Secularization and the Toxic War of Identity – OpEd – Eurasia Review
By Justin L. Wejak*
(UCA News) – The rise in cases of sexual violence around the world is concerning. In Indonesia, reports of sexual violence are increasing rapidly.
In 2019, the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komisi Nasional Anti Kekerasanterhadap Perempuan or Komnas Perempuan) received 4,898 reports of cases of sexual violence. Reports show that sexual violence does indeed affect many people: women, children, people with disabilities and people from minority groups. They are the victims.
This issue, along with other issues such as same-sex marriage, has contributed to the crisis of faith. People’s faith in religion has changed, if not completely lost. No doubt the problems have made some religions less desirable.
Once very Catholic countries like Ireland have now become more secular and pragmatic. People, especially those who are educated, are becoming increasingly critical of certain religious teachings and practices. They are increasingly expressing their unease and concern about abuses of power behind religious walls.
Secularization has indeed given way to full-scale dechristianization – rethinking and rebuilding what is most essential in Christianity.
There is currently a major crisis around European identity and the place of religion in the public space. Faith in religion is eroding more and more. This phenomenon is part of the long trajectory of the rise of secularism. This is the criticism of the French scientist Olivier Roy in his book Is Europe Christian?
Revised definitions of gender, family, reproductive and parental roles have been gradually reconstructed. Society is now governed by revised values. Society is reshaped by individualism and freedom.
Of course, this reflects social change and the long struggle for equality. Ideally, there should be no room for discrimination. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In Western countries, faith is no longer central. Many people may still identify as believers, but they reject the fundamental teachings of religion. Only a few strictly follow religious teachings or attend religious rituals. The number of people wishing to live in celibacy as members of the clergy of the Catholic Church is decreasing.
In Australia, Christianity (Catholic, Anglican and Protestant) remains the dominant religion of the population. About 12 million people identify as Christians. However, this number has decreased.
In 2003, 68% of people called themselves Christians. In 2020, this figure fell to 44%. At the same time, those who professed to be atheists, or had no religion, rose from 26% to 45%. This is not at all a surprise.
Black church leaders in the United States were very famous, especially in the 1960s. One of them was Martin Luther King Jr. He was later portrayed as a representation of the hopes and struggles of the oppressed and the marginalized.
At this time, churches became the cradle of the civil rights movement demanding equality and justice. However, many people then joked that hope only belongs to a certain race. There was a feeling of pessimism and despair.
Today, the problem of inequality remains, and it reflects something more fundamental and dangerous. Something seems to have weakened the bonds of tradition and family, community and faith. It influences changes in attitudes and perceptions of life.
Sociologist Phillip Rieff argues that humans have traded sacred order with social order.
Oliver Roy explains the challenge of secularism to faith. This challenge gave birth to modern Europe. In the 1960s, a social revolution emerged. There was also the Second Vatican Council. Certainly, the Church has been encouraged to adapt to the world of the 20th century, a more secular century. Consequently, the Church also became more secular and pragmatic than in previous eras.
The Enlightenment of the 17th century placed reason above faith. Thinkers such as René Descartes, Immanuel Kant and David Hume attempted to redefine morality and ethics. They asked critical questions about truth and humanity. The Church has been challenged.
The seeds sown during the Enlightenment, of course, were not necessarily equated with anti-religion, giving rise to philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche said God was dead and humans were the killers.
Critical theorists – particularly the Frankfurt School – emerged between the two world wars. Marxist and Freudian philosophers such as Walter Benjamin saw history as an endless catastrophe.
Moreover, Theodor Adorno, who because of his pessimism rejected the idea of human progress, left some room for the creation of beauty and poetry. Meanwhile, Max Horkheimer argued that the loss of religion erodes meaning. He categorically rejected philosophy without theology.
They were all great thinkers of the time. Yet most counter-Enlightenment philosophers helped create an age of pessimism and despair.
When Christianity declined in Europe, the number of followers of the Christian religion actually increased in several other countries in Africa, South America and the Pacific. Christianity is also growing rapidly in China, even though the country is controlled by the Communist Party.
In his book The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East, veteran journalist Janine Di Giovanni chronicles the end of Christianity.
Violent fundamentalists persecuted the Christian community. They had been brought to the brink of extinction. For example, in Egypt, Coptic Christians face legal and social discrimination. In Gaza, which in the fourth century was entirely Christian, today there are less than a thousand Christians.
Di Giovanni indeed covered the worst conflict zones in the world, too much war and suffering. Her book can be read as a book about how people pray to survive in the most turbulent times.
What a contrast. Europe is dechristianizing; Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Christians are struggling to defend their faith.
In a pluralistic, secular and democratic society, the role of religion, especially in public life, is always contested. However, it is not the formal separation of Church and State that calls into question what Olivier Roy calls the phenomenon of the displacement of faith as the epicenter and focus of social and cultural life.
Modern society seems obsessed with a toxic identity war. Obsession is like a cancer-eating democracy itself. There was a lot of pessimism and despair. Today’s crisis is not only a crisis of value but a crisis of reference. Human beings today are impoverished because of this crisis.
A Muslim governor of DKI Jakarta, Anies Basweden, recently sent Christmas greetings to Christians in Indonesia. However, his greetings were met with cynicism. Some doubted his sincerity. They consider him a pragmatic person politically, especially in the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections.
*Justin Wejak studied philosophy in Indonesia, theology and anthropology in Australia and currently teaches at the University of Melbourne. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.