“Religion is proving perfectly compatible with modernity in all its forms, high and low.” This conclusion by John Micklethwait, editor of the Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, the magazine’s Washington bureau chief, seems calculated to enrage secular rationalists of all stripes.
Whether Marxian or Millian, socialist or liberal, secular rationalists have held one tenet in common: religion belongs to the infancy of the species; the more modern a society becomes, the less room there is for religious belief and practice. Never questioned, this is what lies behind the hot-gospel sermons of evangelical atheists: if you want to be modern, say goodbye to God.
At bottom, the assertion that religion is destined to die out is a confession of faith. No amount of evidence will persuade secular believers that they are on the wrong side of history, but one of the achievements of God Is Back, suggests John Gray, is to show how implausible, if not ridiculous, their view of history actually is.
The notion that modernity and religion are at odds is a generalisation from the experience of some parts of Europe. Europe is now largely post-Christian and the majority no longer follows any conventional creed, but things are otherwise in much of the rest of the world, and notably so in the US, which, during most of its history, has been intensely religious and self-consciously modern.