Posted by Christopher Johnson | Saturday, May 29th, 2010 | Uncategorized | 47 Comments
The always-insightful Walter Russell Mead on America’s hidden advantage:
Sometimes the stone that the builders rejected ends up as the cornerstone of the whole building. That may not quite describe the role of Christianity in American foreign policy, but in some important and little understood ways the massive surge of Christian faith in the developing world is tilting the global playing field in America’s favor. At home, the appeal and the vigor of African-American Christianity, especially of the Pentecostal variety, may be America’s best defense against a sharp increase in home-grown terror.
In a sense, the United States actually is a Christian nation. Just not in the way that Europeans understood that term.
It is a tricky job. Christianity has had its ups and down as a factor in American foreign policy. In its earliest diplomatic efforts to negotiate with the Barbary Pirates, American diplomats were instructed to stress that constitutionally speaking the United States was not a “Christian nation” in the way that the European powers were. At other times, stressing the country’s Christian roots was seen as a way to build alliances. In the Cold War the United States benefited enormously from the perception of many religious people around the world that we were the captain of “God’s Team” in the struggle with atheistic communism. The Soviets, the Chinese and their associated regimes regularly murdered and persecuted believers of all stripes. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews were all viciously persecuted, herded into camps, victimized by economic and educational discrimination and intrusively watched by the secret police. Even today, religious believers can be objects of suspicion and official repression in what remains of the communist world.
For decades, American elites followed their European counterparts in basically rejecting Christianity.
Meanwhile, Europeans were increasingly secularist, hostile to religion and faintly embarrassed by the past. With American elites increasingly drifting in the same way direction, after 1989 and even more strongly after 2001 the instinctive response of many people in the foreign policy world was to keep the question of religion off-stage. The failures of the Bush administration–at times attributed (wrongly in many cases) to the influence of religion within the administration–only deepened the general sense that American religion was a problem to finesse, not a strength to exploit. Christianity would not help win the COFKATWOT (Conflict Formerly Known As The War On Terror) and it might even make things worse; why bring up a divisive subject?
These days, Europeans and the leftist Americans who robotically emulate them are embarrassed by the whole idea of Christianity and God.
There is some good common sense in this view. Many Europeans do perceive American Christianity (and especially its evangelical variety) as knuckle-dragging barbarism; America’s problems with Islamic public opinion are serious enough without entangling the current issues in 1400 years of Christian-Muslim relations.
Which is a shame, really, because the fact of the matter is that Christianity is winning.
The challenges are fairly obvious to most people in the establishment; the opportunities are less well understood. Partly because many people in the foreign policy world are nervous about religion (and especially about Christianity) and partly because so much religious behavior happens in places few diplomats and journalists ever see, many otherwise sophisticated observers fail to grasp just how much the global rise of Christianity helps the United States. And Christianity is a rising religion; whatever its problems in western Europe and the United States, worldwide we are living through the greatest and most transformational expansion of Christianity since the earliest times.
Pretty much all over the place.
Virtually everywhere in the world outside the EU and Islamic countries which forbid Christian proselytization, Christianity is on the biggest roll in its 2000 year history. Both in absolute numbers of adherents and in terms of its global ‘market share’ (the percentage of the world’s population that professes the Christian faith), Christianity is at an all time high. In the last fifty years it has surpassed Islam both as the most popular religion in sub-Saharan Africa and as the leading Abrahamic religion in China. The Roman Catholic Church alone claims almost as many members as the total number of Sunni Muslims in the world; all told, Christianity claims almost twice as many adherents as Islam worldwide.
And while Europeans may declare themselves appalled by American culture…
Not all Christians like American values and American ideas; from Pope Pius IX to Dietrich Bonhoeffer modern European religious history is filled with Christian thinkers and writers who have been almost as horrified and appalled by American-style capitalism and society as Sayyid Qutb.
Christianity’s fastest-growing segment most emphatically isn’t.
And the fastest growing force within global Christianity is the most pro-American group within it: the global Pentecostal movement has grown from zero to something like half a billion members in the last 100 years. This is the fastest growth in percentage terms for any religious movement in world history, and in Africa, Asia and Latin America the growth continues today. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Pentecostal Christians and their beliefs are a substantial and in some cases dominant force among Christians in some of Africa’s largest and most important countries. From beliefs in divine healing and speaking in tongues, to the expectation of Jesus’ imminent return, to faith in the ‘prosperity gospel’ (the belief that God will bless those who truly believe with secular prosperity and physical health), some of the most characteristic beliefs and practices of Pentecostal Christians are found among both Protestant and Catholic Africans across denominational lines.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that you will automatically support the United States no matter what it does. It will mean, however, that your values will probably be a lot closer to ours than to theirs.
Christianity does not make people pro-American, but Christian faith gives people a perspective on life that is often congruent with American beliefs and ideals (if not always concrete American actions). For Pentecostals in many developing countries, America and its friends are seen as good guys upholding freedom of religion (including the freedom to share your religion with your neighbors) and promoting economic development. The radical terrorists and their various nasty allies are seen as murdering thugs who persecute Christian believers and fight the spread of God’s truth. Pentecostal Christians are often accused of belief in the so-called Prosperity Gospel: the belief that God favors believers with worldly riches and good health. This is a tough theology to reconcile with the Book of Job or, for that matter, the life of Christ; however, when preachers tell their congregations in cities like Lagos that God doesn’t want them to stay poor and marginalized, that God yearns to see them well housed, well fed and well cared for, that God wants their children to have an education and a better life — who among us would dare to call them wrong?
Bottom line? There’s a war going on and pretending that there isn’t is criminal stupidity.
The faith competition between ‘hot Christianity’ and ‘hot Islam’ also matters at home. The elites pay only a very casual attention to this competition, but a war is being fought in America today for the souls of the African-American underclass. In our prisons, in our inner cities, even in our military barracks a silent struggle is going on for individual souls, one soul at a time. A preacher I know told me recently that the battle is for the soul of the forty-year-old unemployed and unmarried grandmother whose eighteen year old unmarried daughter has a one year old child. “Somebody’s going to reach her,” said the preacher. “And she’s either going to be wearing a veil or carrying a Bible and singing in church.”
Many Roman Catholics who comment here have regularly expressed a desire for me to join them. Right now, I doubt that it’s ever going to happen(and I doubt that I’d tell you even if it did) but I get why they do it and I’m certainly not offended in any way. In fact, it’s actually a great encouragement to me.
I don’t think they do it because they believe that one-true-church, Protestants-might-as-well-be-Muslims-for-all-the-good-it-will-do-them garbage. I think serious Roman Catholics want me to convert because to them, church is far more than a place to kill a couple of hours on a Sunday morning.
To serious Roman Catholics, Roman Catholicism in all its facets is a pearl of great price. And they don’t want to hoard it for themselves; they want to share it with me.
So much for the idea that there is no such thing as Roman Catholic evangelism.
Contrast that with the Episcopalians. Although they would object if you left them to become a Roman Catholic, an Orthodox Christian of any type, a Southern Baptist or a Pentecostal, they wouldn’t object strenuously enough to want to talk you out of it.
They’d just figure that you weren’t Episcopal material, that’s all, so go ahead and throw in with the snake-handlers, you bigot. And if that young woman Mead mentioned was forced to become a Muslim, put on a burka and spend the rest of her earthly existence as some man’s property, hey, there are many ways to God Whom we don’t want to put in a small box, now do we?
It’s like this.
If you have something of ultimate value that everyone in the world desperately needs to hear, you will do whatever you have to do to let everyone in the world hear it. But if you think one religion’s just as good as another, you have no business being surprised, angry, shocked or horrified when people who actually believe what they preach make far more disciples than you do.