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Entries in religion (12)


Why the next pope should be a Latino

First, there is just the global distribution argument.

Then there's the dynamism/adaptation argument: a recent NYT story talk about how parts of the Brazilian church are "countering evangelicalism and secularism with livelier worship."


Market shift:

So both the center of global gravity in the church and its most likely form of marketing salvation.

Brazil is experiencing a huge expansion of its middle class.  People undergoing such tremendous socio-economic churn want moral handholds.  But they also want it in a form that they find conducive to their daily lives, and the traditional Catholic church has simply changed too slowly in response to the competition.

I saw a version of this in Ethiopia two years ago.  Place is booming and all sorts of change happening.  The classic Ethiopian Christian faith - very Catholic in form - just wasn't getting it done.  But you'd see these evangelical churches (mostly Pentacostal) everywhere and they'd be packed (I mean, with crowds extending out into the street!) - and jumping.

My fear with Benedict is that he retires so he can - in his typical control-freak fashion - determine his successor.  Let's hope it's something more than personal ego at work here.


Iran's fear - in a nutshell

NYT story:  "Monks Lose Relevance As Thailand Grows Richer."

Per my post yesterday about individualism:  the connectivity afforded by globalization and the wealth creation diminishes the hectoring/exemplary power of religious leaders who, under past harsher times, were better positioned to keep the social peace by encouraging a certain morality.

When globalization comes in, the socio-economic change happens in a heartbeat, and the churches/faithes/religious leaders simply can't respond fast enough.

As one Thai monk is quoted in the piece: 'Consumerism is now the Thai religion."

He's wrong, of course, and he needs to get off his ass and stop whining.  New spiritual challenges naturally follow.

The monks need to summon up their inner Joel Osteen - or just find one quick.

But yeah, this is EXACTLY what Iran's mullahs fear in any genuine opening up to West/globalization.  Better to pretend it's all about the nukes.


Wikistrat's "The World According to Tom Barnett" 2011 brief, Part 7 (Q&A on religion)

Continuing the segments from my Sept 2011 presentation of the brief to an international military audience in the Washington DC area, first cluster of questions focused on religion, and since I deleted that slide sequence for time reasons in the main presenation, I had it teed up at the end to cover this contingency.


The evangelical bloc . . . in Brazil!

WSJ story.

Lula does the always impressive and wins himself an additional proxy term through a hand-picked successor. Great men tend to do this, like Andrew Jackson with Martin Van Buren or TR with Taft or Reagan with George H.W. Bush.  So less a win for women (although Rousseff seems more than qualified) than a vindication of Lula's highly successful tenure.

What the article highlighted, though, was the important role played by the rising Protestant/Pentecostal voting bloc, now powered by about 1 out of every 5 Brazilians.   They won 50% more votes in the congressional election than last time, and now claim 71 of 600 seats there. Yes, they do tend to the right on social issues, and make themselves known when they unite as a bloc within the congress. 

Remember my theme:  the 21st century will be the most religious ever in terms of great awakenings.  Why?  So many people shifted from substenance to abundance, so much industrialization/urbanization uprooting lives, so much connectivity afforded by globalization, and some pretty big human milestones coming (peaking of human population around 2050, serious life-extension technologies, etc.).  

The evangelicals were considered crucial for Dilma Rousseff's second-round win over her opponent.  When it came down to the binary choice, she scored better with Pentecostals (mostly on economics and the other guy was more anti-abortion) and her campaign actively sought to mobilize them.  

Much like the rising Hispanic quotient here in the U.S., this election in Brazil signals a tipping point, after which no one will run for, or likely win as, president without going hard after this vote.


Connectivity creates boom market in outlier fatwas in Saudi Arabia

Too many opinionated, helping hands in the Kingdom, according to this WAPO story.

The details:

Abdullah has tried to curtail some of the powers of conservatives, including the religious scholars, and taken cautious steps to improve the situations of women and of Shiite Muslims, a religious minority in Saudi Arabia.

In June, however, the Saudi public was startled by a fatwa advocating that women breast-feed unrelated men to establish "maternal relations" and thus get around the Islamic prohibition on the mixing of the sexes. A few months earlier, another scholar had urged the killing of anyone who facilitated the mixing of men and women in workplaces and universities.

Those are extreme examples of a torrent of rulings on all aspects of life by Saudi scholars making the most of their recently acquired access to much wider audiences.

"Fatwas have become a huge problem, especially after satellite TV and the Internet," said Hamza al-Mozaini, a liberal newspaper columnist. "It has become something like a business for religious scholars, and they race to outdo each other."

As with any sudden onset of connectivity, the crazies quickly predominate--largely discrediting themselves in their aggregate nonsense. But the fear market is likewise there early on, so the King is right to move on this.


Sad commentary: the public resistance to mosque construction--in Lower Manhattan and elsewhere in America

NYT story on public resistance across America to mosque construction.

Not a new story:  public education in America took off in the 1830s in response to the rising influx of Irish Catholics and their parochial schools.  And whenever the middle class income takes a hit, resistance to foreigners swells.

But it's particularly galling to see Americans resist a group trying to organize themselves religiously in our midst, because freedom of religion brought so many of us to these shores.  Starting a church is such an American thing, and these people are declaring themselves openly and rooting themselves in our society--who doesn't want to see that sort of upfront behavior?

To me, the suspicious ones are the ones who don't want to build out in the open and declare themselves, so formal connectivity is always to be welcomed.

Sad state of affairs.  

When I first heard of the mosque proposal in Lower Manhattan, I thought it was perfect--very American.  But too many of us are reaching for the lowest common denominators, which usually are based on fear and ignorance.

No way to win a Long War, say I.


Religion scorecard: the Catholics still rule!

Carl Bialik's "The Numbers Guy" column in WSJ.

He cautions that the numbers are pure swag, since the census doesn't collect such info, so the surveys employed at a bit patchy. Compared to the rest of the world (70 nations do ask on the census), America has little sense as to the faith of its citizenry, says Bialik.

Important?  He uses the example of the proposed lower Manhattan mosque.  Experts say NYC has 600k Muslims, with some saying 600-800k in Manhattan alone!  If anywhere near true, then the 1.3m estimate above is clearly wrong.

Some experts say the real Muslim number is above 2m and perhaps as high as 7m.  Of course, there's the subset of who's really active, but that can be balanced by kids if the surveys focus only on adults, like above

Since the slide above only adds up to about 228m, I guess you can surmise that about 75m kids are absented, but because you can probably split those out similarly, then you arguably boost everybody's total by a quarter, so 72m Catholics, 3.4m Jews, 1.6m Muslims and so on.

But even on that basis, it seems weird that there are 5 Catholic Supreme Court justices and 4 Jews.

Other interesting factoid:  if you add up the atheists, agnostics, refuseniks and other non-religious, and then plus in the extra quarter, you're talking upwards of 60m non-participants, or one-in-5 Americans.   That seems high, based on other stuff I've seen, but about right when youth are pinged in surveys.


Evangelicals join Obama on immigration

NYT front-pager on Obama winning help from the evangelical community on the issue of immigration reform.

God bless ’em.

The founder of Liberty Counsel, Mathew D. Staver:

I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order.  There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama.  On the other hand, I’, not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.

Why the support?

As another evangelical pastor put it:

Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial.  They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away.

Hispanics are estimated to be 70% Catholic and 15% evangelical.


Increasingly secularism among European Muslims hardly remarkable

Rare enough that my old friend Dan Pipes posts any good news on developments in the Islamic world, so I jump on this post, thanks to reader Dan Hare.

Pipes I know from my Naval War College research days (he too spent a stint there as prof), and although he comes off to many as THE firebrand, I personally know him to be a gentle soul and a first-class thinker, so I read him and listen whenever he's on TV, despite disagreeing with him a lot--no surer sign of respect.

What he notes from a European newspaper report on a recent study of mosque attendance:

It sounds unlikely, but Aftenposten, relying on new statistics, may be on to an important new trend ofdeclining Muslim mosque-going in Europe. Here, as reported by the "Islam in Europe," are some snippets:

The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they've lived in their new homeland for some time.

The ESS figures, which are being published for the first time in Europe in Aftenposten, show that 60.5% of Muslims immigrants who have lived less than a year in Europe regularly go to the mosque. But after they've lived more than a year in their new homeland, the figure drops to 48.8%. More than half rarely or never go to the mosque to pray.

"In all European countries we see that Muslim immigrants are integrated and adapt to their new society. Part of that is that they become less religious and that they reject the traditional religious practice which their parents had in their homeland. They become more secular, says the famous Finnish religion-sociologist Heikki Ervasti from the University of Turku.

Ervasti, who analyzed the ESS figures, emphasizes that this development doesn't happen quickly. "This secularization process will take generations, and for the individual the changes aren't as dramatic. Even it it doesn't happen fast, it's a clear trend," says Ervasti, who says that this same development also occurs among immigrants of other faiths.… 

What this data reminds us of is the underlying reality that, when people immigrate from a more religious environment to a less religious environment, they're not doing it to export their religion but to take advantage of the economic opportunities they are certain they will find there.  Given enough time and opportunity, secularization follows.  But not all succeed in this quest, and those dissatisfied types are particularly susceptible to radicalization--in that classic, Marxist alienated sense.

Thus, a big flow of immigrants sees two trends emerge:  1) an overall slow secularization among the bulk; and 2) a scary radicalization among the vastly unsuccessful minority.  On the second point, don't assume that economic failure is required to qualify, because anything that makes you unhappy in your new life can do it. Thus the classic case is the moderately successful, well-educated type who, for some combination of reasons, feels deeply alienated in his new world.

And yeah, a certain lack of success in one's personal life is frequent within this crowd, so maybe they got the education, and maybe they're struggling a bit in their career, but what really irks them is this sense that life has not panned out as hoped for in terms of success in marriage, family and so on.  EVERYBODY is susceptible to this disillusionment in life, but discombobulated immigrants more so.  And when a radicalized alternative pathway is dangled in front of one's face by recruiters, it can easily become the path of least resistance. Immigrants are particularly susceptible because they feel some guilt for leaving the homeland and the old ways.

Point being, keep some perspective on both the macro (positive) and micro (negative) trends when evaluating immigrant flows.


Africa's Horn: radical Islam bumps into Christian fundamentalism?

Economist story that caught my eye for the simple reason that the Ethiopian mother of our two girls identified herself as a Protestant Christian.

But the larger issue:  Islam is fairly prevalent in the Horn and its radicalization is ongoing even as its remains relatively low level in prevalence.  This piece seems to argue that, if one can identify a religion on the march in the region, it's the Pentecostals. Pentecostals are a particularly virulent Christian religion in the sense that anyone can identify themselves as such by simply going the more charismatic route of embracing the notion that baptism by the Holy Spirit creates a profoundly direct spiritual bond with God (being "born again"), exhibited by speaking in tongues and so on.  Protestant and even Catholic churches can take on the "spirit-filled" nature of Pentecostalism, so the faith brand has the networking strength of an Alcoholics Anonymous in that self-selection/declaration is all that is needed to join. Powerful stuff.

Back in 1970, experts estimated the "born again" numbers in Africa to be below 20m.  Now they estimate them at 400m.  Good evidence of the growth:  fly an international flight from the US to east Africa and--especially in the summer--you will find yourself surrounded by evangelical Christians on temporary missions.

The local impact is significant enough:

Ms Wanjiru’s own church, Jesus Is Alive Ministries, is a good example of the new genre. She can draw 100,000 worshippers to a meeting. Add in a visiting televangelist and the number can rise to as many as 500,000. Ms Wanjiru has lived the Pentecostal dream. She is from a poor family of casual labourers and eked out a life as a housemaid and toilet cleaner before working her way up to a marketing job. She then experienced a vision from God calling on her to save Africa. These days videos, CDs and other accessories can be bought from her website using credit cards or phone credit. She makes good use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. She is not afraid to court controversy, last year baptising the boss of the Mungiki organised-crime outfit, Maina Njenga. Mr Njenga’s gang had been involved in extortion and had a history of hacking off the heads of its enemies.

But the business of owner-operated churches is competitive. A few dud sermons and the crowd thins. That is one reason why they are so upbeat and aspirational. Indeed, their insistent calls for self-discipline and education, striving and victory prompt some people to say Pentecostalism should be encouraged in Africa as the new version of Max Weber’s Protestant work ethic. The churches are certainly prominent in anti-corruption campaigns.

However, there is also plenty of hucksterism. You will be blessed with health and wealth by God, congregants are told, especially if you give generously. As in other parts of the world, the new churches in Kenya and Uganda provide a place for the ambitious poor to get ahead. Yet the real competitive advantage of the new churches in east Africa seems to be their willingness to tap, at least subliminally, into traditional beliefs. “They give full play to the enchanted mentality, which holds the world to be inhabited with ghosts and spirits,” explains Paul Gifford, a professor of African Christianity at the University of London. It makes economic sense: getting spells lifted and spirits cast out on a Sunday morning saves money on a visit to the witch doctor during the week.

Fascinating stuff that I would expect to grow far more significantly as Africa experiences rapid development and the transformation of so many from poverty to lower middle class status.


American Idol, Malaysian Imam

WSJ front-pager on American Idol-like show in Malaysia where young imams compete for an all-expenses-paid trip to Mecca—not the usual route for Haj.  The winner also gets a job at a Kuala Lampur mosque and a scholarship to a religious school in Saudi Arabia.

Ten contestants start out, and yes they are forced to sing as well as interpret the Koran.  Every night of the show, one gets booted off.

Makes you wonder how an Osama bin Laden might respond to such shows, aping as they do Western TV.


Millennials: plenty spiritual, just not religious

Pic Found here

USA Today story about Christian research firm surveying 1,200 18-to-29-year-olds, with almost three-quarters declaring their spirituality trumps their religiosity, meaning they belief--just not in churches.

If the trends continue, says the report, we'll see churches close as fast as bankrupt car dealerships.

Hmm, makes me wonder about my last trip to the Netherlands and speaking to a community group at a defunct church (I spoke from the sacristy--of course).  

Fits with Stephen Prothero's Religious Illiteracy:  the notion that most Christians (two-thirds of Americans) are, in the words of the president of the research firm (LifeWay Christian Resources), Thom Rainer, "either mushy Christians or Christians in name only."  

Most are just indifferent.  The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.

Prothero, whom I used in Blueprint, made the basic point that, throughout US history, our faithful have become more intense in their idiosyncratic belief-systems while becoming less knowledgeable about their actual religions to which they claim to belong--more religiosity with less religion.

I see this as the ultimate way ahead for religions the world over as globalization succeeds in spreading development.  The competitive religious landscape allows for everyone to pick or craft their faith in the end, resulting in infinite variety and infinite direct connections to that which you hold dear.