AFTER SECULARIZATION by The Hedgehog Review, Spring & Summer 2006 Volume Eight

By The Hedgehog Review, Spring & Summer 2006 Volume Eight Numbers One & Two

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Worse, in many cases the change is no more than the acquisition of a new language to defend old patterns of behavior. Consider the example of sexual exploitation. 15 To use the formal language of Max Weber, world-rejecting religion seems only possible if there is a shared external authoritative source of revelation: the God who punishes those who step out of line. If the only source of authority is the self—as in the classic New Age slogan, “to your own self be true”—any new perspective or revelation is more likely to be assimilated to our current circumstances than to provoke change.

France, for example, is the European society where the Enlightenment has been most obviously configured as a freedom from belief, an attitude which finds expression in the democratic, though not always very tolerant, institutions already described. In the United States, the Enlightenment becomes something very different: a freedom to believe. A developed treatment of this theme would reveal, however, that other European societies (much of Northern Europe, Germany, and Italy) fall somewhere between the two.

For example: is Europe likely to produce a religious market like that found in the United States? The turn from obligation to consumption could be seen in this light. Conversely: is the residue of the state church sufficiently strong to resist this—maintaining thereby the notion of religion as a public utility rather than a freely chosen voluntary activity? And where in these complex equations do we place the newly arrived populations, whether Christian or not? The answers must be tentative, but I will offer three; the last takes the form of a cautious prediction about the future of religion in Europe.

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