The rise of Isis and fanatical Islam might lead you to think that far from fading, religion is making a comeback. But the reverse is true: it’s humanists who are on the march. “The fastest-growing belief system in the world is non-belief.” In Saudi Arabia, 5% of those polled in 2012 described themselves as atheist and 19% as non-believers – a higher proportion than in Italy. In Lebanon, the figure was 37%. True, Arab governments are now cracking down on atheism – Saudi Arabia has made it a terrorist offence – but this is “evidence not of confidence but of alarm”, just as the fanaticism of gun-toting jihadis is evidence of their fury at the spread of secularism. But the efforts of the militants to shore up belief will be in vain: the pull of materialism, rationalism and scepticism is too strong. Whether you’re Christian, Jewish or Muslim, there’s “just something about living in a society with restaurants and mobile phones, universities and social media, that makes it hard to go on thinking” that morality derives from some divine law. Jihadism is a grave threat today, but be assured, “secularism and milder forms of religion will win in the long run”. (Matt Ridley,The Times)
Epicureans do not believe in priests and Popes, Pearly Gates, or a angry gods. They believe in the bringing out the very best instincts of human beings: generosity, care, good humour, cooperation, to name a few, all without priests. But I myself am not sure Mr. Ridley is correct. Suddenly, we find ourselves in uncharted seas, surrounded with angry, vulgar and often violent people. This sudden reversal from the relative calm and quiet, the social and economic progress, of the last half century is quite likely to drive rational people back into irrationality and false hopes of a better after-life. This will only make matters worse – religions tend to have that effect.