Ross Douthat Asks: Just How Secular Are We?

At his New York Times blog, Ross Douthat raises some good thoughts in light of the remarkable response that Pope Francis's visit has generated.

In short, Douthat questions whether a common assumption -- we are living in, or soon to be living in, a post-Christian society -- has perhaps been overstated. Surveying the popularity of Francis (and even the warm reception Pope Benedict XVI received on a trip to Great Britain), Douthat advances this possibility: "Secularism is weaker than many people think."


He continues: " . . . in a fully secularized society, would so many people who have drifted from the practice of religion – I have many of my fellow journalists particularly in mind – care so much whether an antique religious organization and its aged, celibate leader are in touch with their experiences? Would you really have the palpable excitement at his mere presence that has coursed through most of the coverage the last two days?"

Douthat is onto something, although I too share his reservations concerning whether the energy around Francis signifies a great resurgence of a religious West. Regardless, the interest in Pope Francis reveals a hunger (and, at root, I think a good hunger) for something other than what this world daily conveys. There aren't many leaders, and certainly none of Francis's stature, who are urging us to rejoice in what we already have and, beyond that, to break free from the excess, to resist the constant pressure to upgrade, trade-in, and buy more of what we don't need. There aren't many public lives bearing his obvious joy, kind-heartedness, and compassion. And this is moving people, causing them to question, to contemplate, to reconsider priorities. And this is a good thing.   

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