Since the Enlightenment, educated Westerners have tended to assume that modernity, science and reason would kill religion off and the world would become increasingly secularised. That's what happened in Europe, at any rate until very recently, and it seemed natural to expect that the pattern would be globally replicated. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue, however – with lashings of evidence – secularisation is very much not happening.
Religion is growing fast in China: 65 million Protestants and 12 million Roman Catholics at the last count, and 20 million Muslims (almost as many as Saudi Arabia). In a 2005 poll, 56 per cent of Chinese people said that religion was important in their lives. Similarly, in the United States, which was founded on Enlightenment and secularist principles, religion is of vast importance in most people's lives.
Islam thrives in its Middle Eastern homelands and is increasingly exported to Europe. Put on its mettle, European Christianity is resurgent, particularly among independent, minority churches, if not the established ones. Christianity, the authors argue, is better placed to proliferate than Islam – it already has greater global reach, a tradition of proselytising, and a sacred book that can be read in any language.
The authors (one Catholic, the other an atheist) have no discernible axe to grind and they neither celebrate nor bemoan the phenomenon. It's just happening, that's all. Their theory is that the American model – choice-based religion, unaffiliated to the state – has triumphed. Religions actively compete with one another for converts, like businesses, and the various advantages that religion offers (sense of purpose, the chance to belong to a community, networking opportunities) really do attract people. Rationalists may not like it, but we'd better get used to it.