Blackwell Companion to World Christianity
So many different forms of Christianity have developed on this continent over the last six centuries that an appropriate essay title might be, “Christianities in North America.” Even so, a strong constellation of trends may be seen to characterize this diverse and broad-ranging field of religious expression. These trends might not unify our topic, but they do help us discern major developments in Christian expression over the long time period from the beginning of Christian exploration and colonization to the present.
For six centuries, North America has been an entrepôt of global Christianity where different forms of Christianity have arrived, collected, mingled, and been shaped, redistributed, and exported. Fransicans, Jesuits, and members of other Catholic religious orders immigrated to North America along with Anglicans, Baptists, Quakers and other English puritans, Dutch Calvinists, Scotish Presbyterians, Moravian pietists and English Methodists, German and Swedish Lutherans, Russian and Greek Orthodox, and successive waves of English, French, Irish, German, Italian, Polish, and Hispanic Catholics. Many of these groups supported missions to Native Americans and few Native Americans today come from families untouched by missionary education or conversion.
African Americans contributed significantly to the growth of Methodist and Bapist churches and to the overall vibrancy of evangelical Christianity in North America, which expanded greatly during the nineteenth century. In the US, evangelicals claimed cultural dominance over a protestant nation, partly in response to the increasing population of Catholics. Then, in the mid-twentieth century, distrust between protestants and Catholics dating back to the wars of the sixteenth century declined as the result of numerous factors, including the buildup of political unity during World War II, rapprochment between protestants and Catholics encouraged by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and political coalitions that emerged between conservative Catholics and conservative evangelicals on abortion and reproductive freedom, homosexuality, and women’s place in society.
While churches with European roots gravitated toward division between conservatives and liberals, new religious groups also sprang up in North America to interpret Christianity. Disciples of Christ, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses all originated in North America, where they grew to develop global missions and large international organizations. The modern pentecostal movement also originated in North America, where it developed to become one of the most ubiquitous forms of global Christianity ever to materialize. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, pentecostal practices of spirit possession and community building in Africa and Latin America grew faster than anywhere else, and became a vehicle for the assertion African and Latin American concerns on a global stage. Many Christians in North America have been touched by the examples of global hunger and suffering made visible through pentecostal ministries, and by the animated supernaturalism that Africans and Latin Americans have poured into the global channels of pentecostal organization and communication.
Much as expanding markets for material things generate new consumers and innovation, the abundance and diversity of Christianity in North America has also generated demand. If Christianity is powerful in North America because there are so many different versions to choose from, and, because its proponents are zealous competitors, it is also powerful because so many Americans have used it to manage other forces. Christianity has played a major role in the history of the continent because millions of people have relied on it to stabilize their environments, and to manage and create change.
With stunning results, people in North America have negotiated the social and intellectual forces associated with modernization through the medium of Christianity, lending themselves to the development of modern patterns of thought, behavior, and industry through their embrace and interpretation of various forms of Christian practice and belief. Through evolving patterns of subjectivity, work, community formation, and material culture, they have employed Christianity to develop influential forms of modern individualism, democracy, and capitalism, enabling Christianity to operate as a carrier of these trends throughout North America, and from this continent to other parts of the world. As this essay will also argue, Christianity has enabled the dissolution of some of the very trends of modernization it earlier helped to establish, operating again at the forefront of new forms of post-modern globalization in North America, as it did in the era of colonization when modernizing trends began.
Christianity’s importance in North America as a medium for promoting and managing modernity can be traced back to the the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, long before the open market of American religious diversity had fully developed. In the colonial era, North America became a focal point for a powerful cluster of social and intellectual developments originating in Europe that would alter the fabric of human life around the world. These developments included aggressive exploration and global exploitation of natural resources, the consolidation of nation states to manage global economic opportunities, religious and political conflict over the nature and exercise of authority, increasing enthusiasm for scientific discovery, rising literacy as a result of new printing technology, and not least, growing attention to the human individual as a subject for analysis and locus of moral order. As people who worked through these developments using Christianity as a medium of expression and North America as an important center, Christianity changed in the process. In North America and elsewhere, people used the Christian lexicon of symbols and stories to construct behavioral norms, emotional codes, and political agendas.
Early Europeans in North America invoked Christianity to interpret their struggles for wealth, glory, and survival, and their interactions with indigenous peoples whom they attempted to convert and subdue, or enlist in exploration, mining, and military defense. These Europeans utilized Christianity to legitimate their fierce competion for resources and dominance in North America, and this utilization of Christianity abetted the development of early modern forms of individualism and capitalism. At the same time, Europeans also used Christianity to express reactions against authoritarian brutality, reactions that, in hindsight at least, pointed in the direction of human rights and democracy.
Spanish Catholics led the way in this process in the sixteenth century, exploiting new navigation, sailing, and military technologies in the service of monarchs authorized by the Church of Rome to rule over parts of North America. In the Southwest, along the coast of California, and in Florida, conquistadors planted crosses to assert dominion over lands they claimed for Spain, often reading aloud to uncomprehending Natives the Requirimiento, a legal document legitimating the seizure of land and natural resources, and absolving soldiers of moral and legal guilt for any killing or enslavement that might occur. Announcing the Spaniards’ right to forcibly subjugate any people who did not voluntarily surrender, the Requirimiento cited the history of humanity since Adam and Eve, St. Peter’s authority over all humanity, the Roman Church’s possession of that authority, Rome’s donation of land and people to Spanish monarchs, and the monarchs’ empowerment of conquistadors to claim these possessions.1
In accord with this Christian justification and Christian plan of action, Franciscan priests reorganized Native communities in New Mexico, California, and Florida in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, installing themselves as religious authorities, often with soldiers to enforce labor and punishment. As Spanish priests and soldiers terrorized and exploited Native populations, significant reaction against harsh treatment of Natives developed. After serving as a missionary in Cuba, the sixteenth-century Spanish Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas wrote an impassioned defense of Native souls in which he condemned Spanish enslavement of Natives as counter to the charity of Christ. In recent decades, Christians have celebrated de las Casas as an early defender of human rights, and harbinger of modern Christian commitment to social justice.2 In a process that illustrates how Christianity contributed to modern political order, de las Casas aired his defense of Native souls in a famous debate in1550 in Valladolid, Spain with Juan Gines de Sepulveda, the humanist philosopher and official historian of the Spanish Crown who defended the enslavement of Native Americans. The debate did not end the practice, but in utilizing the lexicon of Christianity to mount a novel defense of the humanity of Native Americans, it did shift European opinion against Spanish abuse.
Partly in response to European criticism of Spanish brutality, French and British Christians made efforts to treat Native peoples humanely, though rarely as equals. In Quebec, Jesuit priests and Ursuline nuns sent to serve French settlers extended Catholicism to Native Americans through persuasion rather than force. In the Great Lakes region and along the Mississippi, French Catholicism filtered through the commercial networks of the fur trade, operating as an explanation of events, means of comfort, or source of anxiety that people shared across cultural boundaries, much as they shared Native medicines or smoked the calmunet. In the French Caribbean, including the port town of Nouvelle Orléans, where French, Spanish, African, and Native Americans intermixed and French Africans combined Catholic and African elements in the new religion of Voudou, the lexicon of Christianity facilitated the formation of a new subculture while also enabling people of different cultures to communicate and influence each other.
Even the most devout Native converts to Christianity imbued their new religion with Native themes, in some cases finding individual empowerment or celebrity among other Christians through the integration of Native values. For example, the seventeenth-century Mohawk convert Katerie Tekakwitha combined the fierce ability to mete out and endure torture for which her people were famous with a penetential desire to purify her soul and condemn bodily lust that she learned from French Jesuits. Although her Jesuit mentors worried about her harsh performances of self-flagelation, legendary accounts of her heroism were disseminated across North America. As the famed “Lily of the Mohawks,” Katerie became an inspiration for other Native Christians, and stories of her conversion were exported back to Europe to inspire new missionary vocations.3
French and British Christians cultivated strategic relationships with Native Americans to secure their own positions east of the Mississippi, and to contain each other’s growth and power. French and British missionaries also worked earnestly to save Native souls from hell, where they expected souls not rescued by Christ to be cast at death, but many Natives found these Christian overtures unwelcome. Some Natives rejected missionaries as agents of French and British militarism and feared missionaries were witches. Over time, growing numbers of Native Americans embraced elements of European Christianity to describe their own humanity as colonized peoples and to process their own sufferings, impoverishment, and crushing losses. For Natives who rejected European culture as well as for those who tried to assimilate, Christianity provided a language for the experience of colonization that contributed to new political and cultural formations. At one leading edge of modern criticism of Christianity, some Nativists cited Christian principles to condemn European violence and hypocrisy, noting that Europeans were so misguided they had even killed their own savior. Such criticism also reflected familiarity with the lexicon of Christianity, and readiness to conceptualize the world in terms derived from Christianity. Thus Nativists as well as converts appealed to the God depicted in the Bible, the providential course of time, and a future day when Native innocence and the bounty of nature would be restored. Millenial and apocalyptic narratives would draw Native Americans to prophet movements like the Ghost Dance movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and, more recently, to the Christian Right.4
Along the east coast, some British colonists made efforts to befriend and cooperate with Native Americans, but efforts to supplant them and drive them westward proved overwhelming. In New England, puritan leaders were preoccupied with their attempts to construct a thoroughly Christian commonwealth. Native Americans who resisted puritan reeducation were bothersome and hazardous.
New England Puritans established a social system that anticipated several modern developments, systematically interpreting Christianity as a means to the self-discipline that enabled their economic success. Grappling with the challenges that economic opportunities posed for religious life, puritans strove to harness wealth and industry to piety. Thus profits from fishing, lumber, mining, and trade in cotton, sugar, tea, and slaves prompted strenuous religious efforts to contain greed and enforce moral discipline. The relative success of this Christian construction of early modern capitalism in colonial New England was often remembered by later Americans, especially conservative evangelicals, as the basis of their claim that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.
New England puritans were also strenuously authoritarian; religious education was mandatory in Massachusetts and Connecticut, ministers set standards for everyone’s behavior, and families were strongly encouraged to become centers of practical piety. The puritan commitment to practical piety marked an important step toward modernity, a step in the transition toward the authority and autonomy of the individual subject and away from medieval conceptions of the authority of heaven. Characterized by critical introspection, self-discipline, and fear of God and hell, the puritans’ practical piety required intense analysis of individual subjectivity as the arena where applications of the Bible taught by preachers and parents took hold, and the arena where individuals felt God to be judging their emotions, enterprises, and interactions with other people. Derived from medieval penance, the puritan regimen of practical piety brought systematic discipline into the families, businesses, and government of ordinary Christians through interior, subjective exercise, thus exerting pressure on churches to serve individuals, rather than the other way around. Though not the only contributor to the development of modern conceptions of selfhood, or to the individualism associated with American culture, the puritan practice of piety operated as a groundwork for those modern developments. The puritan investment in selfhood provided a basis for a more secular sense of the importance of the ordinary lives of individuals and also for the enthusaism for personal religious experience so characteristic of evangelicalism.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, evangelicals transformed the practical piety of puritan Christianity into something even more modern. While many seventeenth-century puritan writers, like their medieval predecessors, deferred to ideal types formed in heaven as the basis for ordinary reality, evangelicals turned with increasing enthusiasm to nature and history as the locus of knowledge and revelation. Abetted by the philosophy of commonsense realism promoted by Scottish Presbyterians, and by enthusiasm for natural reason and scientific discovery, evangelicals pursued the puritan dream of infusing ordinary life with Christian piety in increasingly modern, increasingly secular cultural environments. Challenged by proponents of natural reason who demanded evidence for claims about nature and history, evangelicals no longer inhabited a world in which the existence of an overarching framework of heavenly forms could be presumed. In response to skeptics who questioned the reasonableness of belief in miracles and supernatural revelation, evangelicals insisted that upholding the truth of the Bible was a matter of commonsense, and that the evidence of nature and history corresponded with biblical revelation.
If the puritans’ practical piety helped bring Christianity down to earth, facilitating a transition to modern secularity and empirical thinking that puritans themselves did not foresee, evangelicals worked to maintain religious authority in a world in which secularity and empirical thinking were more fully developed. Taking up the modern task of having to defend the scientific and historical validity of the Bible, evangelicals argued that science and history could not be understood apart from biblical revelation. Critical of anyone who embraced individual conscience apart from Christianity, evangelicals made personal conversion a prerequisite for individual morality and genuine success in the world.
Evangelicals also reinterpreted the tumultuous political events that had occurred in the Atlantic world at the end of the eighteenth century, filtering revolutionary political demands for human rights and equality through evangelical organizations and evangelical interpretations of the lexicon of Christianity. Seeking to expand their cultural authority in Britain and North America, evangelicals worked to restrain radical demands for democracy through systems of religious governance that celebrated equality, but only among converted protestants. In North America, where evangelicalism surged in popularity during the early decades of the nineteenth century, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches played an important role in controlling immigration, education, and cultural norms. Evangelicals often cooperated to define democracy in protestant terms, outlawing blasphemy, Sunday mail service, and finally, in 1919 in the US, the sale of alcohol, a source of the immoral behavior to which they believed Catholics were especially prone.
The United States became the dominant power in North America through territorial acquisition and nationalist fervor. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase supplanted Spanish and French claims to the central region of the continent, and in the 1840s, the annexation of Texas and occupation of California and New Mexico ended Spanish control. As the United States expanded westward, white Anglo-Saxon protestants east of the Mississippi worked to manage the cultural development of the continent. Evangelicals sent missionaries to challenge Catholic influence across the continent, and to educate and convert nonbelievers, and drew on the lexicon of Christianity to assert their own authority as spokespeople for national identity.
Catholic population growth accelerated beginning in the late 1840s when famines in Ireland brought many Catholics to the US; while in 1850, Catholics still counted for only five percent of the population, by 1906 the Catholic population had soared to fourteen percent, making the Roman Catholic Church the single largest denomination in the US by the beginning of the twentieth century. Protestant evangelicals were greatly alarmed by this sizeable growth, but the American Catholic Church was more divided than evangelicals thought. In Baltimore, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other urban centers where Catholic immigrants settled in ethnic ghettoes, Catholics representing different European cultures vied with one another for religious authority, social status, housing, and employment. In the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Italian and Polish newcomers often lacked priests who could speak their language and faced discrimination from better established French, Irish, and German Catholics, as well as from protestants who resented people they perceived as aliens entering their country. Later in the twentieth century and even today, Hispanic Catholics felt similar patterns of discrimination.
As ethnic Catholics developed separate institutions to preserve their own cultures, they also joined forces with each other to build schools, hospitals, and communities against protestant efforts to erode Catholic loyalty. The Church hierarchy centered in Rome also promoted Catholic unity, emphasizing the need for common devotions such as rosary prayers to Mary and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which helped standardize emotional feelings toward the Church among Catholics from different ethnic cultures. If she exerted less control over ordinary Catholics than protestants feared, Rome worked to lessen ethnic divisions and instill obedience to Church teachings by denouncing modernism, secularity, and protestant evangelicalism. Prior to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, when the Church opened itself to the modern world, Catholic teachers also adhered to medieval philosophy, and particularly to the philosophical theology of the twelfth-century Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas, who encouraged believers to look for metaphysical substance behind the accidental properties of ordinary existence. The medieval framework of Catholic teaching supported the Church’s critique of modernism, and its manifestations in capitalism, democracy, and individualism.
The momentous split over slavery in the nineteenth century profoundly influenced the development of Christianity in North America, affecting its evolving role as both a carrier and medium of resistance to democracy and human rights. Arguments on both sides of the question of whether or not Christianity sanctioned slavery had been debated since Bartolomé de las Casas challenged Spanish enslavement of Native Americans in the sixteenth century. Colonial efforts to enslave Natives Americans were abandoned, but the population of enslaved Africans in the Americas rose dramatically in the early nineteenth century -- from 682,000 in 1790 to almost 1.8 million in 1860 -- thanks in no small way to US independence from Britain, where slavery had become illegal. The US Constitution, ratified in 1787, left decisions about the legality and regulation of slavery to each state in the union; it also favored slaveholding states by counting each slave as three-fifths of a person for purposes of apportioning representation in the US Congress.5
Christianity was the source of authority that people on both sides of the dispute over slavery invoke to justify their positions. Defenders of slavery appealed to many instances in the Bible where slavery was mentioned without condemnation, to the moral authority of Old Testament patriarchs who owned slaves, and to Paul’s assertion in the New Testament book Colossians 3:22, that slaves should obey their masters. Those who condemned slavery called attention to Paul’s pronouncement in Galations 3:28, that in Christ there was “neither ... slave nor free,” but had fewer biblical passages on their side. Those who condemned slavery rested their argument on the idea that Christ embodied a higher law of freedom, and that no one who lived by this law would abide slavery.
Arguments for a higher law in Christ have exerted considerable influence in US history, and not only in the abolition of slavery in the US in 1865, but in civil rights movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as well. For Baptist preacher and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the higher law of Christian love was a non-violent principle that condemned unjust laws of racial segregation in southern states of the US and inspired his campaign of civil disobedience in the 1950s and 60s.6 No less important for the evolution of US law and jurisprudence, Jehovah’s Witnesses beginning in the 1930s appealed to God’s higher law as the basis for their refusals to salute the US flag and serve in the US military. Through a series of controversial US Supreme Court rulings in the 1940s, the Witnesses gained the right not to be imprisoned, fined, or otherwise punished by government authorities for exercising their rights not to participate in activities offensive to their religious principles, so long as their exercise of those rights did not violate the rights of others.
Christianity was not the only medium through which respect for the rights of individual persons developed in North America. At the time of the American Revolution, many Americans believed that men possessed a natural capacity for reason which endowed them with rights to life, liberty and property, which they ceded to some degree in order to become members of society, but could also rely on to justify rebelling against tryanical authority. The First Amendment to the US Constitution reflected this rationalist conception of individual rights, detached from any specific reference to Christianity, but it was not incorprated into state constitutions until after the Civil War. US commitment to the right to religious freedom was a gradual process; only in the 1940s, when Jehovah’s Witnesses finally convinced the US Supreme Court to protect their religious expression, did US courts begin to protect religious freedom.
Jews figured importantly in this process of democratization. Violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the US in the 1930s and early 40s led to uncomfortable comparisons with Nazi Germany, where the persecution of both Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses was notorious. While neither the US nor Canada entered the Second World War for the purpose of rescuing religious minorities from Nazi death camps, the celebration of religious freedom developed in both countries during the War in reaction against totalitarianism and then developed further during the Cold War in reaction against atheistic Communism.
Jewish intellectuals were often outspoken in their support for religious freedom and other democratic rights. They also played a major role in promoting psychology as a means of understanding human emotion, and as a means of rebutting Christian efforts to stigmatize Jews and removing barriers to Jewish leadership in modern society. Allied with liberal protestants in the twentieth century who also turned to psychology to understand religion and other expressions of human emotion, Jewish psychologists pioneered various forms of self help, sometimes with the goal of freeing individuals from religion, but more often with aims of humanizing religion and enlisting it as an aid to happiness and moral action.7
Within American Christianity, the turn toward psychological thinking about religion was part of a larger, modern process of reinterpreting Christianity in terms of humanistic norms to maximize its therapeutic and socially beneficial results, and to minimize or eradicate aspects of Christianity perceived to be psychogically and socially harmful. This pragmatic trend was well-established among American protestants, going back at least to eighteenth century, when protestant liberals attacked Calvinism as an affront to human reason and morality. Nineteenth century emphasis on the importance of voluntarism and free will in religious life contributed to the development of this pragmatic trend, along with new theories of child development that advised nurturing natural goodness in children rather than working to break their wicked little wills. Liberal protestant investment in child nurture contributed to the popularity of new psycholgogical theories in the twentieth century, providing a Christian source for humanistic psychology.
Other secularizing forces operated through the medium of Christianity, and especially through the medium of liberal protestantism. Historical and literary analysis of the Bible generated new interest in how the New and Old Testaments had been constructed over time. Historical criticism of the Bible made it easier to ascribe belief in revelation and miracles to premodern times, and to consider how Christianity served or challenged political power in the present. Other factors stimulated analysis of the social functions of religion, including the development of sociology in the early twentieth century and the increasing popularity of economic theories of history, including various forms of Marxism. While many of these intellectual developments originated in Germany and France, they acquired influential proponents in North America who reinterpreted them in the context of American enthusiasm for pragmatism, moral reform, and practical piety. Through the Progressive movement prior to World War I, the New Deal political response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 60s, liberal Christians played a leading role in passing new laws regulating capitalism, protecting workers, and protecting and enlarging citizen rights. Humanistic interpretations of Christianity as a social gospel helped to mediate these developments, with strong support from humanistic Jews, and from Catholics critical of American capitalism.
The surge in psychological and sociological efforts to redirect religion toward humane and socially beneficial ends did not go uncontested. Conservative Christians -- protestant and Catholic -- resented efforts to remake Christianity according to modern standards. Conservative spokesmen like Orthodox Presbyterian J. Gresham Machen flatly rejected arguments by liberal Christians like liberal Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch that humanistic constructions of the gospel conformed more closely to the original truth than their own conservative devotion to primitive Christianity.
Conservatives saw more clearly than liberals how liberals had used Christianity as a means of making their transition to modern secular culture. But conservatives failed to acknowledge that their defense of traditional Christianity was also a modern development. In addition to defining revelation, conversion, and other supernatural phenomena in circular fashion as realities exempt from modern criticism or as subjective experiences no one could disprove, conservatives were often way ahead of liberals in making use of modern media and technology to get their arguments for traditional Christianity across. In the 1930s, the fundamentalist evangelical Aimee Semple McPherson was the first woman to own a license for radio broadcasting and the first to use radio for proselytizing. In the 1950s and 60s, the conservative Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen pioneered religious TV with popular shows promoting traditional Catholicism and criticizing liberalism. The global impact and worldwide leadership of conservative religious media emanating from North America has grown quickly in recent years. In 2003, a “Purpose Driven” satellite conference, inspired by books written by the Orange County, California minister Rick Warren, reached 9,000 preachers in Africa, many of whom had previously downloaded his weekly sermons through Pastors.com. In 2012, Trinity Broadcasting Network was the largest Christian television network in the world, with Word of Faith programs viewed in more than a hundred million homes in the U.S., more often than programs on ABC, and accessible to millions more worldwide through television, internet, and mobile devices.8
Global broadcasting of American evangelical appeals for a Christ-centered life represent an important stage in the evolution of the trends described in this essay. But if evangelical broadcasting today represents the culminating reach of American individualism, capitalism, and democracy as they are mediated through Christianity today, it also shows signs of post-modern transformation. Rick Warren’s purpose-driven Christianity is one example of what might be described as the apotheosis of modern American individualism -- an undercutting of individualism at the peak of its evangelical promotion and global reach. Though Warren preaches that God has a purpose for each individual, and that people without God are not fully realized persons, he dissolves the individuality he celebrates by smoothing over cultural difference, personal idiosyncracy, artistic creativity, and religious and political iconoclasm, and by simplifying self-realization.
This explosion of individualism -- in both its popularity and its self-destruction -- is part of what globalization means. Everywhere on the planet today, modern individualism expands rapidly through social media that broadcast virtual fragments of individual life. In North America, modern individualism is also expanded and fractured by outsourcing practices tied to personal identity, from weddings, funerals, and childcare to customer service and dogwalking. Coinciding with this fracturing of personal identity, Christianity facilitates the dissolution of individualism through paradigms of selfhood, like that promoted by Rick Warren, that frame concerns about self, and self in relation to others, as simultaneously intensely personal and universal in Christ. Conceptions of Christian selfhood like Warren’s have deep roots in the past -- in practical piety, medieval penance, and Pauline gnosticism -- but the cutting-edge media of North American evangelicalism and pentecostalism, and its increasing command of virtual reality, have created a new context for the growth of Christianity.
The expansion and disintegration of modern individualism through Christianity are tied to the metamorphosis of western capitalism. Here again, Christians in North America have worked in the forefront of global change. As capitalism has become increasingly corporate, and large, powerful companies have become increasingly international, they wield increasing influence over everything in the world from the distribution of oil and food to decisions about government policy and individual behavior. Financing and managing their own international organizations, North American Christians have played a leading role in the transformation of capitalism. Christian organizations do not simply mimic the growth of international corporate capitalism; they contribute to the global economy by modeling its Christian formation, encouraging personal industry, stabilizing individuals and families, and providing healthcare and education. For example, Catholic Relief Services, the official international aid organization of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, maintains an active presence in almost one hundred countries, working to relieve hunger, provide medical service, foster business growth, and promote Catholic teachings about sex and reproduction. While responding to suffering caused or exacerbated by economic globalization, CRS deploys its own corporate wealth and labor to expedite Catholic manifestations of that process.9
While hardly alone in filtering modernity through religion, Christians in North American have been highly influential agents in its process, partly because of the extraordinary malleability of Christianity in North America that religious abundance and increased religious freedom have facilitated. With competitive media and cultural environments manufacturing symbols linked to the past, and to principles believed to be eternal, American Christians have resuited Christianity to modernity, often taking the lead in global economic and military developments and expanding their influence abroad in the process. At the same time, the universalizing lexicon of Christianity, combined with technologies that make human life more virtual, accessible, familiar than ever before, works to evaporate the modern individual at the center of modern capitalism and democracy.