Decades of fashionable and unchallenged secular atheism have convinced us of the certainty that the advance of reason and the progress of technology in the modern world will bring to an end the reign of religious superstition. Two centuries of secular political and economic rationality have succeeded in directing the people and nations of the world toward industry and progress for the sake of profit and capital; a drive which has propelled humanity stratospheres ahead, but this has come at a cost. It has forced the great majority of human beings into economic subservience and dependency, and has continually worked to reduce the rights and freedoms of all. Yet for every action, so Newton proclaimed, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As atheistic politics in Eastern Europe and secular economics in the West evolved and grew, beside them another force rose to meet them – modern religion. Like politics and economics, religion exists within the continuum of history, and like them it too develops. With both it too emerged from the feudal and monarchic paradigm through the Age of Reason and now presents itself as quite a different creature; an identity of billions rooted in the faith that hope and love answer the cries of history’s victims. So ‘dying’ is modern religion that today in Manila Pope Francis attracted the largest crowd ever recorded – all to celebrate the Eucharist.
Somewhere between six and seven million people came to see and hear Francis at Rizal Park, Manila, not because the Philippines is a backward, primitive society, but because the people are devout Catholics. The Philippines has well over a hundred internationally ranked universities and colleges, many of which – like De La Salle – are on a par with Bar Ilan University in Israel, Brigham Young in the United States, and the Université de Nantes in France. Still this appeal to the backwardness of the developing world, as an explanation for the strength of religion, continues. Developing nations are not backward – they are simply poor, and this is largely the result of Western economic and political foreign policy. Writing religious opinion off – for the most part – as unsophisticated is extremely ill-informed and patronising. It makes more sense to argue that the wealthiest Western societies are more secular, not as a consequence of their secularism, but as a result of the global inequality they have helped to create. The rejection of religious ethics is a useful means of deflecting the question of responsibility – both nationally and internationally. It is interesting to consider that outside of the political and economic professions in the developed world religion still plays a central social role. Who would have thought astronauts – highly educated Westerners – still say their prayers?