We need more religion, not less.
The statement sticks in my mind as if attached with glue – something that is quite rare as I approach senility. It was the statement of Greg Barton, the Director of The Global Terrorism Research Centre. He was speaking about the rise of Islamic State (IS) in Northern Iraq and said “We need more religion, not less”. The point he was making was that “there is a need to do some positive counter messaging and so far no-one is doing it very well …….. The message of I.S. is a positive message (leave the comforts of home behind, fulfill your religious destiny and you’ll be part of history) and we need to demythologize it ….. We need more religion, not less.”
The statement reminds me of an article by John Gray in the Financial Review where he applauded Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood” and accused secularists of distorting the present position. “There was a time when everyone took it for granted that religion was on the way out, not only as a matter of personal belief but even more as a deciding factor in politics. …. Today no one could ask why religion should not be taken seriously. Those who used to dismiss religion are terrified by the intensity of its revival….The unimportance of religion is part of conventional wisdom, an unthinking assumption of those who like to see themselves as thinking people. .… Worldwide secularization, which was believed to be an integral part of the process of becoming modern, shows no sign of happening. Quite the contrary: in much of the world, religion is in the ascendant.”
Gray, as he usually does, overstates the case but he does point up (as does Greg Barton) the importance of religion in today’s world. He also points out that Stalin and Mao were “virulently hostile” to religion. Their “war on religion”, and the nature of their regimes, is something that the evangelical atheists of our day conveniently disregard in their promotion of the secular state. The secular state is much over-rated, as was evidenced by Joe Hockey’s plea the other day “We want Australians to go our there and spend for Christmas. Don’t let Santa down, go our there and spend for Christmas”. Joking? If only he was! Joe doesn’t smile much these days, let along crack jokes. I noted the other day that the historian Yuval Harari described Capitalism as “the world’s most successful religion”
Do we need more religion, not less? It depends of course what you mean by “religion”, some versions of which I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. Other religions (particularly the one I believe in!) offer hope in a pretty hopeless world.
Jim Wallis made an interesting comment the other day “We need not to go to go right or left. We need to go deeper”. And that’s what I will be trying to do this Christmas – providing I can handle the stories of St Luke and St Joe which seem to dominate at this time of the year. Pity! Because what we are on about really is important and has far reaching consequences – as we will find out in Northern Iraq, and Western Australia!