The growing religious tide

Across the world, from India and Turkey, to Hungary and the US, a tide of religious zealotry is on the rise. Britain – ignoring the hardline anti-abortion views of Jacob Rees-Mogg – seems one of the few places to have escaped the trend: the British Social Attitudes survey shows that for the first time non-believers are in a majority (53%). But don’t let’s be complacent about the encroachment of religion into the public sphere. It’s occurring here too, and our leaders are doing nothing to resist it. The Left has “abandoned Enlightenment principles for the fractured discourse of identity politics”, and indulges “those who cry racism at every challenge to religious rule”. It stays silent about Sharia courts that discriminate against women. Its leaders “sit in gender-segregated meetings with male elders that can deliver a block Muslim vote”. The Tories are no better: they have let faith schools proliferate to please their Catholic and Anglican base. Theresa May wants to overturn even the modest requirement that selection by religion be capped at 50%. We must stand up for our secular values. That we will hold together can never be taken for granted. (Janice Turner, The Times, London).

Human beings seem to be forever tribal, feeling secure in the knowledge that others like them attend the same religious services, vote the same way, hold similar views on race or gay marriage, have attended the same schools or live in the North as opposed to the South etc etc. The outward signals of tribalism are many and various, but some people like the comfort of not being alone in their views. We are herd animals.

The increase in religiosity can be attributed to huge, growing and faceless populations you have no apparent connection with, the lack of proper jobs and liveable accommodation, a breakdown of “normal” society and neighborliness, the cost and/or scarcity of food and increasing climate insecurity. Faced with all this people rely even more on the “certainties” of religion and tribalism. In contrast, Epicurus valued every human being, slave or free, local or foreign, black or white, Greek-speaking or otherwise.

My personal tribe is the Introvert tribe, which finds hordes of other people draining. Extroverts don’t understand us at all, but since we don’t form rowdy crowds or vote en bloc we are no threat to the political staus quo. If I sound tongue-in-cheek please forgive me – the plight of religious and ethnic minorities is no laughing matter, but I grew up encouraged to think for myself about everything and listen critically to preachers, politicians, writers and TV personalities etc. with a big dose of scepticism and a desire to understand their motivations and their hidden agendas, and where the money is coming from. To some people this is something an education imparts, which is why thinking for yourself is severely discouraged in so many parts of the world.


  1. This is what religion and tribalism does: 370,000 Rohinga moslems have had to flee Buddhist Myanmar.

    Since feudal times, Buddhism and the Burmese state have been closely intertwined. And the liberalisation of politics in Myanmar since 2011 has been accompanied by a surge in extreme Buddhist nationalism. As authoritarian controls were lifted, new media gave voice to old grievances – many dating from the colonial era, when large-scale Indian (and particularly Muslim) immigration was a cause of great public anger. These are particularly focused on Rakhine state: it is regarded as the country’s “western gate”, protecting Myanmar – and Buddhist Southeast Asia – from incursion by large numbers of Muslims. Local media coverage of the crisis hinges almost exclusively on the violence committed by Rohingya militants.
    The most prominent manifestation of Buddhist nationalist fervour is the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, and led by charismatic monks who have condoned and incited violence against Muslim minorities. Linked to Ma Ba Tha is the 969 Movement, led by Ashin Wirathu, a monk dubbed “Burma’s Bin Laden”, which has been particularly vocal in spreading rumours about Muslim plots to take over the country, and about sexually rapacious Muslim men.

  2. “Human beings seem to be forever tribal.” I’m going to go instead with: “Human beings seem to be forever communal.” The guys who ran the civilizations always set about to shatter kinship tribes and turn folks’ allegiance to states like Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, India. If you didn’t share the dominant beliefs, whatever they were, out you go.

    But the Enlightenment suggested really big “tribes” like–the Humanhood of all Humankind. That may have been too far a reach but I think you hinted at a glorious idea: make everyone serve at least a few years in the Introvert Tribe. Make it a precondition, like National Service. Perhaps require robust Introvert training for the highest officers of the land?

  3. I too, am a proud member of the introvert tribe. The trouble with us is that we can segregate ourselves from wider society, and in particular those we have little in common with. For instance, most of my friends are also men, nearly all are middle class. We don’t naturally get on with anyone who is too boisterous or outspoken, so we tend to keep our views to ourselves. The cumulative effect of all this is completely different groups of people, living in the same community but having nothing that binds them together. We need extroverts to go outside their comfort zone and talk to those they may view as difference. Only through interfaith dialogue will problems associated with religion be solved.

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