Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sociologist: Modernization and secularization are not the same thing

In "Secularization Falsified" in First Things (February 2008), American sociologist Peter Berger observes that modernization and secularization are two entirely different processes, and the outcomes cannot be equated.

Modernity is not characterized by the absence of God but by the presence of many gods—with two exceptions to this picture of a furiously religious world. One is geographical: Western and Central Europe. ... The other exception is perhaps even more relevant to the question of secularization, for it is constituted by an international cultural elite, essentially a globalization of the Enlightened intelligentsia of Europe. It is everywhere a minority of the population—but a very influential one.
My own life experience would suggest that he is right. I am a Catholic Christian who lives in a multicultural city (Toronto) which hosts representatives of just about every perspective available on life, the universe, God and all that.

That's modernity - just about everyone on the planet is theoretically only a day or so away from landing at Toronto International Airport. The collapsed distances of modernity do not mean either that the local belief systems don't work (we've been here a long time and we survived). Or that the best solution is to banish all beliefs except for the materialist atheism of the secular elite from the public square. In fact, that is one of the major flashpoints of conflict these days, often revolving around apparently trivial stuff like the right to say "Merry Christmas" in public.

Almost always, in my experience, it has been the secular elite who front such "rules", not new immigrants, who typically want accommodation of their own traditions.

Regarding the interesting example of the growing conflict in Turkey a modern majority Muslim nation, Berger notes,

A country in which the challenge to secularism is politically prominent right now is Turkey. The Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 by Atatürk, who was decidedly anti-Islamic and probably antireligious in general. He wanted to “civilize” Turkey, and civilization for him meant the secular culture of Europe. His political model was the French one—public life made, as it were, antiseptically free of religious symbols and behavior. Thus Atatürk proscribed the traditional fez as male headgear, insisting that Turkish men don European-style hats or caps. (This, by the way, had a very visible anti-Islamic implication: It is difficult wearing headgear with a visor in front to touch one’s forehead to the ground in the mandatory obeisance of Muslim prayer.)

This secularist ideology was firmly established in large sectors of Turkey’s society, particularly in the Kemalist political and military elite. It was dominant in urban, middle-class populations. Back in the Anatolian hinterland, a deeply Muslim culture continued to prevail, with people paying lip service to the Kemalist ideology but at the same time passively resisting it in family and community life.

In recent years, this resistance turned politically active. A series of avowedly Islamic parties entered the political process, challenging the Kemalist orthodoxy. For a while, the military intervened to stop such parties from taking power. But this has become progressively more difficult. One reason is that masses of Anatolians migrated to the urban centers, bringing their Muslim culture with them. Another is that Turkey (partly motivated by the elite’s desire to have the country admitted to the European Union) has become more democratic, and, as a result, all those unenlightened people are actually voting. And yet another reason is that some in the elite have come to doubt the old secularist orthodoxy and become lukewarm in their resistance to political Islam.
Essentially, if modernity means the jet plane, the blog, and the cell phone, materialists and non-materialists alike use them. But - if Canadian experience is any guide - the secularist would like to assert control and restrict access to those who go along with his agenda.

Far from being surprised that there are conflicts, I am only surprised that the conflicts are not more severe.
Note: The image is from Speaking of Faith.

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