Archive for the ‘Religion and Fascism’ Category


Nigel Barber

Biopsychologist; Blogger, Psychology Today’s ‘The Human Beast’

Atheism to Defeat Religion By 2038

Countries with the best standard of living are turning atheist. That shift offers a glimpse into the world’s future.

Religious people are annoyed by claims that belief in God will go the way of horse transportation, and for much the same reason, specifically an improved standard of living.

The view that religious belief will give way to atheism is known as the secularization thesis.  The specific version that I favor (1) is known as the existential security hypothesis.  The basic idea is that as people become more affluent, they are less worried about lacking for basic necessities, or dying early from violence or disease.  In other words they are secure in their own existence.  They do not feel the need to appeal to supernatural entities to calm their fears and insecurities.

The notion that improving living conditions are associated with a decline in religion is supported by a mountain of evidence (1,2,3).

That does not prevent some serious scholars, like political scientist Eric Kaufmann (4), from making the opposite case that religious fundamentalists will outbreed the rest of us.  Yet, noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve.

Moreover, as religious fundamentalists become economically integrated, young women go to work and produce smaller families, as is currently happening for Utah’s Mormons.

The most obvious approach to estimating when the world will switch over to being majority atheist is based on economic growth.  This is logical because economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization.  In deriving this estimate, I used the nine most godless countries as my touchstone (excluding Estonia as a formerly communist country).

The countries were Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  These nine countries averaged out at the atheist transition in 2004 (5) with exactly half of the populations disbelieving in God.   Their gross domestic product (GDP) averaged $29,822 compared to $10,855 for the average country in the world.  How long will it take before the world economy has expanded sufficiently that the GDP of the average country has caught up to the average for the godless countries in 2004?
Using the average global growth rate of GDP for the past 30 years of 3.33 percent (based on International Monetary Fund data from their website), the atheist transition would occur in 2035.

Belief in God is not the only relevant measure of religion, of course.  A person might believe in God in a fairly superficial way without religion affecting his or her daily life.  One way of assessing the depth of religious commitment is to ask survey participants whether they think that religion is important in their daily lives as the Gallup Organization has done in worldwide nationally representative surveys.

If fewer than 50 percent of the population agreed that religion was important to them, then the country has effectively crossed over to a secular majority.  The godless countries by religiosity were Spain, South Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Uruguay, Germany and France.  At a growth rate of 3.33 percent per year it would be 2041 before the average country in the world would be at an equivalent level of affluence as these godless nations.

If national wealth drives secularization, the global population will cross an atheist threshold where the majority see religion as unimportant by 2041.

Averaging across the two measures of atheism, the entire world population would cross the atheist threshold by about 2038 (average of 2035 for disbelief and 2041 for religiosity).  Although 2038 may seem improbably fast, this requires only a shift of approximately 1 percent per year whether in religiosity or belief in God.  Using the Human Development Index as a clock suggests an even earlier arrival for the atheist transition (1).

Is the loss of religious belief something fear?  Contrary to the claims of religious leaders, Godless countries are highly moral nations with an unusual level of social trust, economic equality, low crime and a high level of civic engagement (5).  We could do with some of that.

Sources 1. Barber, N. (2012). Why atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky. E-book, available at: http://www.amazon.com/Atheism-Will-Replace-Religion-ebook/dp/B00886ZSJ6/  2. Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and secular: Religion and politics worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 3. Barber, N. (2011).  A Cross-National test of the uncertainty hypothesis of religious belief Cross-Cultural Research, 45, 318-333. 4. Kaufmann, E. (2010). Shall the religious inherit the earth? London: Profile books. 5. Zuckerman, P. (2008). Society without God: What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment. New York: New York University Press.


Mircea Eliade’s Fascism

One of the more disturbing things that I learned late in my career as a graduate student in religion was about the early fascist activities of one of the great 20th century figures in the study of religion, Mircea Eliade. As an article in the New Republic (by Joseph Frank) which has just been posted on line says: “Mircea Eliade, the much-admired historian of religion … was chairman of the department of religion at the University of Chicago from 1957 until his death in 1986. Eliade had been a strong supporter of the Iron Guard movement, the Romanian equivalent of the Italian fascists and the German Nazis, but he attempted throughout his later career to conceal and deny his affiliation with its ideas and his service in the pro-Axis Romanian government of Marshal Ion Antonescu during the war.”

In the mid-1930s he began to support the Iron Guard openly: “In 1936 he began openly to support the Iron Guard; but his aim was ‘to provide its ideology with a more solid philosophical foundation.’ One is reminded of Heidegger’s attempt to provide Hitlerism with what the philosopher considered a worthier intellectual grounding. Eliade carries on a continual battle against the ideas of the Enlightenment and traces the degeneration of Romania to its attempt to adopt such alien notions: ‘Being a foreign importation, the democratic regime concerns itself with matters that are not specifically Romanian–abstractions like the rights of man, the rights of minorities, and the liberty of conscience.’ Far better a dictatorship like that of Mussolini, which is always preferable to a democracy because, if the latter goes to pieces, it will ‘inevitably slide toward the left’ and thus toward communism.”

In 1938, the Iron Guard movement was suppressed in Romania, and Eliade left the country, to become the Romanian cultural attache in London. He was then transferred to Portugal, and spent four years in Lisbon, full of admiration for the dictatorship of Salazar.

Eliade never repented of his fascist involvements, although he concealed them after the war. He kept a notebook throughout the war that is now in the University of Chicago library.

It is an astonishing document, revealing a self-adulation merging on megalomania and a fervent commitment to the triumph of Hitler, Mussolini, and Antonescu over the “Anglo-Bolsheviks.” Comparing himself with Goethe, whose genius he admired, Eliade concludes: “My intellectual horizons are vaster.” Despite the consolation of such reflections, he was terribly depressed by the course of the war. After the defeat of the Germans and their Romanian allies at Stalingrad (which he called “a tragedy”), followed by the invasion of North Africa and the British victory over Rommel, Eliade was upset to such an extent that he notes: “Insomnias, nightmares, depression.”
For him, the triumph of the Allies meant “the abandonment of Europe to the Asiatic hordes.” Even though Jews were being slaughtered right and left in his homeland, not to mention elsewhere–and Eliade’s diplomatic position kept him perfectly well informed–not a word about any such events appears in his pages. As the handwriting on the wall became more and more legible, he resolved not to return home, but to take another tack. “I have decided to ‘penetrate’ Europe more deeply and with more determination than I have done until now,” he writes. Several months later, he sees himself operating as “a Trojan horse within the scientific arena,” whose aim was “scientifically to validate the metaphysical significance of prehistoric life.” This is exactly how he behaved after Antonescu was overthrown and he was discharged from his position at the Romanian embassy. He had influential scholarly connections in Paris, particularly the cultural historian Georges Dumézil, and he used this influence as well as others to obtain temporary teaching appointments. He had begun to write his Treatise on the History of Religions in 1944 and his influential The Myth of the Eternal Return a year later; both appeared in French in the immediate postwar years, and launched Eliade on his way to international fame and a permanent post in Chicago.

In my undergraduate and graduate classes in religion we were assigned books by Eliade, including The Myth of the Eternal Return, and I was always disturbed by his treatment of Judaism – which was not openly anti-semitic but nonetheless did not cast Judaism in a very favorable light.
Joseph Frank analyzes this quite astutely:

Nothing blatantly anti-Semitic can be found in Eliade’s postwar writings, but the prejudice is transposed into a much more scholarly key in his theory of religion. One of the cornerstones of his doctrine was that archaic man lived in a world of cyclical time, whose recurrences were marked by festivals of one kind or another in which “sacred time,” the time of religious experience, was re-created. The modern world has largely lost this ability to relive “sacred time” because the Hebrews (as Eliade now calls them) broke with the cyclical time of “the eternal return” by linking God with linear time. “The Hebrews,” he writes, “were the first to discover the significance of history as the epiphany of God,” and this discovery of history ultimately led to all the ills of the modern world. Daniel Dubuisson, a French analyst of Eliade’s views on mythology, concludes that this summary notion of history “especially invents a new accusation against the Jews, that of an ontological crime, a capital crime and without doubt unpardonable.” Eliade thus remained true to himself in this erudite disguise during his later years, when his worldwide fame reached its apogee and his death was mourned with sanctimonious reverence.

Once this information about Eliade started to come out (I think I first read about his history in an earlier article in TNR in August of 1991), there was at least one session at the AAR discussing him. I certainly hope that his books are no longer a mainstay of undergraduate religion courses. I actually threw out some of his books that I owned – I didn’t want anyone else to be exposed to his dubious ideas on the history of religion.