In “Risky business: The world is out of control, sociologist Ulrich Beck tells Stuart Jeffries” (Feb. 11, 2006), Jeffries, the Guardian’s feature writer and columnist, published his interview with Beck, a professor for sociology at the University of Munich whose lectures converges on sociology of risk, social inequalities, modernization theory and transformation of work. This 6 years old interview caught my attention and made me ponder if Beck is correct in thinking that atheism is one belief system among many.
On the controversial cartoons depicting Muhummad, Beck invoked the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’s distinction between secular and post-secular societies. “The basic assumption of the secular society is that modernity overcomes religion. In this sense most continental European countries seem to exist as secular states, while Britain and America seem to be post-secular – they see atheism is only one of the belief systems and that religion still is an important voice of humanity.”
The dialogue that followed, which I re-edit to capture the interview, left me pondering if atheism could be considered a belief system.
Jeffries: Would you have published the cartoons?
Beck: “No. It’s important to fight for freedom of speech, but it has to be related to principle. You can’t play with these freedoms. You have to be very careful not to hurt religious feelings.”
Jeffries: Are you religious?
Beck: “Not at all. Max Weber [the German sociologist] said he was unmusical when it comes to religion. I’m like that, too. But it’s important to understand that not everybody is going to be an atheist.”
Jeffries: Was that assumption ever plausible?
Beck: “It was the assumption of most social theory. All theory of modernity in sociology suggests that the more modernity there is, the less religion. In my theory we can realise that this is wrong: atheism is only one belief system among many.”
Question: Is Beck correct in viewing atheism as one belief system among many? Give reasons