The wandering flock, addressing secularisation

Mary Eberstadt explores why religion is waning in favour of secularisation and explores the difficulty a new Pope will have with the wandering flock:

So what’s a Pope to do? He can start by understanding one critical truth that has not been well understood so far: the puzzle of secularization is not only his to solve. Secular sociology has written the intellectual script about how godlessness happens but has gotten it wrong.

Secularization is not, for example, the inevitable result of affluence, as many have said; statistically, men and women who are better-off in the United States today, for example, are more likely to believe and practice faith than are those further down the economic ladder. The same was true of Victorian England, as the British historian Hugh McLeod has painstakingly shown. Mammon alone does not necessarily drive out God. 

Is secularization then the inevitable result of increased rationality and enlightenment, as the new atheists and other theorists claim? Here again, the empirical fact that the well-educated Mormon, say, is more likely to be someone of faith would appear to confound that theory. Is secularization then the result of the world wars, as still others have supposed? If so, it is hard to see how countries with different experiences of those wars – neutral Switzerland, vanquished Germany, victorious Great Britain — should all lose their religions in tandem, let alone why countries untouched by the wars should follow suit.

And on it goes. Modern sociology can tell us many things, but about the elemental question of why people stop going to church — or for that matter, why they start — the going theories have all come up short. Contrary to what secular soothsayers have believed, evidence suggests that secularization is not inevitable, and neither is it a linear process according to which decline is an arrow pointing ever downward. Rather, and crucially, religion waxes and wanes in the world — strong one moment, weaker the next — for reasons that still demand to be understood.

From the point of view of the new occupant of the Papal Apartments in a time of flickering faith, this is countercultural and potentially excellent news.


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • cows4me

    Why is religion waning. For me religion and religions have tried to be all things to all the people. Churches fall over themselves to be all inclusive and end up not really representing or standing for everything. Churches seem to be more politically active, I note many posts on this blog have had some church leader clearly choosing a political ideology, generally left wing and instead of preaching seem more intent to instruct. If I want politics I’ll go and listen to a fucking politician.

    • Gazzaw

      Dabbling in politics seems to be more predominant in the Protestant faiths. Lefties such as Waldegrave, Diane Robertson and even the Sallies making negative comment about social policies. I finally gave the church away when my local Anglican vicar started openly encouraging youth to join hikois & participate in union rallies. Ironically the Catholic church largely keeps its nose clean in this area in NZ.

    • Jimmie

      That is because many of the churches have fallen for the progressive mantras of equality and relativism where absolute values of faith, salvation, and morals are seen as anathema to modern society.

      They choose the easy road of trying to fit in with modern society so they emphasis social niceties so in order to not offend anyone. The hard road is to make a stand for what your faith teaches come hell or high water. However this attracts flack (Se Colin Craig for example) so the main stream churches stick to the easy road.

      However by doing so they lose the main attraction which the church once had which was the message if hope and salvation which appeals to desperate and hurting folk.

      There is a good scripture in Revelation 3 which aims at these type of churches.
      It says: ‘I wish you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth’.

      Churches aren’t meant to please people they are meant to preach the gospel regardless of popularity

      • Random66

        Well said Jimmie. The future may well be that those who stick to preaching the gospel as it is written will be accused of hate speech and persecution will follow. Only those who water down the message to appeal to a secular following will ensure ‘bums on seats’ which of course translates to money. Those churches should go by the name of Judas because what they are doing is the same.

    • JC

      Thats quite right. The main religions now stand for fuck all except bleating about social ills.

      However, in the larger scheme of things young Catholics and Protestant evangelicals (in the US espec) are now quite a lot more conservative than their Boomer parents and grandparents. Likewise US surveys show that whilst more people are becoming unchurched nearly all claim they are spiritual beings, ie, they believe in something like God but its an informal and individualistic belief that doesn’t require Bell Book and Candle.


  • jeremy

    Its simple. Faith is belief without evidence. Religion thrives on ignorance and asymmetry of information. As science has provided answers and as the internet has started to reduce the asymmetry of information, fact and logic are prevailing , rightly, at the expense of superstition and ignorance.

    • Lion_ess

      Couldn’t agree more.

    • Jimmie

      Fact and logic are prevailing? Seriously? Think global warming, Treaty of Waitangi, Taniwha, DHB paying for witch doctors, lots of other foolishness around.

  • Andrei

    LOL – Mary Eberstadt is a hard core traditional Catholic woman who doesn’t believe in abortion, birth control, feminism, gay marriage etc etc etc