M. Hilaly Basya , Leiden | Thu, 02/12/2009 10:06 AM | Opinion
Harvey Cox said in his book The Secular City: Urbanization and Secularization in Theological Perspective (1965), that modernity would kill religion. So far, modernity is characterized by rationality, secularism and empirical science. Cox believed that the more rational a society is, the less influence religion will have.
Basically, his belief is based on the assumption that the character of religion is irrational, whereas modernity is rational. Hence, religion and modernity are contradictory. That is why he predicted that religion will disappear in the future.
However, in fact, modernization and secularization do not reduce or eliminate the role of religion. Moreover, there is a new trend showing that the role of religion increases., particularly in Muslim society.
In line with this fact, Cox in his next book entitled Religion in the Secular City: toward a Post Modern Theology (1984) revises his previous thesis. He says modernization and secularization create a new challenge for religion. Secularization brings religion into constructive dialectic. It is supported by the flexible character of certain religions that is able to reinterpret and reconstruct their doctrines to be responsive to contemporary problems.
This ability is inherent in certain religions. Besides, the emergence of religion was often caused by social problems: religion emerged to solve it. Generally speaking, the decline of religion’s role as described by Cox can be found in European society during the Renaissance era. At that time, conflict and contestation between scientists and churches were won by scientists.
They were the representation of secularism and modernism in Europe. Their victory was characterized by wide acceptance of modern science rather than of religious doctrines. But, the supremacy of modern science and secularism does not correlate to the disappearance of religion’s role. Many cases show secularization is in line with the actual resurgence of religious phenomena.
This can be seen, for instance, in Muslim society in several countries. According to the Center for Islamic Studies and Society of the State Islamic University (PPIM-UIN) Jakarta, the resurgence is marked by the inclination and enthusiasm of Muslims for religious activities and the use of religious symbols within the public sphere (2004).
The resurgence of religion can be seen as a result of people’s disappointment in modern science and secularism which cannot meet their fundamental and existential needs. Consumptive and other negative modern culture that destroys modesty and sacredness are some of the factors that disappoint them.
Moreover, the shift of moral values has separated people from transcendental convenience and has alienated younger generation from their old traditions. This especially occurs within middle class society, which is the reason the phenomena of religious resurgence tend to appear in this class. They dominantly represent the resurrection of religions in the modern era.
They are the ones who took advantage of modernization, but moral degradation has made their lives not so different from other classes.
Furthermore, they feel ill at ease and afraid to live in the modern era. They attend religious activities and studies to solve their problems. This phenomenon is called rediscovering religion; people’s enthusiasm for religion is fitrah (natural).
Modernization and secularization have devalued religious values. To a certain extent, this devaluation gives positive contribution to society. But it also reduces the respectfulness and appreciation of sacred values. Permissive conduct, for instance, is one of the negative impacts that stimulate free sex, scandal and corruption. At least, from the beginning religion has given regulations and guidance on how to live in harmony, justice and prosperity.
The writer is an activist of the Pemuda Muhammadiyah (Muhammadiyah Youth Wing) and a student of Islamic Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands.