Cardinal George on secularization: it is harder for people to have faith today

Chicago Cardinal Francis George makes a secularization argument by suggesting it is more difficult for people today to have faith:

Cardinal George acknowledged the pope is concerned about faith, and added that all the cardinals are concerned as well. This will be utmost in their minds when they deliberate in Rome…

“The larger question: Is there now such a sea change in Western culture that people can’t believe; that they aren’t open to belief?” he asked. “That therefore you have to be your own god in a way. ‘You have to do just what you want to do in the way that you want to do it. You have to follow your own dream.’

“Well, it’s important to follow God’s dream.

“So we could say maybe (some) people have lost the gift of faith because we’ve created a society where people can’t believe. It’s impossible — well, not impossible, never impossible, but very difficult — to believe because it goes against the grain to say, ‘I surrender my life.’ Maybe it’s why marriage is in such difficulty because when you’re married that’s what you do. You surrender your life to a woman or a man, a husband, a wife. Well, faith means you surrender your life to God.”

George is suggesting social conditions, “we’ve created a society,” make it more difficult to have faith. He doesn’t suggest exactly why this is. Sociologists and others have made arguments over the years for why this has happened: new technologies, demonstrable progress as well as believing in its capabilities, new ways of thinking (from the Enlightenment on) that favor reason and science, the development of the welfare state that takes care of basic human needs, two world wars, and more.

It would be interesting to hear how the Catholic cardinals discuss this topic as they pick a new pope. On one hand, there are over 1 billion Catholics in the world. On the other hand, Catholics and other Christians have been challenged for decades on the relevance of faith and what position it should play in civil society.

Pope: modern society doesn’t leave much room for God

Pope Benedict’s Christmas Eve mass included this commentary about the role of religion in modern society:

“Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for him,” said the pope, wearing gold and white vestments.

“The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full,” he said.

The leader of the world’s some 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said societies had reached the point where many people’s thinking processes did not leave any room even for the existence of God.

“Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the ‘God hypothesis’ becomes superfluous,” he said.

“There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so ‘full’ of ourselves that there is no room left for God.”

This sounds like a secularization argument to me: the rational thinking that began off several centuries ago before and during the Enlightenment has squeezed out God. It also reminds me of the 2004 book Sacred and Secular by Norris and Inglehart that suggested the modern welfare state has met more people’s daily needs so there is less need for God.

Additionally, the Pope also suggests modern technologies that offered to help make our lives more efficient now just take up more of our time. Is the Pope simply a crank from an older generation or is this prescient commentary about the downsides of technology millions the world over have adopted?