Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Christianity Is Outpacing Islam--And The Implications

Around the globe Christianity is growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see. Tumultuous conflicts within Christianity will leave a mark deeper than Islam's on the century ahead.
Philip Jenkins, The Next Christianity

Between the weakening of the Church after the rash of sexual scandals on the one hand and the resurgence of Islam on the other, the global predominance and outright dominance of Islam is a new reality that the world will have to come to grips with.

Or maybe not.

Maybe that is the old Christianity you're thinking of.

Philip Jenkins writes about The Next Christianity, the resurgent Christianity that is outpacing Islam--perhaps even in global politics:

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress. Worldwide, Christianity is actually moving toward supernaturalism and neo-orthodoxy, and in many ways toward the ancient world view expressed in the New Testament: a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race. In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations—currently 480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America—now make up what the Catholic scholar Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the faith. The revolution taking place in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is far more sweeping in its implications than any current shifts in North American religion, whether Catholic or Protestant.

...The growth in Africa has been relentless. In 1900 Africa had just 10 million Christians out of a continental population of 107 million—about nine percent. Today the Christian total stands at 360 million out of 784 million, or 46 percent. And that percentage is likely to continue rising, because Christian African countries have some of the world's most dramatic rates of population growth. Meanwhile, the advanced industrial countries are experiencing a dramatic birth dearth. Within the next twenty-five years the population of the world's Christians is expected to grow to 2.6 billion (making Christianity by far the world's largest faith).
And of course, demographics have wide-ranging implications--as Jenkins notes:
The demographic changes within Christianity have many implications for theology and religious practice, and for global society and politics.
For example:
Across the regions of the world that will be the most populous in the twenty-first century, vast religious contests are already in progress, though so far they have impinged little on Western opinion. The most significant conflict is in Nigeria, a nation that by rights should be a major regional power in this century and perhaps even a global power; but recent violence between Muslims and Christians raises the danger that Nigerian society might be brought to ruin by the clash of jihad and crusade. Muslims and Christians are at each other's throats in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan, and a growing number of other African nations; Hindu extremists persecute Christians in India. Demographic projections suggest that these feuds will simply worsen. Present-day battles in Africa and Asia may anticipate the political outlines to come, and the roots of future great-power alliances. These battles are analogous to the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century, the alternating hot and cold wars between advocates of fascism and of democracy, of socialism and of capitalism. This time, however, the competing ideologies are explicitly religious, promising their followers a literal rather than merely a metaphorical kingdom of God on earth.

This jihad vs crusade mindset fits with David Goldman's book How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). Goldman, who writes a column as 'Spengler' for the Asia Times, notes the fertility downturn in the Islamic world--“The Muslim world is on the brink of the fastest population decline in recorded history”-- and its implications, noting in an interview that:
It hasn't gone unnoticed by the likes of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan that at current fertility rates, Iran and Turkey respectively will collapse in a generation or so. Erdogan warned in public that Turkey will cease to exist as a nation by 2038—why he chose that year is unclear to me, but it corresponds to what we read in the UN demographic tables. That feeds into their apocalyptic sense of urgency. Iran sees itself as the center of a great recovery of Sh'ia Islam, and Turkey sees itself as the pillar of a new Ottoman Empire. But given their demographics, they have one generation in which to stake their claim. Ahmadinejad and Erdogan recall Adolf Hitler, who thought that the deterioration of the Aryan race was so far advanced that Germany had only one last chance to assert itself. With that sense of historical pessimism, Hitler was willing to stake everything on one roll of the dice. And a country that despairs of its future is capable of unspeakable acts. If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, we should not be surprised if they are detonated in American cities.
Jenkins echos those sentiments:
Some of the likely winners in the religious economy of the new century are precisely those groups with a strongly apocalyptic mindset, in which the triumph of righteousness is associated with the vision of a world devastated by fire and plague. This could be a perilously convenient ideology for certain countries with weapons of mass destruction. (The candidates that come to mind include not only Iraq and Iran but also future regional powers such as Indonesia, Nigeria, the Congo, Uganda, and South Africa.) All this means that our political leaders and diplomats should pay at least as much attention to religions and sectarian frontiers as they ever have to the location of oil fields.
In A Christian Boom, Daniel Pipes summarizes the points Jenkins makes:
  • Although Islam may appear to be the faith of choice for the world's poor, Christianity is faring at least as well among them.
  • Christianity is no longer predominantly a European and North American faith.
  • The experimentation and decline that pervades Northern Christianity is less important than it appears.
  • The concept of Christendom may re-emerge in the South, where political, social and personal identities are being primarily defined by religious loyalties.
  • "An enormous rift seems inevitable" between North and South, possibly leading to a split in the Christian church, similar to what happened centuries ago between the Catholic Church and the Protestant movements.
  • Christianity and Islam are on a collision course, competing for converts and influence. Some countries "might be brought to ruin by the clash of jihad and crusade."
I certainly hope that Pipes meant "boom" only in the sense of population growth, because as Jenkins concludes:
As the media have striven in recent years to present Islam in a more sympathetic light, they have tended to suggest that Islam, not Christianity, is the rising faith of Africa and Asia, the authentic or default religion of the world's huddled masses. But Christianity is not only surviving in the global South, it is enjoying a radical revival, a return to scriptural roots. We are living in revolutionary times.
Hat tip: DG

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