God and the Economist: Religion and Hubris

From Chuck Colson and Breakpoint.“On the eve of the new millennium, the prestigious Economist magazine published what amounted to an obituary for belief in God.

Fast forward to November 2007: The cover story of a recent issue of the magazine is titled, “In God’s Name.” In it, the editors admit that they were wrong eight years ago and tell their readers that “religion will play a big role in this century’s politics.”

What happened to change their minds? For starters, they began looking through the correct end of the telescope.

In 1999, the magazine cited the many different conceptions of God as possible evidence that, instead of man being created in God’s image, it was the other way around. They mocked God’s supposed concern for “the diet of the Jews” and the fact that Hindus depicted him as “a blue-faced flute-player with an interest in dairy-farming.”

They opined that for “one of infinite knowledge, he was strangely careless how he spread what bits of it to whom. To some he dictated the Bible; to Muhammad the Koran.”

Thus if God seemed to be “passing into history,” at least in the West, perhaps this passing was “largely his own fault.” So concluded the Economist.

This bit of hubris was explicable, if hardly justifiable: It came at the end of a decade that had seen the collapse of the Soviet Union and a global economic boom. Democratic capitalism appeared to have triumphed so completely that there was talk of “the End of History.”

While a few writers—for example, Samuel Huntington—wrote about the upcoming “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West, the Economist’s writers were too busy writing about money to take notice.

Then came September 11. It was a painful reminder that secularized global elites, who live as if God does not exist, were a tiny minority. Outside of what the magazine itself called the “rarefied world of thinkers,” few people doubted God’s existence or His relevance to our lives. On the contrary, they believed that He has definite ideas about how we ought to live.

Today, the magazine agrees with Philip Jenkins that religion will probably be “the prime animating and destructive force in human affairs” in the twenty-first century—referring, as he does, to Islam. What people believe about God will guide their “attitudes to political liberty and obligation, concepts of nationhood and, of course, conflicts and wars.”

What they wrote in 1999 was as substantial as the dot.com-driven stock prices that fueled their hubris.

But because it took September 11 to make the magazine take notice, the special report skews toward religion as the source of conflict: both armed conflict and in the political arena. So, like Christopher Hitchens and his bestselling book, God Is Not Great, they grudgingly acknowledge that belief in God is alive and well. It is just if there is this God, He is the source of all evil. That is as wrongheaded as saying God was passing into history.

Tomorrow, I will tell you about what the magazine calls “the new wars of religion” and how you and I need to respond. I suppose it is good, at least, for the time being that the Economist admits its mistake: Man is, you see, inescapably a religious creature, and the failure to understand this is the worst kind of hubris and very dangerous.”

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