Tony O’Connor requests I cover this:
A few times you have said that the important thinkers of the future will be the religious ones. It would be interesting to hear more about what led you to this conclusion.
Concretely, I wonder if this would arise because religious populations within liberal polities are expanding over time (due to higher birth rates), or because there could be a shift from the non-religious population into religion. The potential causes of the latter would be interesting to hear about, if that is your belief.
First of all, I was led to the point by example. For instance, Ross Douthat and Peter Thiel are two of the most interesting thinkers as of late and they are both religious and Christian. I am also struck by the enduring influence of Rene Girard. I am never quite sure “how intellectually Jewish” are our leading Jewish intellectuals, but somewhat to be sure. Even if they are atheists, they are usually strongly influenced by Jewish intellectual and theological traditions, which indicates a certain power to those traditions. In fiction, Orson Scott Card is one of the intellectually most influential writers in the last few decades and he is a Mormon. Knausgaard is drenched in the tradition of the Christian confessional memoir, and Ferrante is about as Catholic a writer as you will find, again even if “the real Ferrante” is a skeptic. Houellebecq I don’t even need to get into.
Second, I see that both secular “left progressive” and “libertarian” traditions — both highly secular in their current forms — are not so innovative right now. I don’t intend that as criticism, as you might think they are not innovative because they are already essentially correct. Still, there is lots of recycling going on and their most important thinkers probably lie in the past, not the future. That opens up room for religious thinkers to have more of an impact.
Third, religious thinkers arguably have more degrees of freedom. I don’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings here, but…how shall I put it? The claims of the religions are not so closely tied to the experimental method and the randomized control trial. (Narrator: “Neither are the secular claims!”) It would be too harsh to say “they can just make stuff up,” but…arguably there are fewer constraints. That might lead to more gross errors and fabrications in the distribution as a whole, but also more creativity in the positive direction. And right now we seem pretty hungry for some breaks in the previous debates, even if not all of those breaks will be for the better.
Fourth, if you live amongst the intelligentsia, being religious is one active form of rebellion. Rebelliousness is grossly correlated with intellectual innovation, again even if the variance of quality increases.
Fifth, I have the general impression that religious idea rise in importance during unstable and chaotic times. Probably the current period is less stable than say 1980-2001 or so, and that will increase the focality of religious ideas, thereby making religious thinkers more important.
Sixth, religious and semi-religious memes are stickier than secular ones. Maybe not on average, but the most influential religions have shown an incredible reach and endurance.
If you are reading a secular thinker, always ask yourself: “what is this person’s implicit theology?” No matter who it is. There are few more useful questions at your disposal.