It is currently hard to imagine in an age of Islamist terror, the Islamic State, and the shadow of the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11, but there will come a time when evangelical Christians and Islamic jihadists will be allies and partners. They will be part of a much wider coalition comprising people of faith in a global contest between religion and secularism; those who believe and those who don’t; God and the godless. This is because one of the future manifestations of world conflict will not be expressed through nations, civilizations, economics or territory but through religious belief.
The gradual ascendancy of secularism as a movement, beginning in Europe but slowly strengthening and expanding globally, will eventually confront religion head-on. Although contemporary liberal democracies are generally irreligious and allow those of faith to practice and participate in politics within a pluralistic framework, it is very possible that this may change. Democracy could easily become something far more restrictive, as we’re already witnessing across the world with the emergence of non-liberal democracies — guided by benign dictators, populists and demagogues — or the transformation of representative and pluralist democracies into fully-fledged mobocracies. Alternatively, democracies themselves could be replaced by more autocratic systems fueled by security, nationalist and identity politics.
In whatever way this change materializes, it seems inevitable that those of religious faith will become more and more a minority in the face of robust, even radical, secularism. The God-fearing, be they Christians, Jews, Hindus or Muslims, will be perceived as strange, superstitious, demanding and, crucially, dangerous. And that suspicion and antipathy will be reciprocal, with those of faith regarding secularists as intolerant and oppressive.
The latter will undoubtedly be true if secularism, either through demagoguery, mobocracy or autocracy, begins to impose limits on religious practice. Such restrictions might include the outlawing of all religious symbols; a requirement for a person to be non-religious to work in certain occupations or for the state; the banning of religiously-based noise pollution, such as church bells or the Muslim call to prayer; the imposition of laws upon everyone regardless of whether such laws contravene someone’s faith; the physical segregation and ghettoization of religious communities; and widespread prejudice, discrimination and injustice against people of faith (‘faithism’?).
However mild or extreme secularism becomes in the future, there will be a time when those of religious faith will understand and accept that the narrow theologies that divide them are insignificant compared to the power of, and challenge from, secularism. This will certainly be the case for Jews, Christians and Muslims, who all share the same religious roots and ultimately worship the same God. The faithful will find that a coming-together of discrete religions in a socio-political context, as a movement, will enable them to be in a much stronger position to resist anti-religious dogma and policy; safeguard their faith from those who would assail it; and work towards common goals, such as environmental protection. Those of different faiths will see themselves as brothers and sisters, fellow children of God, united by their belief in a higher power and the supreme importance of religion.