Secularization, Revisited

Dec 16, 2022 | National Review

Why there’s hope for faith.

Even as Christians everywhere rejoice in the impending holiday, the faith itself faces sober times. This is especially true across nations of the West. Consider a subject that sounds parochial but amounts to a civilizational bellwether: the statistics on religious belief and unbelief in the 2021 censuses. Together, these construct a window through which to view nothing less than one of the greatest social experiments in recorded history.

That enterprise has been ongoing under different guises for centuries. To some, it is known as Matthew Arnold’s “low, receding roar” of religious faith. To others, it is the process of what is called “secularization,” or the ceding to nonreligious authorities of territories once considered to be God’s, and God’s alone. At its most sweeping, this experiment amounts to doing what most human beings before us have not done, which is to live as purely material entities, without reference to a transcendent realm.

This fact of Western religious decline is far from new. Even so, to judge by the 2021 Australian census, for example, secularization is now galloping at a pace that even the most prescient observers might not have…

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