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In the 18th century came the secularisation of power, in two great revolutions, the French in 1789 and, before that, the American in 1776. But the 18th century saw for the first time the separation of religion and power, or, as it was put in the United States, between church and state. The 19th century saw the secularisation of culture. People built concert halls, art galleries and museums as a way of encountering the sublime without necessarily going to a house of worship. They were substitutes for the church.

The 20th century, beginning in the 1960s, saw the secularisation of morality, as the West broke free from its traditional Judaeo-Christian ethic, especially in relationship to the sanctity of life on the one hand and the sanctity of marriage on the other. However, four centuries of secularisation lead us to expect that the process will continue. But it isn’t continuing because in the 21st century we are seeing, at least in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the world getting more religious, not less. We have begun an age of desecularisation.

The second metanarrative was Westernisation. It said that any country that wants to enter the modern world has to become Westernised. That too has been true for four centuries, but today no longer, because what we’re seeing is four very ancient civilisations that had been eclipsed by the modern age suddenly returning with a vengeance. By that, I mean China, India, Russia and Islam, whether in the Sunni form in Saudi Arabia or the Shia form in Iran. All of those cultures believe that tomorrow belongs to them, not to the West. So, that’s the second master narrative — Westernisation.

The third was accommodation. That is, that any religion to survive in the modern world has to accommodate and adjust to the wider society. Today, the opposite is the case. For the last half-century, it has been conservative churches and Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox synagogues that have been growing faster than liberal ones. In Islam, it is the radical forms of Islamism that are flourishing, while the more moderate forms are in decline. In each case, what we are seeing, and what we haven’t seen for four centuries, is not religion as accommodation, but religion as resistance. It’s not religion making its peace with the world, but religion opposing the world, challenging the world or simply withdrawing from the world. These are not small developments. Half of the world is getting less religious. Half of the world is getting more religious and the tension between them is growing day by day. That is cultural climate change and it’s the biggest thing to happen, certainly in the West, since the great wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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Dissapointed
September 12th, 2017
5:09 AM
What starts as an interesting article descends into the classic 'it doesn't matter if you believe it or not, but it's better to believe' acts of proselytization.

Jose Carp
September 9th, 2017
9:09 AM
Rav Sir Jonathan Sachs who I admire immensely, omits the fact that the world population has quadrupled in the last 40 years. This has certainly contributed to more ignorance and the dispersion of religions into various sects (some more redical than others).

J Dale Debber
September 8th, 2017
2:09 PM
Rabbi Sacks has put words and meaning to the identification of precisely what is happening In the 21st century world. Moreover he outlines the choice of paths that both societies and individuals have.

North West Johnny
September 1st, 2017
1:09 PM
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs is seriously one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He needs to come home to the UK and speak from every corner of our island to give the silent majority a voice and some direction. The decades to come are going to be dark if we do not break the growing threats to our society.

ron hurtAnonymous
September 1st, 2017
4:09 AM
Quite brilliant analysis. Reminds me of the late Francis Schseffer

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