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10-08-2015, 23:37


While some analysts cite the reduced role of the traditional family as a major factor in the widespread sense of malaise in the contemporary world, others point to the decline in religion and the increasing secularization of Western society. It seems indisputable that one of the causes of the widespread feeling of alienation in many societies is the absence of any sense of underlying meaning and purpose in life, which religious faith often provides. Historical experience suggests, however, that while intensity of religious fervor may serve to enhance the sense of community among believers, it can sometimes have a highly divisive impact on society as a whole, as the examples of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, and the Middle East vividly attest. Religion, by itself, cannot serve as a panacea for the problems of the contemporary world. In any event, the issue of religion and its implications for social policy is complicated. Although the percentage of people attending church on a regular basis or professing firm religious convictions has been dropping steadily in many Western countries, the intensity of religious belief appears to be growing in many communities. This phenomenon is especially apparent in the United States, where the evangelical movement has become a significant force in politics and an influential factor in defining many social issues. But it has also occurred in Latin America, where a drop in membership in the Roman Catholic Church has been offset by significant increases in the popularity of evangelical Protestant sects. There are significant differences between the two cases, however. Whereas the evangelical movement in the United States tends to adopt conservative positions on social issues such as abortion rights, divorce, and sexual freedom, in Brazil one of the reasons advanced for the popularity of evangelical sects is the stand taken by the Vatican on issues such as divorce and abortion. In Brazil, even the vast majority of Catholics surveyed support the right to abortion in cases of rape or danger to the mother and believe in the importance of birth control to limit population growth and achieve smaller families. For many evangelical Christians in the United States, the revival of religious convictions and the adoption of a Christian lifestyle are viewed as necessary prerequisites for resolving the problems of crime, drugs, and social alienation. Some evidence does suggest that children who attend church in the United States are less likely to be involved in crime and that they perform better in their schoolwork. Some in the evangelical movement, however, not only support a conservative social agenda but also express a growing suspicion of the role of technology and science in the contemporary world. Some Christian groups have opposed the teaching of evolutionary theory in the classroom or have demanded that public schools present the biblical interpretation of the creation of the earth. Although fear over the impact of science on contemporary life is widespread and understandable, efforts to turn the clock back to a mythical golden age are not likely to succeed in the face of powerful forces for change set in motion by advances in scientific knowledge.