May 28th, 2012 by Patrick
We continue our discussion of Philip Jenkins’ book “The Next Christendom” by turning to Chapter 8. This chapter examines the possible fault lines that could erupt between religious majorities and religious minorities. Of course in certain countries, like Indonesia, everyone born there is counted as a Muslim whether they are practicing the faith or not. So the numbers–for instance of the number of Muslims in the world–can often be more inflated or used in an ominous way. The countries with fast growing populations are primarily Muslim and Christian nations (in Asia and Africa).
Examples of countries that are overwhelmingly “Muslim”: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Yemen.
Examples of countries that are overwhelmingly “Christian”: USA, Brazil, Mexico, Russia.
Two factors threaten to create religious instability and perhaps violence:
1) Population growth doesn’t observe national or religious boundaries. So, for instance, the Muslim population in China could continue to escalate to the point that there are more clashes.
2) Conversions. Both Islam and Christianity are aggressive, proselytizing religions which can sow the seeds for confrontation and conflict.
Jenkins reminds us that persecution can lead to the eradication of believes and he gives an example of the Nestorian church which was one of the largest institutions in the world, but by 1500 had nearly disappeared due to Islamic persecution. Jenkins notes that Christian dominated states have not persecuted Islamic nations nearly as much as Islamic nations have persecuted Christian minorities.
In Indonesia, the Christian minorities are often targeted–and these minorities are often ethnic Chinese that have lived in Indonesia for centuries. Sudan, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Malaysia are also mentioned as possible flashpoints in the future.
Will some countries, in Europe for instance, open their doors to Christian immigrants in order to avoid being nations of primarily Muslim immigrants?
Jenkins has a fascinating nugget of information when he points out that in the Global South, religious minorities often inhabit the land that is most valuable in natural resources–thus escalating the potential for conflict. Why? Because over the centuries these minorities were moved off the most agriculturally rich lands. As technology has changed allowing mining to be done in lands that were once considered barren and useless, the minorities find themselves on very valuable land.
I think as I mentioned before, it is remarkable how little religious conflict there actually is in world. Most places on earth have people from a variety of religions existing peacefully side by side. This is one of the reasons Jenkins title: “the Next Christendom” was so roundly criticized. Because there doesn’t seem to be a new Christendom forming.
Why? I think a lot of it has to do with globalization and the spread of free-markets which have people more focused on the material and which is accelerating the pace of secularization from Africa to the Middle East.
An example of what I mean is Albania. This is a country where there could be a lot of conflict. It’s located in the Balkans and is almost entirely Muslim. But Albanians are not interested in Al-Qaeda or even Islam for that matter. They are very into cell phones, getting MBA’s, and playing the stock market. The big appeal is modernity as opposed to fueling old religious hatreds.
It’s not that there are not conflict spots (Sudan comes to mind as one that could escalate even more in the coming years0, but there’s another force tempering it–modernization.
I do not think that this means religion is a force for bad. My area of study in Graduate School was on the impact of Christianity in helping to establish Civil Society in China. A deep, moral framework can be very beneficial to modernization–and indeed has often been a part of healthy modernization and even secularization ironically.
At the same time, globalization is empowering more aggressive forms of proselytizing. Another story from India: On the television in India I was pretty taken aback by the number of religious channels. Instead of Christian televangelists there were Muslim clerics, Hindu priests, gurus, swamis, Sikhs–the whole lot, all with their own TV show. Islamic groups have gotten more aggressive in their marketing of their faith in Africa, often borrowing from American evangelical tactics.
All in all, these are fascinating times.