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Article: How the West might find God again

October 15, 2007

Interview with Mary Eberstadt in MercatorNet:

The problem for conventional secularisation theory is that it amounts to a one-way street, a one-way description of how religiosity waxes or wanes. That description at its briefest goes something like, “I think, and what I think about religion goes on to determine other things I do,” like having a family. But why should we believe that belief dictates practice all of the time — that people lose faith and then tailor their behaviour accordingly? My essay was an attempt to open this very inquiry — to ask whether some behaviours, in particular religious practice, might also have an effect on belief, rather than just vice versa.

Survey evidence does bear out one’s common sense on this issue. It tells us that many people are driven to church by marrying, or by having children, including people who were not much interested in religion before that.

A second kind of evidence, which I find extremely suggestive, is this: if we take fertility as an indicator, we see that two very dramatic examples from two sides of the European spectrum — France on one side, and Ireland on the other — shared a pattern: fertility declined sharply in both before a dramatic fall-off in religious practice.

(…)

In a society whose elite has grown so deliberately callous to the needs of children that honest talk about what is best for them is discouraged or even banned in the toniest venues, opting for and defending the natural family will be increasingly difficult.

But there remains one important nugget of good news. For years, secularisation has held that religion is on its way out, inevitably. My thesis in “How the West Really Lost God” challenges what I believe is the critical weakness in that theory — its inevitability. If changes in family patterns are at least partly responsible for changes in religious belief, rather than always the other way around as secularisation theory holds, then there is nothing inevitable about religion’s waning.

Full article here.

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