Monday, November 07, 2005

UP COMES RELIGION

From time to time, when I'm making my rounds through liberal blogs, I come across the occasional article on religion, be it a glib rant on the ironic evils of fundamentalist Christians or the assurance that genuine Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. While there are a few among the self-decribed liberal or progressive bunch who profess a religious faith, the general tone I sense is one of perfect secularism, and a dismissive if not hostile gesture toward all things religious. Which is why this faction of the body politic is usually at its best when arguing over the separation of church and state.

But, dare I invoke Freudianism, they're in deep denial over the reality that is religion in the age of globalization. I can't help but think that they're either drunk with Enlightenment optimism and the charm of the Peace of Westphalia, or completely taken in by the new electronic media to the point where their way of being, their Dasein, their epistemology, becomes one of mystical or neurological transcendence well beyond the vulgarity of ancient religion. Be it a view of historical and horizonal, or eternal and verticle, too many progessivists are quite convinced we've moved beyond the provincial worlds of theistic Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and so forth. (Some do however revere atheistic Buddhism, or some New Age variation that is somwhat mystical, mildly ritualistic, and certainly not overly textual.) In other words, liberals don't seem to see the significance of religion in the world today. This, unfontunately, is an enormous oversight.

With the notable exception of Jim Wallis in God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, the vast majority of progressives and centrists have failed to draw the obvious conclusion that the so-called Secular Age is little more than a specific worldview which is certainly not the condition of most of the globe, and probably not a fixture of Hegel's historical dialectic inching its way toward full realization in some future Age of Godless Perfection.

On the one hand, we have all the seeds of global class rebellion, much as we did in the mid-1800s, when Karl Marx wrote of an international class of workers. Then, as now, we were on the eve of economic globalization, the shock of which contributed greatly to the Russian Revolution and two World Wars. The wars, in turn, stalled globalization, as the war-torn economies of Europe, Asia, and the Americas necessarily turned inward and centralized. Economic survival mode. But that's all changed now. In the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher launched the big push for privatization, deregulation, and increased international competition, thus creating transnational economic unions in the Americas, Euope and Asia. And today we routinely talk of the statelessness of multinational corporations and the boundless potential of cyber-economics. Such rapid growth and fragmentation of older ways has a way of intensifying the gap between rich and poor, upper and lower socio-economic classes, and thus bringing about a great deal of anger and violence.

On the other hand, we also see quite a lot of religion in terms of group identity making its way into the news headlines. The street rioters in France are youths both poor and Muslim. In the United States, Bush's base is routinely referred to as the Religious Right, a political euphemism for fundamentalist Christians and scriptural literalists. The war in Afghanistan toppled the ultra-Orthodox Muslim Taliban. In Iraq, religious Shia and Shites are at odds over the fate of the country. Ireland's anguish has been one of both class and religion, middle and lower, Protestant and Catholic. And then there's Israel/Palestine, Jews and Muslims. Today, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the need for increased Catholic-Lutheran relations as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Revolution in 1517. The Paris riots seem a fitting end to the illusion that we live in an increasingly secular world, for it was in Paris in 1789 that the people threw off the mantle of Church and Crown. And led us all to believe in the hope of Westphalia, that indeed there would be no more religious wars. Such optimism. Such naivete.

For the liberals and progressives who want to talk about the state of the world and what to do with it, but who don't believe in God, they should just adopt the methods of Wissenschaft ("science") and treat religion as an important sociological fact, like preparing food, minding the home, or making tools. You may find it superstitious, anachronistic, or downright stupid, but the simple fact is, the vast majority of the people of the world are religious in some way or another. And this must be taken into account when dicussing the political, social, and economic machinations of the world. It's misguided to contend that the world is becoming less religious when the facts are clearly otherwise.

Rather than indulge in prophecy and preach a coming doom and gloom, I would just point out that whatever comes our way in the weeks, months, and years ahead, in terms of what we might call Big Historical Events, the confluence of factors will most definitely include religion, in a big way. Always has. Always will. Ask yourself, for example, if today the war in Iraq has no significant religious factor? Or whether or not the Marxist challenge to Buddhist tradition in 1970s Cambodia was not a religious conflict? Or if the Holocaust of European Jewry at the hands of an explicitly pagan Nazism was absent of religious symbolism and conviction? Has the religion section at the local bookstore grown larger or smaller in the last ten years? Are more and more politicians not openly invoking religious affiliation? Does the institution of the modern nation-state and its factitious governance not stand like an aging superstructure ready to collapse among a landscape filled with enduring church buildings, eager to take in the disenfranchised of the nation?

God is dead, Nietzsche declared, but went on to point out that his shadow is cast upon the wall of the cave in which we dwell. Which is to say, God is not dead, so long as the people say so.