Changing World Christianity: The Global History of a borderless Religion
1. Is it ethical or unethical to actively try to make someone believe the same way you do? Why or why not?
Forcing someone to try and believe the same thing as you do is not only unethical but also difficult, considering 99% of people practice the religion of his or her parents. In addition, even if one is able to make a person believe exactly as he or she does, the chances of that belief being robust and genuine are slim to none. However, there are ways of trying to make someone believe the same thing as you do that are less coercive than others. “Proselytization – the concept of consciously attempting to convert someone else to one’s own faith,” often has negative connotations of this sort. However, there is a difference between trying to force someone to believe the same way as you do and presenting them with alternative options to what they currently believe. If it is done in this manner, then there is nothing wrong with innocent dialogue about beliefs. Christians sometimes feel pressure to convert people. I think this is unfortunate. If someone is going to have a change in belief, I think it should happen naturally in a non-threatening manner.
2. If Christianity and Islam are so related historically, then why do they seem to have so many conflicts?
“Muslims firmly believe Islam to be the fulfillment of the truth that was first revealed to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.” This seems to be the source of most of the conflicts. This belief assumes that neither Judaism or Christianity have it right, which is problematic for both religions. Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet by not divine. Muslims reject the Trinity. In addition, Islam is a more politically oriented. Meaning, it demands certain things from the culture it is in. For instance, Muslims believe their texts are only legitimate if read in Arabic.
3. As English becomes the world’s lingua franca and as economies continue to become interdependent, do you think the world’s religions might begin to melt into one, huge super religion?
Considering the intense conflict between Christians and Muslims and the large growing numbers of both, I find it highly unlikely that such a thing will happen. The spread and growth of Christianity in the Global South are encouraging and may lead one to believe that this is possible. And if it were to happen, Christianity is the only religion that is designed to cover such a diversity of culture and geography. As Daughrity says, Christianity, in this sense, may be considered to be the first world religion. However, while technically it may be possible for Christianity to become the world religion, it seems like more of an eschatological reality than a current possibility. It also seems to me that if English does become the world’s “lingua franca,” then this will incite more violence from the extremist Muslim world and it’s hatred against Western culture. The closest we may come is for a high majority of the world to become Christian, leaving various synchronistic groups and other smaller anti-Christian groups.
1. Why did Christianity die in the Middle East?
Islam became the dominant religion in the Middle East after the death of Muhammad. As Islam took over, Christians had to struggle to hold on to their faith. Muslims imposed higher taxes on Christians and labeled them second-class citizens. Additional Wars, emigration, genocides, and various nationalisms have also contributed to the downfall of Christianity in the Middle East. Christians became so marginalized my Arabization that they became practically extinct in the region. In the face of this persecution it became easier to convert to Islam. In some ways, the Muslim beliefs were less complex and easier to accept than the doctrine of the Trinity, for example.
2. Why is so little known about Middle Eastern Christianity: its history, theologians, and eventual demise?
Because of the persecution in Question 1, many of the records were either lost or destroyed. This included the destruction of libraries in Alexandria. It has much to do with the political nature of Islam that I mentioned earlier. Islam could never be a world religion because it requires the annihilation of one culture so it can conform to Islam. The alienation of the Eastern Church and the accusations of heresy also had a role to play.
3. Is religion like evolution, where it is all a matter of “the survival of the fittest”?
I do not think this is the proper nature of religion. Some do function in this way, I think especially with smaller tribal religions. Adopting this kind of Attitude towards religion would likely create a violent perspective towards other beliefs. It motivates the kind of negative coercion that I talked about in the first chapter. On some levels, this is how I see the nature of Islam. Aribization could be interpreted as a survival instinct that ensures the religion can prosper in a particular region.
Granted, there are some religions that are dying off simply by means of their own faith. As an extreme example, religions that try to restrict sexual intercourse are limiting their potential for expansion considerably. If one faith is more pragmatic than another, it may overtake it. One might argue that because of the benevolence of the Christian God, the faith will eventually win out, but to me, this seems contrary to the Christian gospel.
1. Does socialism seem to be better for people than religion?
I think it depends on the religion. I think socialism has a lot of potential to do good things; however, in nearly every case, someone has to be in charge, which leads to corruption. I think Marx was right to say that capitalism has the potential to create a chasm between rich and poor, but I think socialism, as seen played out in history has the ability to do so also. I think this is the nature of all government systems. I think religion has the most potential to overcome these problems. The Old Testament shows a lot of concern for the poor, the orphan, and the widow. The Hebrew authors put laws in place to assure that people on the fringes had enough. The difference between a government system like Socialism and a religion, say the Christian faith, is that God is ultimately in charge of the religious system. Now, whether or not God is corrupt is another question that people have to deal with. But my understanding of the Kingdom of God is such that we are all servants of the King. We gave communities of people in place discerning how to live in the King’s kingdom and so have the same struggle as systems like socialism. However it seems that religion has a lower probability of corruption.
2. Is Christianity healthier when it emphasizes the ancient traditions (as in Orthodoxy) or when it always tries to reform (as in Protestantism)?
This is a difficult question. I do not think there is a proper way to argue for one over the other without some sort of traditional or historical bias. My own opinion is that Protestantism often overreacts to ancient traditions. However, I think in some ways Christianity is always reforming itself. Obviously, the protestant reformation is not continually occurring, but I think that Christianity has to continue to adapt in some way to the cult it finds itself in, as seen by the rapid growth of Christianity in the Global South. In the case of the reformation, some things became healthier. The selling of indulgences became unethical. However, the protestant innovation Sola Scriptura has become damaging to the church in a number of ways. Focusing on the ancient roots is helpful, but we shouldn’t do so uncritically.
3. Eastern Europe’s population is in steep decline. Is having fewer babies, or no babies, perhaps the most responsible thing to do from an environmental perspective?
The impulse for people Eastern Europe to have fewer children because of the environmental situation may have its merits if resources are scarce, but ultimately overpopulation is not the problem. I think the primary problem is that we do not practice efficient and sustainable methods of agriculture. In some ways, having fewer babies may be detrimental to the environmental stability and secure wellbeing. Larger numbers of people are needed in order to re-envision a way forward. In countries like Uganda that have high populations rates, families have lots of children in order to provide security. The more children, the more people there are to perform labor and receive income for the family. I think this also rings true in a situation where fears about the environment are causing second thoughts about childbirth. The more people in a family, the more creative the family can be in supporting one another. It seems to me that God’s provision comes more often through fertility than infertility.
1. Is secularization, perhaps, the fulfillment of Christianity?
Secularization, Christianity and Isalm are the three most prominent worldviews today. “Secularization challenges the assumption that religion is good for society.” If religious pluralism is a motivator of secularization in that many religions can coexist and produce fruitful communities, then Christianity should be combating the rise of secularization. In anything, the rise of Christianity in the Global South shows this. One of the reasons the Christian faith is growing in the south is that it is proving itself to be more fruitful than other spirit religions – especially in that it helps people combat the “evil” ones. In Christendom, the church became so central to culture at large that it may have become commonplace or de-sacrilized; the Treaty of Westphalia added to this. However, this is because Christianity got attached to a social system (like socialism in a previous chapter), which distorted the nature of the religion.
2. The pope and many others have argued that Western Europe is a Christian society. This is one reason why Turkey has not yet been allowed entrance into the European Union. What kind of problems might arise if Turkey—a nation that is 97% Islamic—was allowed to join the E.U.?
It is Ironic that the Pope has this opinion considering the secularization of Europe. Considering the conflicts between Islam and Christianity, people around the world might be nervous about what might happen. Countries that have a history of being more hostile towards religion, like France, may not be able to get along as well as other countries; However, I’m not so sure the pope himself would mind Turkey’s inclusion. If Europe is as Christian as these people seems to think, then adding Turkey into the mix (at least from a religious standpoint) would be a gracious proposition. It may even aid in the conflict between Islam and Christianity. As many hypothetical conflicts that one could imagine, I still think the upside has more potential.
3. Some have argued that Western Europe always leads the world in cultural shifts. In other words, since Western Europe has secularized, the rest of the world inevitably will follow. Do you agree with this idea? Why or why not?
The West in general has more influence worldwide than Western Europe itself. The US certainly follows Western Europe and this is the case with secularization. The world on the other hand follows the West’s cultural shifts when it comes to modernization and economic development. However, I don’t think this is necessarily case with religion. Initially, the West attempted to force the world to follow its religious ways. Eventually, this did take hold in many places all over the world, but this doesn’t seem like the case of the rest of the world “following” the West. And currently, as Western Europe secularizes, the US is close behind. And meanwhile, Christianity in the South is flourishing.
1. Describe how the “two faces” of Latin American Christianity have manifested themselves throughout history.
“The dominant face was the one that justified what was being done (the chaotic violent imposition of the faith through explorers and traders) in the name of evangelization.” The other face is of those who oppose this injustice in the name of Christianity. The relationship between the two is interesting. One is “a cruel and institutional form of the faith that seems blind to oppression, often conspiring against the good of the people.” The other is “a voice of protest, a prophetic vision of justice, a fiery anger at the inhumanity evinced all around.”
2. Why did indigenous peoples and Africans in Latin America and the Caribbean adopt the religion of their oppressors?
They were able to adopt the religion of their oppressors because they were able to contextualize it in there own worldview. A primary example of this is the Angel of Guadalupe. This expression of honoring the Virgin Mary in the Catholic Church made sense of the faith and gave the movement a foundation to grow from. In addition, certain missionaries were more merciful and gracious that others and took the time to disciple native clergy. Christianity also spread through the slaves that the Spanish brought with them. Some of the natives already possessed an aptitude towards high standards of morality and justice; “they were just in need of the light of Christ.”
3. Is it morally wrong for Pentecostals to evangelize Catholic lands? Why or why not?
The conflict between Pentecostals and Catholics is morally wrong. Many Pentecostal argue that the Catholic Church is beyond repair. Pope John Paul II has referred to them as “ravenous wolves” for steeling members. This confrontation is highly problematic. The notion that there are “Catholic lands” is also problematic. The Pentecostals have a right to believe that the Catholic Church has got it wrong; however they ought to acknowledge the Catholic Church as a sister, trying to follow Jesus. Given the fact that both groups are inherently Christian, it is morally wrong for them to engage in kind of conflict. Given this fact, the Pentecostals should realize that their evangelistic efforts would be better suited if geared towards the unchurched. The Pope’s comments are also unhelpful. How the authority of the Catholic Church finds it within himself to name call (in my opinion) is embarrassing. Having said this, the Pentecostals are at fault, but both parties are guilty.
1. Does the USA seem to be secularizing? Why or why not?
As I said above, the USA does seem to be following some of the secularizing of Western Europe. However, while Europe is secularizing, “America remains highly religious.” The situation in the USA is slightly different because in Western Europe, the church was integrated with the state. In the USA, churches exist in a sort of “free market” so to speak. It’s interesting how Daughrity says, “The unique combination of Christianity and marketplace pluralism has led to a Christianity that is consumer driven.” The American church’s desire to compete with one another is one of the factors keeping it afloat. This creates some unhealthier forms of Christianity, perhaps even secular, but that is another topic. Another thing keeping America afloat religiously is the large numbers of Christian immigrants. In addition, while mainline churches in America are tanking, a large majority of people consider themselves religious. How many of these people are actually Christian though is difficult to say. America is secularizing in some ways, but is holding its own in the present – at least for now. By majority, The USA is still a Christian nation.
2. Should missionaries be criticized or admired for their attempts to convert the Native peoples?
Daughrity asks the question, “Why in the world would not somebody try to change somebody else’s belief system if he or she truly believed in heaven and hell?” You cannot blame people who believe this for trying to convert others, however it is not mean that all missionary attempts should be admired.
Some missions were very destructive and others were not. It is my opinion that missionaries, who driven to share the gospel based solely in a belief that the natives will go to hell if they don’t, are more likely to cause harm than good. So, it is on these grounds that I would criticize. There are better motivations for mission than individual salvation. Those missionaries that work for selfish gain should certainly be criticized. Those who make honest mistakes get somewhat of a pass, but that does not mean they should be admired either. Try to convert natives is admirable when it is founded in an effort to proclaim the good news, not forcibly save people from hell. Ultimately, it is God who converts people.
3. Why do you think revivalism in America has become such a vital part of the fabric of the country?
Christianity in North America has always been influenced by activism. Christianity in North America adapts quickly partly because of the sense of competition and excitement of new frontiers that capture the attention of Americans. “Historically, Christianity has been so enmeshed into the fiber of the land that virtually every movement shapes and is shaped by Christian innovation.” This seems to have been true since the founding of the country and the American Revolution. Americans seem to have a propensity for reacting and over reacting in culture shifting dramatic ways. Religious revivals are connected in many ways to the social upheaval that America continually finds itself in.
1. How could someone consider Christianity to have been a “failure” in Asia?
There was a great deal of success in Christian missionaries efforts early on when the missionaries allowed the faith to be contextualized into the Chinese culture. When the Catholic Church stopped allowing this to happen, the rulers became highly suspicious and threatened, so they banned missionaries from the country. This has been a theme in Asia. Missionaries are concerned about the syncretism of the Christian faith. According to Peter Phan, religious pluralism is one the three most important characteristics of Asia. If the Christian faith is not considered blended with other religions, it is often in league with the government, like the three-self movement in China. Some question whether these churches can be truly Christian, as they must answer to a communist regime. In part, calling it a failure may be an over reaction to the fact that Christianity here is not growing as fast as it is in the rest of the South.
2. What would a Christian form of communism look like?
The principles of equality in communism may gel with the principles of divine governance stemming from Quaker practices. This is something that we make use of in my house church. In this system, everyone has an equal opportunity to speak. When decisions need to be made, a proposal is formed by going around the circle of those present and allowing each person to give a proposal for the situation at hand. Before this process begins, time is taken to pray, reflect, and listen for the direction of the Spirit. As the facilitator of the meeting allows each person to have his or her say, a note taker compiles each suggestion. When everyone has had a turn, the proposals are repeated back to everyone and (if possible) summarized into one proposal. Afterwards people engage in the same person-by-person process of asking questions about the proposals. A group of people that regularly does this together is called a circle. Circles can be linked together of different proposes. Each circle is supposed to have repetitive to carry information to and from other circles. The check and balance systems put in place would probably function more ethically than in communism, but some of the ideas are similar.
3. As China’s global influence continues to rise, how will the nation relate to Western culture, especially in terms of religion? Will Christianity make in-roads into China, or will the West adopt historically Chinese attributes such as religious pluralism? Who will have the greater impact on whom?
Economically, the US depends on Chin a great deal. Whether or not there is space for religion in this relationship is difficult to say. Because of China’s communism, I think it will continue to hold itself at a distance from the US and continue to (as much as it is able) try and regulate the Christian movements in the country. Because of this, I do not think that Chinese Christianity will be heading this way. I think Christianity can, and is in some ways, make in-roads into China. Even though we don’t see large Christian movements in Asia like we are in the Global South, Christianity has a way of flourishing under oppressive structures (unless it is completely snuffed out like in the case of the Middle East). I think the inroads to China are in the underground church movements. Religiously, I think the West will have a greater impact on China.
1. Does Africa seem set for a titanic clash of civilizations between an Islamic north and a Christian south? Why or why not?
Currently the predominant Muslim countries tend to be in the north: Algeria, Libya, Muritania, Morrocco, Niger, Somalia, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. The predominantly Christian nations are in the south: Angola, Burundi, D.R. Congo, Gabon, Lesotho, Namibia, and the Republic of Congo. As they attempt to make converts in the countries in between, I think conflicts are inevitable. I think a sort of “titanic clash” is more likely to occur between zealous missionaries fighting over converts. However, ultimately, even though Islam has grown in Africa, Christianity will have more success. This is because Christian converts are able to maintain traditional customs easier than Muslim converts. The growing Muslim populations are more the result of Islamic countries with high birth rates. As these countries continue to grow, we may eventually expect greater conflict between different regions of Africa. However, Africans are not always united within their own countries, let alone in regions. African has East, West, and South African unions, but these (I think) are relatively young.
2. Why do Indigenous Religions continue to decline in Africa? Is this trend inevitable? Why or why not?
“Year after year, Christianity and Islam continue to gain converts from the practitioners of indigenous religions.” The rise of Christianity has a lot to do with the decline of indigenous religions. While most of the Muslim countries are in the north and the Christian countries are in the south, the belt in the middle contains most of the predominantly indigenous religious countries. With missionaries from both Christianity and Islam will continue to diverge on both. With these combined efforts, it seems inevitable that African religions will take a backseat to these mega-religions. Given the way that Christianity has spread by adapting to tribal customs, I think it will play the primary role in the takeover of indigenous beliefs. However, while it seems as if African religions may disappear, remnants of them will remain in different forms of Christianity and Islam.
3. Will African Christianity lead the way to a post-denominational era in Christianity? Why or why not?
At first glace, one can identify the amazing way that Christianity has adapted to African traditions in the AIC and become very optimistic about the possibilities for a post-denominational era. However, just because these people are able to understand the Christian faith in such a diverse number of ways does not mean that they can get along with each other. It is interesting to think about the studies on the growth of Christianity in different African countries when you consider the diversity within each country. The reader of a book like this might picture each country having a distinct category of the Christian faith. While this may be true in the sense of colonial footprints, the reality is that these countries lines cut across a number of tribal boarders. In Uganda alone, there are over 40 different tribes. National news is evidence enough that tribalism is alive and well in Africa. While Christianity does have the power to heal in these conflicts, the likelihood of different tribes uniting under the Christian banner seems unlikely. Because of the way colonizers distributed lands and people, there is thick animosity between northern and southern tribes in Uganda. This type of phenomena occurs all over Africa.
1. What are the core reasons Christianity proved so successful in Oceania?
Christianity entered the country through the Roman Catholic faith of imperial Spain (Magellan) and through British Protestantism (Captain Cook). As Britain began to dominate in the region and the “Western world continued to take political charge of the Oceanic nations, Christianity inevitably took root.” The British presence saturated the area with missionaries. This led to the native people adopting the faith and creating missionaries of their own. This indigenous movement played a huge role in the transmission of the faith, as they spread the gospel from island to island. In addition, people in Europe heard about the condition of the people on these Islands and sent another influx of missionaries. Surprisingly, during this time, competitions between denominations were kept to a minimum. Missionaries depended on native families to support them and in turn the Missionaries provided them with material goods.
2. What impact does water make on Oceanic society? In what ways are island identities different from mainland identities?
In Oceanic society, water impacts every facet of everyday life. It was so vastly different than what European missionaries were used to that they depended on the natives for survival. I think this also helps answer question 1. Having to depend on each other made for a good relationship. This kind of lifestyle requires a deep respect for the chaos of the sea, something ancient peoples have held in awe for millennia. Because of the barrier that water creates, many Island communities are isolated from other cultures – even neighboring islands in some cases. Because of this, they form distinct identities. Something like the cargo cult is more likely to happen in island communities where there is great mystery about where things come from, across the sea.
On the mainland, things are more stable and communities are spread out over large areas. The identity of people on the mainland will be more divers and less intensified due to the fact that there are multiple diverse identities within close reach.
3. What larger human truths are revealed by the cargo cult phenomenon?
“The gist of the cargo cult is that through magic, the islanders can direct the cargo to themselves, as it was originally intended for them anyway.” The human truth about the cargo cults is the tendency for religion to syncretize with other beliefs. Christianity actually has to be appropriated for another culture before it can be transmitted. In order for the Christian faith to take root in a society, the culture must accommodate the gospel within the context of its worldview. In this process some of the transmission will be lost, and other things will be added, but ideally, a kernel of the Christian faith will remain intact.