Berger on Religious Tourism

This is a very interesting post by Peter Berger about the phenomenon of “religious tourism”: a kind of serial testing or trying out of various religions to see whether one finds a good match.  Here is a bit:

I have long ago come to the conclusion that the empirical evidence has falsified so-called secularization theory—the notion that modernity necessarily brings about a decline in religion. Secularization theory should be replaced by a theory of plurality—a situation in which many religions co-exist and interact with each other. Readers of this blog have not promised to become familiar with everything I have ever written about religion (which would fall under the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment). All the same, I cannot here develop the proposed pluralization theory. Except to simply state its two principal components, one on the level of religious institutions, the other on the level of individual consciousness. On the level of institutions:  In the pluralistic situation every religious institution, wh[ether] it likes this or not, becomes a voluntary association. Max Weber, one of the fathers of the sociology of religion, distinguished between two institutional forms of religion—the “church”, into which one is born, and the “sect”, which one joins as an adult. The historian Richard Niebuhr suggested that American history has created (presumably inadvertently) a third form of religious institution—the “denomination”, which in many ways looks like a “church”, but which one nevertheless freely joins and belongs to, and which is in competition with other religious bodies. On the level of consciousness, religion loses its taken-for-granted quality, instead becomes a matter of individual decision. The peculiarly American term “religious preference” nicely catches both levels. Put differently, the challenge of secularity, where it exists (it does in some places, notably in Europe), is that there is an absence of gods; the challenge of plurality is that there are too many gods.

When there is a combination of religious plurality with a political system which guarantees freedom of religion, what comes about is, precisely, Niebuhr’s denominationalism. For well-known historical reasons, America has been in the vanguard of such a development. Its emergence in many parts of the world today has usually little to do with American influences, but is the result of the above-mentioned combination of a social and a political fact.

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