Does modernization mean secularization?

A commentary on the website of the Stockholm-based Gapminder Foundation (as in “mind the gap – in your knowledge”), which encourages the proper understanding and use of statistics on global development, notes that one source of our misconceptions is notions we acquired in school that are no longer true, or at least have become questionable. As an example, I would cite the “secularization thesis.” This is the idea, originating in the 18th century Enlightenment, that as humanity develops, it abandons religion along with superstition and other irrational beliefs. In other words, modernization entails secularization. Modernization, to be sure, has many meanings: socio-economic development, scientific advances, technical-industrial progress, freedom and democratization, the rule of law and so on. So does secularization (for a discussion, see Jose Casanova, “Public Religions in the Modern World,” 1994, chap.

Lee and Lenin

The recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., together with the removal of statues of Robert E. Lee in the United States and of Vladimir I. Lenin in Ukraine, raise questions about how we should deal with historical monuments and other symbols. We shall not take the easy route by declaring that all monuments to objectionable individuals should be destroyed. Rather, we will review several cases, then attempt to formulate a rational approach to a question that is not as simple as it may at first appear. Our ambivalence towards the images we ourselves have created can be traced to the biblical First Commandment, which forbids making and worshipping graven images (Exodus 20:4-5, see also Isaiah 44: 9-20). Condemned by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians, idolatry is the divinization and worship of a created thing in place of God.

The other side of the fence

Every few years Prof. Dr. Dr. Ivan Khval’ko-Yerundovych – despite his two doctorates, an entry-level clerk at the Bureau of Standard Classifications – scraped together the funds to visit Lviv. And whenever he did so, he would make sure to see his former student Pani Kvitka Nechipailo, whom he had attempted to teach English during a summer course at the Borysthenes Autonomous National Academy Named After Shevchenko (BANANAS). Pani Kvitka was now widowed, with two teen-aged children, and worked in the BANANAS office of external academic relations. On this occasion, as always, they sat down in the cramped office she shared with two other administrators and started the electric samovar. The professor produced a packet of hibiscus-scented tea he had brought over from New York, and Pani Kvitka set down two teacups and a plate of fresh almond biscuits.

Diaspora dilemmas

Four principles characterize the life of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States: Ukrainian patriotism, American loyalty, liberal democracy and religion. While all four can be reconciled, there are tensions among them that, if pushed to their limits, produce contradictions. They comprise six opposing pairs: if you arrange them as the points of a square, you will be able to draw six lines among them. The first opposing pair of principles is obvious. Is Ukrainian patriotism consistent with our duty of loyalty as American citizens?


A current exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is titled “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.” I would urge everyone who has the opportunity to see it. What is collaboration? In the context of the Holocaust, and from a moral standpoint, it can be seen as a form of “cooperation with evil.” More on that later. But it can also be defined as cooperation with an occupying enemy of one’s country, to the latter’s detriment. In that sense, it is a form of treason.

When the world is your cloister

“You wanna be monk?” That, at least, is how one of my high-school friends related the words of a brother he had met while visiting an Italian monastery with his parents one summer vacation. To us 1960s middle-class Baby Boomers, the idea was preposterously funny. Monks were comical little men in robes and sandals, with weird haircuts. What could be more unpalatable to an American teenager than a life of poverty, chastity and obedience? Inculcated with the Freudian theory of a “sex drive” that it was unhealthy to repress and nearly impossible to sublimate, we could not imagine giving up – at least – marriage.

A century of progress

What do you do when you’re lost? Psychologists tell us that men and women react differently. Loathe to confess error or even admit to being lost, men typically forge ahead, hoping to eventually stumble upon the right path. Women retrace their steps to the wrong turn and set forth anew. While this seems more prudent, it requires you to identify the wrong turn.

The Anthony Option

Are we headed for a new Dark Ages? For different reasons, and from different perspectives, many people think we are. But few have any idea of what to do about it. In the wake of the recent US presidential election, many – both liberals and conservatives, as well as the Left – fear the consequences of the roll-back not only of the welfare state, but of the regulatory and even the constitutional state. Reactions vary from appealing to our system of checks and balances, or our federal structure, to blocking executive appointments regardless of merit, calling for impeachment, or just throwing rocks.

“Words, Words, Words”

Some words are a key to the spirit of our time. This is particularly true of trendy words. It was remarked long ago that “whatever” summarizes an attitude bereft of solid truths or principles, and that the ubiquitous “like” is emblematic of a culture of imitation, artificial and inauthentic. The widely used “random” suggests a universe where everything happens by chance and nothing has purpose or meaning. The pervasive “grab,” one could theorize, reveals the acquisitive mindset of an aggressively materialist culture.