to be keenly involved in churches than people with little education (Cohen & Kennedy, 2000 pp. 154).

It is notable that none of modernity’s universal features can explain the reason why some areas of the modern world are more highly secularized than other areas. The effect of these features is dependent on the particular context that they operate. Additionally, global factors are poor predictors of secularization, and religious decline can only be explained with reference to independent variables present in societies that are highly secularized. Beyer (1994 pp. 178) asserts that modernization essentially leads to a decline of religion, in the minds of people and in society.


When evaluating the role of religion in modern societies, it is crucial to address secularization. There is a lot of pressure exerted to make Britain a more secular nation. However, Britain retains a strong Christian basis in education and public life. On the other hand, the population in the United States is still mostly Christian, but secular Americans constitute a larger segment of the public than any other religious minority.


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