Gospel & Culture blog
By Kenneth Nehrbass
Some popular authors (Dawkins, Hitchens) have argued that religious fervor is responsible for intolerance and fighting: if people would stop being so religious, societies would be more tolerant and peaceful. These advocates believe that the key to getting along is for religion to just go away. They imagine that highly religious societies cannot have religious freedom; freedom of thought must be correlated with the absence of religion.
But is there really a correlation between religious enthusiasm and religious pluralism? True, some countries like Indonesia notoriously have very high religious fervor (99% of adults in Indonesia- the world's largest Islamic country- said religion was extremely important) and Indonesia has very little religious freedom - Pew rated the government involvement in religion (GRI) index for Indonesia at 8.4 out of 10. On the other hand, Estonia is one of the world's most secular nations: only 17% said religion was important; yet the country rates only 1.2 out of 10 on governmental involvement in religion. Cases like these suggest that the more religious a country is, the less religious freedom there will be; the key to religious freedom must be to be secular like Estonia.
The problem with this thinking is that there are many counter-examples. Russia is fairly secular (35% said religion was important) but the government squelches religious freedom (7.4 out of 10); and this is about the same with Israel. And on the other end of the spectrum, Brazil and Malawi are some of the most highly religious nations, yet enjoy some the highest rates of religious freedom.
I correlated the GRI with levels of religious enthusiasm for 101 countries to test the null hypothesis that "there is no relationship between religious interest and religious freedom." The correlation coefficient r=0.10, which is a very weak correlation: There is only a very weak correlation between religious enthusiasm and degree of religious pluralism. The chart below shows the results:
Christian leaders spend a lot of time talking about "how to reach Gen Xers and millennial who grew up with postmodernism." The old apologetics of CS Lewis and Josh McDowell don't work for kids (or adults) that don't expect religion to be rational, and don't think history can be known, and don't think truth can be grasped. So how do we reach these kids? With actions, rather than words? With gripping testimonies? Will it take miracles and dreams to capture them, rather than air tight logic?
I think the Gen Xers and millennials need to learn air tight logic- I think they need to learn to expect rationality; to grasp the value of the old apologetics. In other words, I'm not ready to roll over and admit defeat to postmodernism. If Postmodernism is the obstacle that is keeping them from understanding the Christian faith, we need to remove the obstacle, rather than continuing to leap over it or walk around it. IN other words, rather than ask "how do we reach postmoderns with the gospel" I think we should keep asking "how do we help postmoderns be more rational and
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor