The Atlantic: Kicking the Secularist Habit

A friend of mine pointed out an article in The Atlantic called “Kicking the Secularist Habit” by David Brooks. It’s quite the interesting read, primarily about the demonstrably incorrect assumption that as the world becomes richer and better educated, it becomes less religious.

One interesting statement, which might be targeted at the ongoing discussion of how best to organize the post-war Iraqi government, is

This country has built powerful institutions, such as the State Department and the CIA, that use them [social-science models] to try to develop sound policies. But none of the models can adequately account for religious ideas, impulses, and actions, because religious fervor can’t be quantified and standardized. Religious motivations can’t be explained by cost-benefit analysis.

Another interesting statement that Brooks makes is that human beings yearn for righteous rule, for a just world or a world that reflects God’s will—in many cases at least as strongly as they yearn for money or success. I think that may apply to the majority of the world, but I’m uneasy about stating it as a blanket description. It’s a basically a desire for fairness, after all—that people get their “just desserts.”

Brooks’ last point is that this country was never very secular anyway… We instinctively feel, in ways that people from other places do not, that history is unfulfilled as long as there are nations in which people are not free. I’d say that’s dead on-target, at least for most Americans that I know.

Altogether, the article is rather insightful.