A great interview in National Review by the author of a new book—which I just ordered—giving the lie to the oft noted shrinking of religion.
The world is more religious than it has ever been,” Rodney Stark writes in his new book The Triumph of Faith: Why the World Is More Religious than Ever.
Around the globe, four out of every five people claim to belong to an organized faith, and many of the rest say they attend worship services.
Stark writes that “a massive religious awakening is taking place around the world.” He talks more in an interview.
– KJL Kathryn Jean Lopez: The triumph of religion looks like a grave and deadly thing these days. What are your thoughts about the rise and growth of religion at a time when barbarism and mass murder is being perpetrated in God’s name?
Rodney Stark: Perhaps it is fitting to get this question out of the way at the start — even though it is worded as if written by Richard Dawkins. Throughout the book I give extensive and close attention to the dark sides of religious enthusiasm, often drawing on my recent book devoted to that matter: Religious Hostility. Unlike our president and the liberal press. I do not shy from the words “radical Muslim,” nor do I ignore the data showing that this is not a tiny group, but one that enjoys wide support in many Muslim nations. But, I fail to see how this phenomenon is connected to the enormous and rapid growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa and in China. Or to the new-found vigor of Latin American Catholicism (in response to the rapid rise of Protestantism). Or to the remarkable Hindu revival in India.
Lopez: How much of a problem is anti-Semitism in Europe? How has it happened and how can it be helped?
Stark: Anti-Semitism is much too high in Europe — a third in France scored high on a well-conceived measure of anti-Semitism in 2014, as did more than a quarter in Germany and Austria. Things are even worse in Eastern Europe — 45 percent scored high in Poland, 41 percent in Hungary. As to why, I don’t think this is something that happened recently, but is a hold-over from earlier times. The Holocaust was not the work of a few Nazis — it was the culmination of centuries of vicious actions against European Jews. Most Germans did know, and everyone in Europe knew of the brutalization of the Jews by the Nazis as soon as they were in power. Even so, in that same set of national surveys measuring anti-Semitism in 2014, 39 percent in Western Europe agree that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust” and 24 percent of Eastern Europeans think that the Holocaust “was a myth or an exaggeration.” How can this be helped? I know of nothing that hasn’t already been tried.
Lopez: The world is more religious than it has ever been. Really? Pew says America is becoming less religious. What is the discrepancy?
Stark: Even if Pew were correct about America, that would not alter the fact that huge increases in religious affiliation and participation are going on in most of the rest of the world. But, of course, Pew is wrong about America. For one thing, when surveys only manage to get about 10 percent of those originally drawn in their samples to agree to be interviewed (instead of at least 85 percent), it is impossible to put any confidence in the results. In fact, the group known to be most willing to be polled (less education, less income), and thus far overrepresented in Pew surveys, is precisely the group that has always been least likely to belong to or attend churches. More importantly, the group who say they have no religion (and is said by Pew to be growing) are mainly those who once gave a denominational preference, but who did not belong to a local congregation or attend. That seems a trivial change — especially since the overwhelming majority of those who say they have no religion also affirm religious beliefs, and many of them report frequent prayer. For most of them, “no religion” means no specific church membership, not that they are irreligious.