What Is The Future Of Religion? – A Worldwide Religious Awakening

Here’s how he begins, with a discussion of specific trends (both encouraging and disappointing) afterwards:

It is a very religious world, far more religious than it was 50 years ago. Gallup World Poll Surveys [link?] of more than a million people living in 163 nations show that:

— 81 percent claim to belong to an organized religious faith, and most of the rest report engaging in religious activities such as prayer or making offerings to the gods in various “folk religion” temples.

— 74 percent say religion is an important part of their daily lives.

— 50 percent report they have attended a place of worship or religious service in the past seven days.

In very few nations do as many as five percent claim to be atheists, and only in China, Vietnam, and South Korea do they exceed 20 percent.

Furthermore, in every nook and cranny left by organized faiths, all manner of unconventional spiritual and mystical practices are booming. There are more occult healers than medical doctors in Russia, 38 percent of the French believe in astrology, 35 percent of the Swiss agree that “some fortune tellers really can foresee the future,” and nearly everyone in Japan is careful to have their new car blessed by a Shinto priest.

Hat tip: Alan Jacobs

Urbanization, Pentecostalism, and Islamism

Writing at The Christian Century, Philip Jenkins notes parallels between the rise of modern Pentecostalism and modern Islamism among urban newcomers.

On Pentecostalism:

Most have moved to new megacities in their own countries, but other former rural dwellers have journeyed to cities in the Global North. In the challenging situations they face in their new homes, migrants naturally gravitate to those religious groups that offer them the means of survival. They find there opportunities for fellowship and community, but also the basic necessities of welfare, education, and health that the state cannot provide. Commonly, it is the Pentecostal and charismatic churches that are best organized to supply these needs, and in turn they benefit most from the repeated infusions of the uprooted.

Social change means religious transformation. People abandon the old sacred landscapes they knew in their rural homes, with all their saints and shrines, and a sacred year marked by religious feasts and fasts. In the cities, they adopt a globalized form of modern faith, characterized by sophisticated modern media and advertising, including the most contemporary social media. They abandon their old languages and dialects, so that pastors hold their revival crusades in the global languages of modernity—English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

But whatever new believers have lost through cultural change, they feel that they have gained much. However poor in material things, they know in their hearts that they are following a pristine form of apostolic faith.

On Muslim immigrants in the West:

In books like Holy Ignorance, [Olivier] Roy relates global religious change to such mega­trends as mass migration, urbanization, and modernization. He stresses how deeply integrated Islam was in traditional societies like Morocco or Pakistan, where faith was tied to particular communities and clan structures, to shrines, saints, and sacred landscapes, and to a sacred calendar. All were severed with the migration to the West, creating an Islam that was suddenly and painfully deterritorialized….

In the Muslim case, the young respond by rejecting both the lost traditional culture and the new Western alternative. They turn instead to the apparent certainties of a universalized or globalized Islam, which in practice offers the sternest and most demanding standards of the Wahhabis or Salafists. In return, believers receive a vision of themselves as the heroes of a glorious historical narrative in which faith defeats the temporary and illusory triumph of disbelief and paganism.

I think that this also works for the appeal of socialism and popular nationalism to urban workers in 19th-century Europe, who also were recently uprooted from their rural communities and traditions. This isn’t something that I came up with on my own, but I don’t remember where I read it.

The appeal of membership in large-scale groups — the global umma for Muslims, the (German, French, etc.) nation for nationalists, the working class for workers — is all part of the movement in modern times away from local identities toward large-scale ideologies, states, identities, and movements. Of course, with independence movements in regions of different European countries and the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, we could be seeing the limits of that trend in the contemporary world.

Portraying Hugo Chavez as Christ

At First Things, Lisa Carroll-Davis recently described the Venezuelan president’s striking language about his predecessor Hugo Chávez on the one-year anniversary of his death: “Christ the Redeemer became flesh, became spirit, became truth in Chávez” and was “the Christ of the poor, the Christ of the humble, he who came to protect those who have had nothing.”

This was hardly an isolated incident:

The social unrest and economic privation that spilled out in protests in February 2014 were met by Venezuela’s leaders with redoubled proclamations of Chavista messianism. During the height of the protests, in a speech made March 5, 2014 at a military parade in Caracas marking the one year anniversary of Chávez’s death, Maduro proclaimed, Chávez “the Redeemer of the poor” and said that the poor were calling to Chávez the “Redeeming Christ of the 21st Century” to help them against the capitalist protestors attempting to undo all he had done for the poor….

In Venezuela, the conflation of politician and messiah have saturated the popular culture, as not only are the leftist political actors making statements exalting the deceased Chávez as Christ, the average citizens venerate the former president. Immediately after his passing in March 2013, public processions honoring Chávez included his supporters carrying posters of him and Jesus together. There were reports and pictures of widespread household altars to Chávez, with an effigy or image of him replacing Christ on the cross. Presenting Chávez as the messiah is not merely a convenient rhetorical trope for the ruling party. It is a sentiment that has been internalized and codified by those who supported him. What otherwise would be considered unorthodox, or at least heterodox, has become fully acceptable to a largely Catholic population.

Carroll-Davis puts this devotion to Chavez in the context of the Latin American Left and liberation theology.

Protestants and politics in five Latin American countries

Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin AmericaEvangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin America by Paul Freston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Essays by different authors focused on evangelical political activity in five different countries: Mexico, Guatemala (the Latin American country with the highest percentage of evangelicals), Nicaragua, Peru, and Brazil. The most interesting essays were the ones on Brazil and Mexico. A couple of takeaways:

-There has been a trend of more Pentecostal involvement in Brazil and Mexico in politics recently after a period with little involvement.

-There are evangelicals that belong to denominations as well as the well-known Pentecostal groups.

-Evangelicals have gotten involved in many different parties, and sometimes there have been evangelical parties or political groups.

I wish that I had a better historical and cultural framework in which to fit the information in the book. I may go back to it to absorb some of the details better.

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Pope Francis I and global trends

Ross Douthat:

Second, the choice of a Latin American makes a great deal of sense on paper, since Latin America is in many ways the place where the different experiences of global Catholicism converge. The region shares a New World experience with North America, a long record of church-state entanglements with Western Europe, a history of colonial exploitation and stark extremes of wealth and poverty with sub-Saharan Africa. The Latin church faces the same challenges from secularism and sexual liberation as the church in the developed world, and the same explosive growth of Pentecostalist and prosperity-oriented Christian alternatives as the church elsewhere in the global South. A pontiff from the region is thus a natural choice, in ways that an African or Asian pope might not have been, to move the church’s focus away from Europe and North America (and especially Europe) in some ways without cutting the Vatican off from the trends, issues and crises facing the church in a secularizing West.

Walter Russell Mead:

In some ways, Francis was a typically canny choice by the oldest electoral college in the world. The choice of a Latin American, and the first non-European pope in more than a thousand years, made headlines around the world and galvanized many Catholics in developing countries where the Church is strong. But behind the drama is the cautious intelligence of an institution whose traditions stretch back to the times of the Caesars; with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, Latin America is the most European region in the whole global South. Argentina is the most European of Latin American countries, and Pope Francis, whose parents emigrated from Italy in the last century, is one of the Argentinians whose European roots are as strong and deep as they get.

It appears that, among other qualities, he is a compromise between those still nostalgic for the long Italian stranglehold on the papacy (Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian Bishop of Rome since 1523) and those who want a more globalized leadership in the Church. He is as Italian as a foreigner can be.

With all this, though, comes political baggage. Most Cardinals from Europe these days have not had to cope with the political monsters running loose in much of the world. The selection of Benedict XVI, who came of age in Hitler’s Reich, raised some eyebrows, but generally speaking most European prelates these days haven’t had to exercise their ministries in countries run by murderous thugs.

That isn’t the case with people from much of the developing world. Cuba’s bishops must somehow work with the Castros; the bishops of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda and many other countries have had to make choices that people from stable and democratic places know little about. In Pope Francis’s case, he lived under the horrible Argentine military government of the 1970s when disappearances and torture were business as usual. Those of us who haven’t had to navigate those treacherous waters should be careful how we judge those whose experience has taken them through trials we cannot comprehend. Nevertheless, Pope Francis must expect that his record under Argentina’s dictatorship will be carefully combed through, and it is not impossible that a Buenos Aires government with little use either for him or for the Church will engage in selective leaks.

Andean adventures rather than Latin lessons

Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started ProsperingLatin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering by Hal Weitzman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an interesting book, but not for the reasons promised in the title. It’s focused more on the Andean states (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru) and their roller-coaster political scenes. Weitzman did reporting for the Financial Times in these countries, and has lots of great stories to illustrate his points. He’s critical of the effects of the Washington Consensus reforms (neoliberalism) that cut government services, state ownership, subsidies, but doesn’t argue for an alternative.

It’s more of a book to help Americans understand Latin America (especially the Andean countries), and it ends with a set of sensible principles for US policies towards the countries with which it shares the hemisphere. He suggests a middle road that departs from the extremes of ignoring Latin America on the one hand and interventions into the countries’ political system on the other.

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