Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Next Christendom

Amazon.com: The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity: Philip Jenkins: Books

Fear of Islam is peaking, fueled by reports that the religion is burgeoning in numbers as well as militancy. Jenkins grants that Islam is indeed booming but marshals the evidence that today's largest religion, Christianity, will grow exponentially, too, and will remain the faith of the largest proportion of humanity. But the Christianity of 2050 will be very different from that molded by the 1,300 years during which Christianity was the faith of a rapidly developing Europe. The new Christianity will be liturgically anarchistic compared with the staid services of white, upper-middle-class people today. It will be overwhelmingly the faith of poor nonwhites living south of Europe, the U.S., and present-day Russia, and it won't reflect the values of the wealthy global north. It will revive Christianity's root emphases on healing and prophecy because its adherents will resemble the poor and oppressed who first embraced the redemption, the healing, and the blessing that Jesus promised.

I've been reading this book which is a wonderful read but remarkably depressing. In addition to making a compelling case that Christianity will become the religion of the barbarians, Jenkins argues en passent that the barbarians will take over, through immigration and outbreeding.

If that's correct it's the end of the Roman Empire. The effete secular Epicureans of the near-sterile Senatorial class bewailing the decline in standards while the barbarians sack Rome. Aging Europeans (and Americans) will be swamped by young immigrants from the Third World breeding innumerable children. The barbarians--the brutal beasts who beat up women and whose life's goal is to fuck and impregnate as many as possible--will win. The illiterate, superstitious barbarians who join the church because it promises healing and material benefits will remake it in their image.

I'm not entirely convinced this will happen because the sects that working class strivers, including immigrants, join are potent forces for social mobility--and even in the US, social mobility is a lot better than it was 1500 years ago. So our barbarians will be civilized--develop habits of thrift and prudence, make money and see to it that their kids are educated. Those kids will establish half-way covenants, and their kids will be completely assimilated and secular. It took 1000 years to civilize the northern European barbarians but these days it only takes three generations to make a gentleman.

Still it's lousy either way. Either you have religion preserved under the auspices of barbaric holy rollers, the end of the Enlightenment and of liberal Christianity, or you have the inevitable march of secularism, with only a brief pause for the time it takes the barbarians to become civilized. I suppose that if I had to choose I'd pick secularism over a return to barbarism.

Jenkins is certainly right in noting that the charismatic Christianity that flourishes in the Global South and amongst immigrants to the Global North is closer to the Christianity of the New Testament than the respectable, institutionalized European version, which is dying out. But this kind of authenticity has never interested me.

Why, I wonder are we stuck with Hobson's choice between liberal, increasingly anti-religious secularism and a Christianity that is becoming increasingly conservative by attrition as the educated, liberal elite abandon religious practice altogether? Why didn't Christianity go the way of Greek religion which evolved into a system of cults and practices that could accommodate everyone from upper crust Epicureans who regarded the gods as no more than allegorical figures, monotheists who regarded them either as manifestations of the one God or lesser, semi-divine beings, and illiterate peasants who worshiped the stones and stocks at the boundaries of their fields?

Some guesses. Christianity was from very early on doctrinal: it included a package of beliefs which, over time, were made more specific. To be a Christian was, minimally, to sign on with those beliefs. In spite of the fact that according to one poll a small but significant proportion of self-identified Christians of various denominations say they don't believe in God, the idea that one would identify as a Christian and take part in liturgy without believing seems pointless given this understanding of religion as fundamentally doctrinal and liturgy as an expression of doctrine.

Moreover, religious practices have become divorced from civic and patriotic celebrations in a way that no one until recent times could have imagined. Anyone can participate in the civic events but participation in liturgy is, at least in theory, reserved for those who have made a doxastic commitment. Historically, as the requirements for orthodoxy grew increasingly stringent, fewer and fewer people could conscientiously commit to orthodoxy. In the past this was the root of sectarianism. And it was a matter of dumb luck which sect ended up setting the standard. In the East, Orthodoxy became the orthodoxy by a fluke. If Constantinople hadn't hung on until the 15th century, long after north Africa and Asia had fallen to the Turks, Monophysitism or Nestorianism might have been the orthodox industry standard in the East.

Currently however the response of most dissenters is not to form sects or alternative churches but to drop religious practice altogether. Since citizens don't, as a part of their ordinary civic involvement, need to participate in religious rituals, and since they see no point in doing so, they drop out.

The trend is self-perpetuating. As dissenters, skeptics and merely nominal Christians drop out of the Church, the Righteous Remnant becomes increasingly homogeneous and conservative, socially as well as theologically--and off-putting to still more people. So the Remnant becomes still smaller and more intense. Churches become sects; civic religion is replaced by secular myths and celebrations; the gathered church becomes the paradigm. Secularism becomes inclusive while Christianity becomes increasingly exclusive.

In the ancient world strict secularism was anomalous: the officially polytheistic religious establishment, such as it was, could accommodate almost anyone including Epicurean materialists, monotheists and animists. Now secularism is inclusive while Christianity is strictly defined and exclusive, no longer a cultural default, so you don't get fellow-travelers.

So now you have evangelical mega-churches operating as self-help programs for the neo-barbarians, promoting a socially conservative agenda. Their version of Christianity is srictly defined and, as I learnt in a "church planting" class I took, the expectation is that the "seekers" who come to investigate are expected to become "fully devoted followers" in 6 months to a year. Meanwhile, mainline churches have become activities centers for the elderly.

In the end neither will survive. The elderly will die off and the next generation of oldsters--my generation--who dropped out of the Church 30 years ago will find other ways to occupy their time. The barbarians amongst us, the immigrants and indigenous lower classes, will become civilized and secular. And the Global South will become civilized and secular in a century or two, once they get on track economically. That's the way Christianity ends--not with a bang but with a whimper. Not because an enlightened public no longer has any use for metaphysics but because churches have effectively abandoned metaphysics--because conservative churches offer little more than self-help programs, puritanical ethics and social control, and because mainline churches offer nothing.


Anonymous said...

great post..so true... only thing is, the majority of 'christianity' today is not christianity, it's religion. religion is just man-made, humanistic, self-help junk. it won't last as it is and it will evolve and break up and simmer into nothingness. but true christianity (and i guess that word is the wrong one to use as it means so many different things to different people) is not about signing on to a list of doctrines or anything like that. christianity is simple really:

[[a living relationship with Jesus Christ (God)]]

God is a trinity so split up into three persons and is still one whole.
One of the Godpersons came down to earth to save us and he was called Jesus (called also God the Son), He is just as much God as God the 'Father' is.
so this is basically believing that Jesus is God and choosing to make him completely in charge of your life. if you do that, the Holy Spirit (the other Godperson) will live in you and help you live like Christ did. (in other words .. be holy.. or without sin) (which you will WANT to do because of your love for God)

if you have any questions about living the Christian->('like-Christ') life, and in order to get closer and deepen your relationship with God, there is God's living written letter to us: the Bible. This 'Word' is alive and active and if you are a Christian the Holy Spirit will help you discern and understand it. it will be different every single time you read it. it's completely inexhaustible ^_^.

oh and of course, or maybe not of course.. you can talk to God any time of day or night and in any place and situation because God is Omnieverything- maybe that's repetitive. what i mean is His spirit is in you if you are a christian, and thanks to Jesus who took the punishment for your sin so you could be seen as holy before God, you can actually talk to Him! you can't put dark inside light. sin cannot be found in holiness. God is holy. sooo ppl can't be with God unless they are holy too. (and they aren't .. as we can all obviously see). sin-unholiness is disobedience to God. the result is separation from God. in order to bridge the gap and bring us back into God's presence like we are supposed to be, Jesus willingly chose to take on all the separation and punishment for the sins of humanity (which he can actually accomplish cuz he is God and therefore the only inherently holy being and meaning He had no sins to pay for for himself.. no separation) anyway, thanks to Him, if we ask for forgiveness of our unholiness from Him, we get it. [obviously only if you really mean it. if you're holding out.. that's lying.. WHICH is sin-unholiness..] you have to give it all up. once you do, and are forgiven you get unlimited access to speak to the creator of you and the universe because you are now holy.

you speak to him like you would your best friend and with a lot more respect, gratitude, boldness, and expectation. you don't have to speak to him out loud either if you don't want to or can't. cuz He's in you and He knows your thoughts ;).. (don't let that stop you from talking to him though cuz just like you may know a story or a request from your best friend before they tell you, you still want to hear it from them cuz it's more special and intimate. so does He. it's not much of a relationship if you don't TALK to Him)


Anonymous said...

pretty awesome.
but just because you are christian does not mean you are inhuman .. and humanity has gone wrong.. so it takes a looooong time for most people..to little by little grow in their love for God so much that they completely stop sinning.. meanwhile we have a bajillion hypocrites running the church and every other kind of irony. not very many people get it these days. if you don't have living relationship with Jesus Christ then you aren't christian. way too many people are lying to themselves and only have some new-agey 'spirtual' made up relationship with their own imagination to make themselves feel better. those are the sad ones..

soo maybe you didn't like reading that BUT i thought we needed to set some definitions straight.

point is: Christianity as in people living in a relationship with God will never die out=
christianity will never die out.

fake 'christian' religion definitely will.. hopefully.

maybe real christians will find a better name for themselves and let the fake ones keep the word christian as it's become so tarnished and incomprehensible anyways.


Anonymous said...

btw.. the second comment is a continuation of the first. i had to many characters and i can't makde the 'identity' thing work so i'm going in as anonymous. ;)

Russell Blackford said...

This sounds like a very optimistic scenario to me. If the future of the world looks something like Denmark or Sweden, I'm all for it.

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