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What is a Religion?

May 6, 2010

Damon Linker in The New Republic:

There was a time not long ago when the finest minds of the Western world confidently predicted that religion was well on the road to extinction. Generations of social scientists and political theorists asserted that the belief in God was an archaic holdover from an earlier era of human development, and before long it would dissolve in the acids of modern skepticism and social pluralism, giving rise to a thoroughly secular society based exclusively on reason and science. And once humanity had achieved this higher state, sloughing off its unexamined theological prejudices like a coat of dead skin, the beliefs that animated the great monotheistic religions would be universally seen for what they are—elaborate fabrications of the human mind expressing in somewhat more sophisticated form the same ignorant impulses that once led the most primitive societies to bow down before mountains and thunderstorms.

So much for the confident predictions of the finest minds. With Christianity and Islam gaining ground throughout the developing world, and Muslim extremism inciting violence in countries around the globe, and politicized Protestantism playing a significant public role in the United States, it has begun to look like religion might be here to stay. And that realization has highlighted how intellectually unprepared we are to understand the situation. Lulled to sleep by fantasies of a secular utopia, we have awoken to find ourselves in a strange, unexpected world—one in which the fire of faith continues to burn brightly, mocking all those who have longed to see it extinguished. [More]

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