Religious Secularity

In his wide-ranging Economy and Society (1921), German sociologist Max Weber contended that rationalized technological power structures intended to control life would eventually collapse into “emotionalism” and irrationality:

The objectification of the power structure, with the complex of problems produced by its rationalized ethical provisos, has but one psychological equivalent: the vocational ethic taught by asceticism. An increased tendency toward Hight into the irrationalities of apolitical emotionalism in different degrees and forms, is one of the actual consequences of the rationalization of coercion, manifesting itself wherever the exercise of power has developed away from the personalistic orientation of heroes and wherever the entire society in question has developed in the direction of a national “state.” Such apolitical emotionalism may take the form of a flight into mysticism and an acosmistic ethic of absolute goodness or into the irrationalities of non-religious emotionalism, above all eroticism. Indeed, the power of the sphere of eroticism enters into particular tensions with religions of salvation. This is particularly true of the most powerful component of eroticism, namely sexual love. For sexual love, along with the “true” or economic interest, and the social drives toward power and prestige, is among the most fundamental and universal components of the actual course of interpersonal behavior.

Similarly prescient and equally wide-ranging, Oswald Spengler argued in his The Decline of the West (1918) that materialism would become unbearable and that people would therefore feel impelled to toy with esoteric cults and beliefs as a means of escape. He called it the “second religiousness”:

It appears in all Civilizations as soon as they have fully formed themselves as such and are beginning to pass, slowly and imperceptibly, into the non-historical state in which time-periods cease to mean anything […] The Second Religiousness is the necessary counterpart of Caesarism, which is the final political consitution of Late Civilizations; it becomes visible, therefore, in the Augustan Age of the Classical and about the time of Shi-hwang-ti’s time in China. In both phenomena the creative young strength of the Early Culture is lacking. Both have their greatness nevertheless. That of the Second Religiousness consists in a deep piety that fills the waking-consciousness—the piety that impressed Herodotus in the (Late) Egyptians and impresses West-Europeans in China, India, and Islam—and that of Caesarism consists in its unchained might of colossal facts.

Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World: Burton, Tara Isabella:  9781541762534: Books

These observations are yet another reason to reject the misleading interpretation that secularism means simply the replacement of a worldview that is religious with one that is not. Modern society is awash with religiosity. This view has, in part, been confirmed by Tara Isabella Burton’s recent book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World (2020). According to Burton, we do not live in a godless world. Rather, we live in a profoundly anti-institutional one, where we have rendered “ourselves simultaneously parishioner, high priest, and deity” (Burton 2020). The recent emergence of the “Nones” should actually be called the “Remixed,” who seek to satisfy the deep need for meaning, purpose, community, and ritual with new and personalized intuitional faiths rather than traditional institutional counterparts. The growing religiously unaffiliated offers adherents a new religion of emotive intuition, of aestheticized and commodified experience, of self-creation and self-improvement. This, again, is not the rejection of religion, but rather its remixing.

Secularization, in short, is not the eraser of religion. Rather, it is the flourishing of anti-Christian religions. This religious secularity has usually come in the form of humanism. Indeed, anthropologist Margaret Mead, in her autobiography, Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (1975), praised secular humanism, calling for its spread throughout the world.

Other works can be cited, but what should be clear is that what is regarded as a struggle between religious and secular is really, and has always been, a struggle between religions.

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