What if We are Wrong About the Impending Demise of Religion?

DSC_5228“IF COMMENTATORS ON THE contemporary situation of religion agree about anything, it is that the supernatural has departed from the modern world.”
– A Rumor of Angels, Peter Berger, 1968

Peter Berger is the eminent sociologist of religion in our world today. He is the President Emeritus of Religion, Sociology and Theology at BU. In 1968, he wrote the above words. In 1968, Neo-Pagan and Witchcraft publications tripled and began the meteoric rise and revival of Paganism in the US and Europe. In 1968, The Jesus People Movement was at the genesis of its explosive impact on the American scene, and in the next 15 years, Calvary Chapel would be born and would grow large and influential, and a host of traditional churches would be influenced by the influx of charismatic new believers. For the people involved in Neo-Paganism and a burgeoning Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity the supernatural was by no means departing from our planet. These were movements born from the ecstatic experience of religion, and an expectation of the supernatural. Margot Adler (former NPR personality and one of the most famous Witches in the world) once said to me, “People need the ecstatic.”

Berger would later comment about sociology missing the mark about religion. In 1999, in The Desecularization of the World, he openly refuted his own thoughts from 1968, and took the social theory of secularization to task,

“If we really lived in a highly secularized world, then religious institutions could be expected to survive to the degree that they manage to adapt to secularity. That has been the empirical assumption of adaptation strategies. What has in fact occurred is that, by and large, religious communities have survived and even flourished to the degree that they have not tried to adapt themselves to the alleged requirements of a secularized world. To put it simply, experiments with secularized religion have generally failed; religious movements with beliefs and practices dripping with reactionary supernaturalism (the kind utterly beyond the pale at self-respecting faculty parties) have widely succeeded.” (Kindle loc 117)

Is it possible that many of us in Christian circles are barking up the wrong tree? Could our attempts to mirror a secularized world actually be a hindrance to the growth of Christianity, and to its positive impact in the world around us? Could it be that behaving in secularizing manner, we actually have less to offer the world around us than if we just behaved like the supernatural was our playground?

Peter Berger seemed to think that the rise of religious fundamentalists where perhaps a less notable phenomenon than the strangeness of his own academic elites, who developed concepts and firmly held to their theories, while being disconnected from the actual growth of religion and the yearning for the supernatural, which was happening all around them.

“Modern secularity is a much more puzzling phenomenon than all these religious explosions—if you will, the University of Chicago is a more interesting topic for the sociology of religion than the Islamic schools of Qom. In other words, the phenomena under consideration here on one level simply serve to demonstrate continuity in the place of religion in human experience.” The Desecularization of the World, Kindle loc 247

What do you think?

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