Secularism’s death is greatly exaggerated, but even where there is a rise of non-believers they usually don’t fall into rigid categories of “secular” and “religious.” That is one of the conclusions of a symposium on secularism in the world today in the magazine Religion in the News (Fall).
Even in countries where secularism has advanced greatly, such as Denmark, Britain and, to a lesser extent, Canada, religious belief is not necessarily in inevitable free fall. Muslim immigration is raising the public dimension of religion in Denmark, even if such an encounter with religious commitment is leading Danes to reaffirm their values of free speech, individualism and sexual liberalism.
David Voas finds that younger more secular British are replacing more religious older ones, but the country as a whole is neither seriously secular or religious in makeup. In Canada, there has been a rise of those claiming no religion (including native born Canadians and many Chinese and Japanese immigrants), but private religious practice and personal spirituality appear to be growing.
The most interesting case may be the more religious U.S. Ariela Keysar and Barry A. Kosmin argue that, regardless of whether one accepts their figure (from the American Religious Identification Survey) of 14 percent reporting no religion or the more recent Baylor Survey‘s more modest 10.8 percent, the “none” population has grown since 1990.
They agree that this does not mean such a population is hard-core secularist or atheist; it could signify that “Americans who appear secular by belief may appear religious by belonging, or vice versa. Others may appear religious by belief and belonging, but not by behavior. And so on.” Demographically, if there is a typical secularist in the U.S., he is more likely to be a “young, never-married, Asian male living in, say, Washington State.
That description brings to mind someone working for a high-tech corporation.” In another article on secularists in the Pacific Northwest, Frank Pasquale confirms that in his interviews of such individuals the “religious-secular” frame fails to capture those who may use the language of spirituality but for non-transcendental purposes: “the non-religious skeptic who may engage in `pagan-like’ celebrations of life and nature for the `color and connectivity’ they offer, or the anti-religious atheist who may participate in group Buddhist meditation for therapeutic reasons.
(Religion in the News, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)