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Since the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of 20th century globalization, complex and diverse religio-political movements have resurfaced around the world with the explicit goal of re-establishing religion’s role in the public sphere. These religious movements have gained considerable influence and power, both domestically and internationally, which has been used to advance their political goals within their respective countries. In many ways, the rise of religio-political movements can be seen as a negative reaction to strong modernization pressures that have supported the creation of a market-driven culture, free-market economy and democratic government around the world. Modernization not only has failed to deliver on its promises in a highly unbalanced global economy but supports a growing widening gap between the North and the Global South. As local cultural and traditional institutions continue to erode around the world, a great number of people have opted for consumerism as a response to the insecurity of collapsed boundaries. Others have chosen to follow religious fundamentalism or religious revivalism to protect their religious traditions from secular movements and outside forces. According to Weigel, the global proliferation of religio-political movements constitute the unsecularization of the world. The following essay will examine the meaning and significance of his claim and then proceed to explain why this constitutes a problematic development for international security and stability. I shall argue that the proliferation of unsecular movements is highly problematic because most of these movements base their actions and policies on religious scriptures which have little explanatory force and may be reinforced against people’s will. This in turn might be used to violate important principles of freedom, equality, and liberty which are the core of democratic institutions, global interconnectedness, and relative peace.
Understanding the unsecularization of the world
According to Weigel, the present revitalization of religious movements around the globe constitutes the “unsecularization of the world”. This expression does not imply that the respiritualization of the world is apolitical. On the contrary, unsecularism represents a new and widespread interaction between religion and politics. The nature and extent of this interaction between religion and politics is worth analyzing because it can have major domestic and international effects. Since the 1990s, it has become increasingly difficult to find a single country where religion does not have a prominent place in the political agenda of the state, even in countries that have long experienced secular principles and practices. It is important to note that secularism is a practice in which state and religious institutions are separated from one another. Secularism has western roots and has been one of the founding principles of the United States, one of the world’s most religious countries. Secularism was adopted in order to reduce the role of religion in politics, which until the 16th century had provided the main motor for international conflicts and the main threat to international security and peace. It must be noted that although religion has had major political consequences in the past, modern religio-political movements have evolved as many of them have adopted more pro-active approaches to fight secularism.
On September 11, 1991, American President George Bush Senior, spoke confidently about the birth of a new world order characterized by the values of democracy and freedom. However, this optimism proved short-sighted as the Gulf-War changed the West’s plans on the Post-Cold War global order and quickly identified Islamic radicalism as the most significant threat to Western security. The re-emergence of religion in world politics can be traced to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 which contradicted the belief that societies would secularize as they modernize. Third world countries were expected to emulate the path taken by Europe and North America to achieve economic prosperity and reduce the role of religion in public affairs. However, these views proved erroneous as evidence demonstrates that not all societies that modernize tend to secularize. What is also surprising is that as states developed and pursued modernization, faith in secular ideologies declined, leaving many people with a sense of internal loss. Another important concept to define is modernization because religio-political movements appear to be in opposition with it. Modernization has strong links with urbanization, industrialization, and the elimination of irrational views associated with ethnicity and religion. It suggests that loss of religious faith and secularization combined with technological development and application of science can overcome most of society’s problems. By the end of the 1990s, a global wave of politically oriented religious movements had spawned; which had serious social, political, and economic implications for the stability of the global community. To complicate things further, these groups active political involvement attracted not only the poor and marginalized members of society but also people with extensive education and high social status that have proven very useful to the overall growth of their movements. However, we must note that there are significant differences among religio-political groups, especially when it comes to the methods employed to achieve their goals.
The Negative Effects of the Unsecularization in the World
The unsecularization of the world constitutes a problematic development because western policy-makers have chosen to ignore major differences among various religio-political movements and have supported regimes that employ hostile and violent tactics against them. It is crucial, we mark an important distinction between religious fundamentalism and religious revivalism, both of which are responses to the failed promises of globalization. According to Heelas, religious fundamentalism is a “distinctively modern twentieth-century movement with historical antecedents” (159). The term has been constantly employed since the 1970s to describe numerous and diverse religio-political movements around the globe. However, it is important to note that the term was first used by conservative Christians in the US when they claimed that they wanted to return to the fundamentals of their religion. Presently, the term has become generic and is used by both popular and academic circles to describe a multitude of groups form various religious traditions. Religious fundamentalism focuses on the doctrines located within the nexus of moral and social concerns centered on state-society relations. They believe they are under attack from modernization and secularization as well as intruding alien ethics. Often, this develops into a broad socio-political offensive to try to redress the situation by targeting particular political figures. Most of their ideology is narrowed to few principles based on core religious texts such as the Bible, the Quran, or the Torah to define what God wants and how to answer to modern societal challenges. On the other hand, religious revivalism is a movement that wishes to renew and strengthen the community from within. It does not seek confrontation with others and assumes that all religious traditions are important to preserve within their own communities. The distinction between these two approaches is clear and must be understood by western policy-makers that have until now confused the two into a single movement which has increased tension and hostility.
Unsecular movements also represent a problematic development domestically for multi-ethnic states that have diverse religious populations because they seek to impose certain religious practices publicly over others. Where secularism allows for the tolerant practice of multiple religious practices privately, extreme unsecularism seeks a return to complete uniformity of religious traditional practices. Multiple modern states are struggling to cope with the despair felt by certain religious groups over secularism. Often times, these groups use the public’s sense of insecurity and dissatisfaction to attack local secular leaders by proclaiming immoral governments as the cause of society’s problems. Many claim that secularism is not a native notion to their land and use the negative colonial legacy to disenfranchise what they consider to be the imposition of western values. In addition, these groups have a tendency to see politics in religious ways. By claiming that political difficulties have religious roots, they also assume that they have religious solutions. This often leads to the forceful adoption of religious solutions that are often found in religious texts, and contain outdated practices. This forceful imposition of religious practices is problematic even within members of the same religious community as some of them seek a more moderate approach to their religious beliefs while others wish to go back to purest form of religious practices. Dr. Goldstein in Israel demonstrates clearly this internal tension, as he claimed “miracles do not happen, they are made”. This remark was made to highlight the importance of reasserting Israeli control of biblical lands for the sake of religious prophecy, a topic which continues to internally divide Israeli society.
The unsecularism of the world also poses a major threat to the stability and order of the international order because it tends to encourage the satanization of political enemies which might be used to justify violent actions to achieve “moral” ends. Fundamentalist religious groups embracing millenarian traditions pose a significant threat because they believe in the need to provoke a religious apocalypse to usher a new age of peace for humanity. Although they claim their ultimate goal is peace, many of them promote the use of extreme violence and terror tactics to send a powerful religio-political messages. These groups tend to justify their actions in religious symbolism and often accept the idea that suffering and death are necessary sacrifices to prove their faith to god and protect their families, societies and nations from an ever closing evil. The fact that violence is justified on the identification “evil doers” tends to have dehumanizing effect on certain peoples that are deemed not worthy of the protection and rights granted by god. This confrontational approach known as “us VS them” is highly problematic for both sides and could ultimately lead to open confrontation. This can effectively lead to a cosmic war based on religious prophecy and extremism that is capable of causing substantial damage and the violation of basic human rights.
To conclude, the spread of unsecular religio-political movements represents a problematic development for the stability and peace of the international community. Ever since the fall of the USSR, the United States has used his powerful economic, political military power to create a world according to pluralist and democratic values. However, the growing resistance and influence of religio-political movements around the world has inevitably clashed with the spread of western values and practices. These diverse and complex movements are mostly concerned with reasserting the role of religion in the public sphere. They are highly involved in domestic politics as they attempt to stop secularism and other religions from threatening the cohesiveness of their group. Unsecularization has proven problematic because western policy-makers have chosen to ignore major differences among religio-political movements and have supported violent and repressive regime to oppress them. In addition, unsecularism presents a challenge domestically for religiously diverse countries because they seek to impose dominant religious practices publicly over others. Furthermore, unsecularism tends to encourage religious groups that embrace millenarian traditions to satanize their political enemies which dialogue unlikely making war, a real possibility.