A New Phase of Civilization

By James A. Haught | 11 April 2023
Freethought Now

(Image by Couleur from Pixabay)

Human civilization has staggered and lunged through many phases and sub-phases, some overlapping:

Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, hunter-gatherers, early agriculture, kings and empires, city-states, widespread slavery, early science in Ancient Greece, Dark Ages, the Age of Faith, Renaissance, seafaring and exploration, Enlightenment, democracy, colonialism, perpetual warfare, aviation age, Industrial Revolution, electronic age, population explosion, scientific age, de-colonialism, space travel, human rights, computer age and Internet, black equality, female equality, gay equality, decline of warfare, Information Age.

Now, anthropologists have hatched a new label, the Anthropocene Epoch, for the latest period when mushrooming humanity and fossil fuel burning have altered the planet’s biosphere and climate.

Amid all this chaos of history, I think another growing phase of civilization can be detected: The Secular Age – the death of religion – the disappearance of supernatural gods, devils, heavens, hells and the like. Miracles and prophecies no longer are treated seriously in advanced western democracies. They’re ignored with amusement, like old wives’ tales.

Look around you at newspapers, magazines, television news, etc. Does any part of society seriously expect divine magic to cure human problems? A few people give lip-service to such a fantasy, but most know it’s just a fantasy.

In most of the west, including America, churchgoing has fallen spectacularly in the 21st century. It’s becoming a province for dwindling elder women. Soon, supernatural beliefs may be an odd fringe.

When I was born in 1932 (in an Appalachian farm town with no electricity or paved streets), the world had two billion people. Now it’s approaching eight billion. Civilization has changed greatly in my lifetime, and the pace of change seems to accelerate. It’s fun to guess what’s next.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I predict that the Secular Age is taking shape under our noses.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

James A. HaughtJames A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s The Charleston Gazette-Mail and a senior editor of the Free Inquiry magazine. He is also the author of numerous books and articles; his most recent book is Religion is Dying: Soaring Secularism in America and the West (Gustav Broukal Press, 2010). Haught has won 21 national newswriting awards and thirty of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He is in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors, and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century.

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