Feb 11, 2009

Christianity Is Not Great, Pt. 2

What's So Great about Christianity? by Dinesh D'Souza; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; 2008; 348pp.

Part 1: The Future of Christianity
Ch.1 The Twilight of Atheism: The Global Triumph of Christianity

Dinesh D‘Souza begins his popular apologia by taking a big-picture view of religion and secularism that convinces him it is time to declare that “God has come back to life,” and “Nietzsche is dead“(3).

If true, that is not good for the future if one is secular-minded - the resurrection of God; that is; Nietzsche’s death - that is a benefit to rational secularists. And that should be very much to the dismay of the resurrected God.

Nonetheless, as D’Souza explains in his big-picture view, around the world religion has an active role to play in people’s lives, partly due to the failures of secularism. The “secular thesis” formulated in the early 20th century held that reason, science, progress, and modernization will lead to a more secular West and entire world. Secularization, however, is failing to meet important needs, needs which (supposedly) only religion can fulfill. Secularism is not important to the long-term big picture because its leading of civilization to inevitable progress has been shown to be untrue in many ways, from totalitarian regimes to the inner emptiness felt in people. D’Souza further shows that the future belongs to religion for reasons like religious societies having high birth rates, interest in “traditional religion” is on the rise, religions are spreading to new territory because of globalization, etc.

D’Souza tries to separate the resurgence of religion from the rise in religious militancy. He does this by making a distinction between fundamentalism and militancy. According to some analysts, the growth of religion around the world is largely a growth of religious fundamentalism, but this is an incorrect analysis by D’Souza‘s reading. After pointing out that the term, “fundamentalism,” originally identified certain Protestant groups in America who read the Bible literally, he writes, “[f]undamentalism is a meaningless term outside this context”(4). What is described as an increase in fundamentalism is really an increase in “traditional religion.” He states, “the growth of religious militancy and the growth of religion are very different”(4).

Anyone else notice a glaring omission on D’Souza’s part? He has no explanation why the literal reading of holy texts in other religions is not also “fundamentalism.” That is a perfectly legitimate concept that need not be confined to describing some American Protestants. So, by D’Souza’s definition, Islamic fundamentalists, for instance, do not exist after all…yet they do exist.

D’Souza argues that secularism has been tried and its deficiencies have contributed to a global resurgence of what he calls, “traditional religion,” which he defines as “religion as it has been understood and practiced over the centuries”(5).

This is not a good definition because there is, for the most, part, no monolithic way that religions has been practiced over the centuries. Some religions standstill for centuries; many change fairly often, producing offshoots that may or may not last. Nonetheless, D’Souza believes “traditional religions” - whatever that means - are growing and are going to significantly shape this century.

The convergence of religion and secularism is being best handled by oriental peoples. D’Souza seems to approve of how Asians want “Western” prosperity and technology and to also retain their traditional religions and way of life. Their slogan is “modernization without Westernization”(8).

That may be the goal of many in Asia but it is not that simple.

Prosperity and technology are not products of other-worldly mysticism and tribal tradition. Prosperity and technology are possible to minds that are reality-oriented and rational, meaning, fundamentally secular. In the 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe we find two precedents of this phenomena of countries wanting to have Western-like prosperity and technology without changing their other-worldly and tribal mindsets, deliberately rejecting in philosophical terms reason and the mind’s adherence to reality. Those countries were Germany and Russia, the two countries that supposedly embodied the worst of secularism. Asian countries along with any sympathizers in the West who call for “modernization without Westernization” would do well to learn from the examples of Germany and Russia. But that is a subject to visit later.

“Western” is a type of culture and society, one significant aspect of it is its grounding in reality-oriented, rational thinking. That can and should be a trait of any and all cultures. Prosperity as such is not merely a cultural trait, nor is technology, like some tradition is. Prosperity and technology are the effects of deeper causes. This is a point that seems to be lost on D’Souza as much as it was lost on the Germans and Russians back then - and I do not know if it is lost on any of the Asians now. If Asians want modernization without Westernization, that is fine as long as they understand and are ready to commit themselves to being rational and reality-oriented, regardless of how that conflicts with and undermines their inherited traditions and religions - that is modernization, period. That is what their slogan actually means, whether they realize it or not. Much of what is “traditional” in a society that has not advanced itself toward a rational orientation to the world is darn well going to be lost to modernization. That is a good thing.

The major mistake D’Souza makes is failing to realize the triumph of religion in this century is no more inevitable than secularism’s triumph or decline. Long-term factors and trends cannot be discounted in predicting the future, but there is an equally important variable factor to understand as well: the human mind. Men can choose to think and live either religiously or secularly because men have free will. If men choose to abandon living by their minds, they doom themselves to the living death of religion. If they choose to live by reason they will be secular and progress will be inevitable - as long as the choice to be rational and worldly is committed to. Lack of that commitment to reason has been the problem of Western secularism.

Actually, if D’Souza’s projection of the future is right it makes the case for the importance of another Enlightenment - a new Enlightenment that learns from the first one’s mistakes - before human civilization is again swallowed up by that great obstructer of life and progress: religion; like it was in the world before the Enlightenment. Those who do not learn from history…

Next post: Ch. 2 Survival of the Sacred: Why Religion Is Winning
Christianity Is Not Great, Pt. 1


  1. One thing that I don't understand about modern religionists like D'Souza is that they want to simultaneously argue that 1) religion is good, and 2) Christianity is true. But if Christian doctrine is taken seriously, then generic "religion" (that is, beliefs about the supernatural that do not require salvation through faith in Jesus) are no better than atheism, and possibly worse.

    I suspect that this kind of general praise of religion by Christian apologists is just a propaganda technique designed to get more people on board.

  2. That is a good observation. Yes, it could just be that they figure the less independent-minded people, the better. That is the first big problem for religionists to deal with.

  3. Andrew,
    That's what makes the religionists' use of Pascal's Wager so amusing. It's a binary. And if there is one certitude about the multitude of Christian sects, it is that if you don't accept their brand of Jesus, then you're in for a hot time in the old towne tonight! How many Protestants (of whatever stripe) in Catholic Heaven? Damn few!
    I think that this is one reason why Big Tent Christianity (or Religiosity) has to perpetuate the myth of their underdoggedness. Because, once it is no longer the RELIGIOUS US against the ATHEIST THEM, it soon degenerates into the CATHOLIC US against the PROTESTANT THEM and those MORMON OTHERS and those ADVENTIST TYPES, etc.
    C. Andrew