JOANNE MYERS: On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to welcome members and guests to our Author in the Afternoon. Today Philip Jenkins will be discussing his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.
In recent years, secular movements, like Communism, feminism, and environmentalism, have received a great deal of media attention, while, until most recently, religious matters have received remarkably short shrift. Yet, our guest this afternoon believes that the most significant—and even the most revolutionary—changes taking place in our world today are religious. More precisely, he is referring to the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, an expansion that has barely registered on Western consciousness. It is his belief that within a few decades Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila will replace Rome, Athens, Paris, London, and New York as new focal points of the Christian Church.
While many Western commentators have declared that Christianity is in decline and that it must modernize its beliefs or risk being abandoned by its followers—or, even worse, becoming irrelevant altogether—Professor Jenkins contends that just the opposite is true: Christianity is on the rise again and leading to a very different religion that barely resembles the Western perception of it. It is a variation of Christianity that most Westerners are not accustomed to seeing.
If you were to ask whether this is important, the answer would have to be emphatically "yes," for the difference that this growth portends for the future of our world and global politics is profound. The pivotal question is: what force will predominate? Will it be religious identification, or allegiance to a secular nation state? The results will have an enormous political and cultural impact, and to ignore this phenomenon would result in disastrous consequences.
Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He was born in Wales and educated in England, where he received his Ph.D. from Clare College at Cambridge. He has written over fifteen books and many articles on contemporary religious issues and controversy. Among the more timely are his book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, as well as Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way; The Modern Mythology of Christian Religions; and Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History.
PHILIP JENKINS: Thank you.
When we were commemorating the end of the 20th century and the end of the second millennium, many of us looking back at the great events of the previous century, the previous millennium, tended to miss two major interrelated facts. One is a dramatic growth and reshaping of religion in the past century, and a dramatic growth particularly of Christianity. Two religions really exploded during the century: one was Christianity; one was Islam. The other change was a fundamental demographic change worldwide, a very sharp decline in birth rates and population growth in Europe and North America and a rapid growth in what I will call the "global South."
Just to give you one of these great changes, at the start of the 20th century probably around 9 percent of the population of Africa was Christian. In the 1960s the proportion of Christians in Africa surpassed that of Muslims for the first time in history. Today the proportion of Christians in Africa is approaching one-half.
If you look at some of the absolute numbers, they become even more dramatic. A country I am interested in is Uganda, which has been reliably doubling its population every 25 years, which in terms of demographic history is comparable to the rates that colonial American had at the height of its expansion through the 18th century. What that means is that by the middle of the century, Uganda could have a population somewhere around 60-70 million, and a fair bet is that about three-quarters of those will be Christian. Uganda by that point, in terms of absolute numbers, will be one of the most significant Christian countries in the world.
Pentecostalism is another example that probably did not show up a great deal in the reviews of the century a couple of years ago. In 1900 Pentecostalism was very much a despised, fringe movement. There are projections now that suggest that by 2040, the number of Pentecostalists could pass 1 billion. By that point, there would be roughly as many Pentecostalists as there are Muslims today, and that is one aspect of the Christian tradition. There will be more Catholics than Pentecostalists.
And, since the events of last September, many people have tried to contextualize religious change in the world, and they have made one important mistake: wasting a great deal in the way of Western attempts to comprehend Islam—and those efforts have been very important and necessary. However, we have missed one of the great religions in this story, the great alien problem cult of the 21st century, which is Christianity.
If you look at the popular news coverage of Islam in the last few months, it has been striking how many of these accounts have suggested that Islam will outnumber Christianity within a decade or a quarter of a century. If you look at more reliable population projections, when you get to 2050, there will still be three Christians for every two Muslims worldwide. Christianity will continue to be the largest religion in the world for a considerable time to come.
Many media sources have made this mistake because of the way in which they are seeing—or, rather, not seeing—Christianity. People look at Christianity and see it as the religion of the West. I offer this to you as an exercise. Look at the number of books on the contemporary world and see how many times you find "Christianity, Western," and no other species.
Whereas, we know that Islam is the religion of the developing world and that the population is rapidly growing in Africa and Asia. Therefore, to quote my friend Samuel Huntington, "in the long run, Muhammad wins out," and he puts that in about twenty-five years. Disagreeing with Samuel Huntington is like disagreeing with God, but I will do so on this occasion and say his statistics are incorrect on this one.
One of the great forces in the South today is Christianity. And so we need to understand that there are both the realities of Christian expansion in the global South, but also the serious gulf between that and the Western perception. That has important policy lessons for religion in the West.
A few years ago, Bishop Spong wrote Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and his message was that Christianity is becoming discredited in the West, the old supernatural lessons are ceasing to carry any weight, so Christianity must change or die. I will die, Bishop Spong will die, but, as far as we can tell, Christianity seems to be flourishing remarkably.
The Christianity that is flourishing in the global South is a Christianity that looks very strange to Western eyes. It takes prophecy and spiritual healing very seriously. Dreams, visions, trances are all notions that carry a good deal of currency in the countries in which Christianity is succeeding very dramatically.
It would be hard to convince a congregation in Seoul or in Nairobi that Christianity is dying, when they are far too busy building a new facility for the 20,000 or 30,000 new people they have added to their congregation in the last decade.
If you look at contemporary Christianity in this way, it also has to reshape our view of the story of Christianity over the last 2000 years. If you have seen a documentary about the history of Christianity, you can see Christianity originating in the Near East, spreading over the Mediterranean world, and then it reaches its real heart, which is France, the Rhineland, maybe England, and it dies out in the East.
Our historical view of Christianity is dubious. If you look at the 1200s, the average Christian is not a French Tansman; he is still at that point a Syrian or a Mesopotamian. The heart of Christianity remains in the East Mediterranean much later than most of us ever give due credit for.
If there is an age of Western Christianity, when, as some of the popular books and television documentaries remind us, Europeans and Americans traveled the world, bringing with them the faith of Europe, it is a period of about 500 years, from 1500 to the present. It is a long period, admittedly, but it is only a portion of the whole story of Christianity.
Most Westerners have a very grim view of the whole concept of missions and missionaries. We know that Christianity in the developing world must have been brought there by Spanish Conquistadors, British Redcoats, and American televangelists. It is a foreign concept.
In the book The Poisonwood Bible, which is a dreadful picture of the missionary movement, there is a wonderful line where the missionary's daughter says, "We came from Augusta, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle"—that is, the view of total cultural insensitivity; and how could this religion possibly succeed after the empires had failed, because Christianity was being imposed by those empires?
There was another time in history when an empire spread Christianity and then the empire collapsed. It was after the fall of Rome that Christianity really succeeded, because that was the point at which people could accept Christianity without having to accept the imperial oppressive baggage. Substitute for Rome, Britain, France, Belgium, and you have a pretty good story of the spread of Christianity after the fall of the European empires in Africa and Asia.
In the 1960s people were very alarmed at what would happen to Christian missionary endeavors after the empires fell. They need not have worried. Christianity succeeded remarkably, sometimes in the form of the mainstream, established churches. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, Methodists, Presbyterians—all have succeeded in Africa and in Asia.
There is no one story that fits all. Sometimes governments took a hand. The South Korean Government adopted a wonderful missionary strategy of declaring the Catholic bishops the "main enemy of dictatorship" and threw many bishops in jail. Clearly, this resulted in a mass conversion of the Korean people. How could it fail? I pass this strategy on to the United States Government.
In other countries, different churches succeeded. But Christianity did remarkably well. It established itself in areas where it would benefit most from the demographic change that we are now living through.
I try to predict which countries in the world will have the largest number of Christians in forty or fifty years, and the results are rather interesting. The United States is at the head. Following it, in no particular order, are countries like Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Uganda. Note the countries that are not on the list: Britain, France, Italy.
I have done some work on priests and pedophiles. Sometimes Americans ask, in great alarm, why the papacy isn't taking American concerns more seriously. There is a good answer to this: they can count. They know how many Catholics live in the United States,. They know that 6 percent of the global total of Catholics live in countries like Nigeria, and they are much more concerned about those countries. That does help us understand what seems to be a neglect of American interests.
There are a number of different directions I could take in my presentation. If I don't hit one that is of interest to you, I hope you will raise this in questions. Let me pursue a couple of points here.
One is about the relationship to Islam, which has been of intense interest in the last few months. If we look at the countries in the world that should be the most populous in the space of the next forty or fifty years, they are mainly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
I offer an interesting figure for your consideration: 20 of the 25 largest countries are either Christian or Muslim or some balance between the two. Some countries will not have any serious religious strife between the two. Muslims will not pose a serious issue in Mexico, any more than Christians will pose a serious issue in Iran, for example.
However, seven of the countries are either majority/minority states, either majority Muslim/minority Christian or the other way around; and three especially scary ones are fairly equally balanced between the two. In other words, of the 25 largest, most populous states in mid-century, no less than ten, by present outlook, could have a situation that is ripe for conflict and persecution on the lines which we are currently seeing in these countries today.
Possibly the country which gives the State Department most concern when they're not looking at the Middle East is Nigeria, a country which, depending on which projection you use, is either 50 percent Muslim with a Christian minority, or possibly the other way around, but which is fairly equally balanced. Some of the others: Indonesia, a country with a 10 percent Christian minority.
What we are seeing in countries like these and like Sudan today, unlike the Philippines, is the wars of the 21st century. My book is called The Next Christendom. My nightmare, looking at some of these figures, is that the next Christendom might also be the age of the next crusade and the next jihad—somewhat different from the 13th century, in that it will be fought with much more high-tech weapons. The thought of the power balance of the 13th century armed with nuclear weapons and anthrax is not a pleasant one.
I would like to address on other major issue. Increasingly, the Christianity of North America and Europe will become "southernized." Immigration will have an immense religious impact on Europe and North America, and again, not in a way that many people see.
When people look at Europe, for example, they tend to see this as a society that is being divided between a Muslim underclass and a secular or residual Christian traditional elite. Look at the number of very traditional Southern Christian churches being established across Europe today.
Last year when I was researching this book, I spent some time in Amsterdam, one of the most secular cities in Europe. On a Sunday morning, there were no signs of religious activity anywhere in the downtown. But if you moved out to the working class suburbs, there you saw quite poor Africans with their Bibles going to their churches. What you see there is the face of future European Christianity.
In England, there are some fast-growing churches. Matthew Ashumaloia [phonetic] has built the largest new church built in England since 1850, with a considerably larger seating capacity than Westminster Abbey. He has recently made the helpful suggestion to the Church of England that perhaps they would like their denomination to die gracefully so that he can have their buildings. He has also said something very interesting. "The problem is that people see us as a black thing; they don't see is as a God thing." And so what he is trying to do is to get his denomination to become more sensitive to white concerns. In other words, he is trying to practice inculturation to make Christianity comprehensible to the natives, which is a wonderful turnaround. He is trying to get white people into his churches, and he has been quite successful.
In the United States, you have a very different pattern. I have some disagreements with Diana Eck, who published a very good book called A New Religious America, which is about how America has moved from being a Christian nation to being the world's most religiously diverse nation. It is a very sensitive and well-argued book
But its basic argument is wrong, because if you look at the figures, my title of the book would be How Mass Immigration Ensured that a Christian Country Becomes a Much More Christian Country. The proportions of non-Christians in the United States is far less than in most countries in the world. With mass immigration, you are getting larger Christian communities, many of which are Asian, African, Latin American.
Southern Christianity is very different from traditional Western models. I differ from people who argue that what we are seeing in the Southern Hemisphere is a kind of synchretism, a borrowing from native traditional religions and dressing those up as Christianity. I find that whenever you look at what appear to be distinctly Southern, African or Korean Christianities, in virtually every case the authorities for those are very explicitly Biblical, and that when Westerners look at Southern Christianity and say, "Where on earth are they getting these strange ideas?", the answer in most cases is people would quite convincingly pull out the New Testament and say, "See this verse here."
I want to end with a story, which illustrates the culture clash between West and South. Southern Christianity takes the supernatural very seriously indeed. It believes in concepts like healing. So does Islam in many parts of Africa and Asia, which is why the two religions are very tough competitors.
The Kenyan scholar John Mbiti, who, like many of the good African writers at the moment, also has a very good sense of humor, tells the story of a young African theological student going off to a European university where he learns homiletics and pastoral theology, and he learns Hebrew, Greek and German. He comes back to his home village and a great feast is given for him, whereupon the boy's sister falls ill. Everyone in the village knows, as all good African Christians know, that this is the result of a troubled spirit of an ancestor. They plead with the young man to help the girl. The argument becomes more and more vigorous, until finally the villagers say, "We sent you off to learn to be a great Christian. Help your sister." The man replies, "But Bothman [phonetic] has demythologized demon possession."
Southern Christianity could be the great religion of the 21st century that we do not understand in the West. If you think we have problems understanding this alien thought world with Islam now, just wait for Christianity.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: Do you differentiate between Catholicism and the various forms of Protestantism? Catholicism in the Northern Hemisphere and Europe is much more organized than it would be among the Protestant sects. Also, Marian Catholicism is what predominates in the Southern Hemisphere.
Have you looked at the impact on Rome of this tremendous surge in membership among Marian-oriented Catholics from South America?
PHILIP JENKINS: Something very interesting happened in 1978, which was that, for the first time ever, Latin America chose a Pope. I know John Paul II is from Poland. However, he was elected on the strength of votes from cardinals who would not accept another West European, and they wanted to break the mold.
We will see more and more of a drift in Catholic theology to Marian doctrines, and more emphasis on the idea of Coredemptrix, Cosalvatrix, the idea of co-mediator, even co-savior.
You mentioned Latin America. It is also very strong in Africa. There is a very strong Marian tradition, a visionary tradition, in some of the fastest-growing Catholic communities in central Africa, particularly in Uganda.
This could be a vehicle for cooperation between Christians and Muslims. I look, for instance, at the phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s in Egypt of the great Marian apparitions at Zeitoun, which attracted huge crowds of Muslims and Christians to the shrine. Mary is discussed far more in the Qur'an than she is in the New Testament.
I do not predict many dates in my book, but I will give you one that I do underline very much, which is December 12, 2031—make your appointment now—the quincentennial of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When that commemoration happens, it will be the occasion for an enormous outpouring of Latino, and specifically Mexican, Marian devotion in North and South America.
We will see a substantial theological change in exactly the direction you are talking about. And it is interesting, too, new Protestantism in Latin America does exactly what it did in Europe 400 years ago, which is focus on attacking Marian shrines and images.
QUESTION: The demographics that you use trouble me. The fertility rate in Christian countries is going down, including South America today, whereas it is stable and high in the Islamic countries. The same is true in most of Africa.
From 300 A.D. until 1200 A.D., at least, the Christian proselytizing was very strong, and militant even. There is not the same proselytizing today, whereas Islam is still a militant and proselytizing religion.
PHILIP JENKINS: Your point about demographics is very important, and I discuss these issues and methodologies as carefully as I can. I am careful to use the projection which does take account of AIDS, because that has a huge effect in particular countries. I am not taking these figures out of nowhere.
Most of the projections in the last couple of months, for instance, which have suggested lower long-term figures, refer to declines at the end of the 21st century, as opposed to what I am talking about, which is figures for the 2030s-2040s.
You also used an interesting phrase, the "Christian countries." I am looking at the Christian countries Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
If you look at what you might call the classic developing world population profile, you have something like Uganda, where half of the people of are under age fifteen. If in the long term fertility declines, then that is one thing. But that population is going to boom in the next twenty or thirty years. There is really no way of preventing that. A classic developing world population profile is 50 percent below the age of fifteen or so, and about 5 percent over the age of sixty-five, as opposed to Europe or Japan, which is 16 percent below the age of fifteen.
If you look over time at proselytizing—or let's use uglier words: forcing conversions and militant expansion of religions—there is no distinction between Christianity and Islam. They have both had very bad phases at different times.
One of the most depressing facts is to look at the world in 1870 and the world in 1920 and see how Islam was virtually rooted out of most of Europe and Christianity was virtually rooted out of most of the Near East. It is one of the great horrible changes of history.
If you look at Nigeria and Indonesia, at the number of people killed in inter-religious conflict, it is not that easy to see who is waging a jihad. In one of the bloodiest wars, in Ambon in Indonesia, the estimate was 5,000 killed, 50/50 Christian/Muslim.
Let me read a short quotation which I used in the book, from G.K. Chesterton:
"One of the games to which the human race is most attached is called 'Keep tomorrow dark,' [which is also called] 'Cheat the Prophet.' The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. Then they go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun."
QUESTION: Does the religious background of African leaders have any serious impacts on their political condition?
PHILIP JENKINS: It's interesting how many of the first generation of leaders of independent Africa were the products of missionary schools, of seminaries. I think of Léopold Senghor, for example, or of Nyerere, whose guiding principle was the Book of Acts.
I have seen such a diversity of behavior of mission-trained leaders, from people who turned into the worst dictators to people who turned into good leaders, that I am far from certain how reliable that is as a guide.
But that does raise a very important point, which is that one of the continuing developments that we will see in the next thirty or forty years is that, particularly in Africa, there is no real tradition of separation of church and state, from the colonial times onwards. National politics tend also to be religious politics.
Look at Kenya, for example. The debate over Arap Moi very much would have made sense in the Middle Ages, which is the churches opposed him and he shows what a good leader he is by supporting another group of churches.
In Zambia, which declared itself a Christian state in 1991, you had a very grim development. When there was a coup against Chiluba a couple of years ago, the Pentecostal churches organized a day of thanks for saving the leader from these "ungodly people." If there is one thing developing world states do not need, it is a new justification for keeping dictators in power.
QUESTION: I am surprised that you did not mention fundamentalism. You mentioned where the authority comes from, but the authority for everyone comes from the Holy Book. You mentioned soteriology, the thoughts of the Christians, or of anyone of any religion, to their faith upon coming upon a person of another faith, the "must you convert that person." These seem to be key in these new religions. Theocracies, soteriology and fundamentalism. How do you respond to these?
PHILIP JENKINS: I talk about fundamentalism. In some ways, it is not a concept I am comfortable with. When I talk about Islam, for example, I do not like talking about fundamentalist Islam, because fundamentalism is a Christian concept that is very hard to expand to Islam. The Muslim attitude to the Scriptures is a very different from the Christian approach to the Scriptures.
Most of the Southern churches do have an attitude that is fundamentalist by Western standards. They tend to take the Old and New Testaments together. Many African churches, for example, have a very strong Old Testament cast. Some of the independent churches almost look as if they are borrowing from a Jewish practice—for instance, some of them have temples and high priests.
One of the fastest-growing traditions in the South is Catholicism, which has a traditionalist approach to authority, but not necessarily the same sort of Biblical tradition.
The very heavy Biblical tradition in the South can work in different ways—to justify rebellion, liberation movements, theocracy. The example I would choose there, for instance, is the very creative use of Scriptures by the South African churches during the 1980s, their Kairos theology.
So I talk about fundamentalism, but in some ways I almost find it more problematic than useful. In the West it almost tends to be an evil label.
Can I point to examples of what you might call uncritical anti-intellectual fundamentalism? Yes, I do. But I also find examples where people use the Scriptures in what appears to a Westerner a literal way, but often to produce lessons that might be productive, progressive.
QUESTION: First, on the factor of numbers, my latest readings disclose that there are approximately 1 billion Catholics; on the Protestant side, some 200 million; Muslims, just a slight fraction over 1 billion. Therefore, those that classify themselves as "Christians" are now still in a larger percentage than the Muslims.
How do you then break down who is a "Christian?" The churches have been complaining that they are losing the populace. The Mormon Church is allegedly expanding very rapidly, particularly in developing countries. Catholicism in South America, Central America, and here in the United States is losing to the Pentecostals. How do we classify who is a "Christian?" Do you have to be a Christian to go through baptism? Do you have to believe in the so-called Bible?
PHILIP JENKINS: What is happening is not just a change in what you might call formal membership of churches, but the zeal, the enthusiasm, with which people are members. The classic example of that, just to use a non-Christian example, is in Indonesia, where, for instance, traditionally many people were notionally Muslim, but the Islam was fairly lately born. It is within the last twenty years that a much more passionate kind of Islam has spread and become more commonplace.
Any sociologist will tell you that religious figures are a nightmare. It is almost impossible to become an ex-Catholic. You cannot resign from the Catholic Church any more than you can resign from your family, because it regards itself as a "mother church." Many religions count conversions but they do not count defections or apotheoses.
Many European countries have very inflated figures for Christianity because they rely on a "none of the above" test. In England, for example, there are surveys which ask "are you a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim? No; you must be Anglican," which is why England has 25 million Anglicans, less than a million of whom are ever seen within the precinct of a church. In Germany, the default status is Evangelical.
Where you are talking about a society which is post-Christian—like England, like Germany, Spain, Italy,—residual Christianity still has the cultural presence. Muslims are much happier talking about people being "cultural Muslims" than Westerners perhaps are used to talking about "cultural Christians." It is a useful concept.
I want to suggest a paradox to you: because European countries have that traditional established status, that default status, figures for religious affiliation in Southern countries are likely to be more valid because they are taking people who are joining the churches, who are prepared in most cases to go through a four-year probationary status to join a Christian church; if they make a mistake on the way, they restart that probationary status. The numbers in Uganda and Nigeria are likely to be more credible than those for England or Germany.
As I remarked about the demographics, clearly this is something I spend a lot of time discussing, and so many of the religious statistics are very difficult. I also use a theologically minimum definition of Christian, that is, somebody who believes that Jesus was more than merely a prophet or an exalted teacher but is in some sense the son of God, divine.
QUESTION: Have you factored in the impact that development and industrialization might have in the developing world on Christianity, on population rates? You talk about most Christian societies which are in the industrialized world. I am not suggesting that Africa will become as industrialized as we are in thirty years, but that it would have a tremendous impact.
PHILIP JENKINS: The most important factor I examine in social-economic change is not so much industrialization as urbanization. One of the great phenomena in the world in the next forty years will be urban change in Africa. If you look at a list of what are likely to be the main urban centers of the world in thirty-forty years, they include places like Kinshasa [Democratic Republic of the Congo], Dar Es Salaam [Tanzania].
In the last thirty or forty years, urbanization has been one of the most significant factors in spreading not just Pentecostal Christianity, but also fundamentalist Islam, because it is very much these religious traditions that have organized networks of human services, education, welfare, community, self-help, and which go so far to explaining why these religions have boomed so dramatically.
There is an historian of the late Roman world, Peter Brown, who has some lovely accounts of why people converted to Christianity in the 3rd and 4th centuries. He offers some great quotations about the soulless cities, where the only way that people could find not just a human face but could find any sort of human services was in the churches; it was the churches that provided healing, the churches that buried the dead; and it was more valuable to be a member of a church than to be a Roman citizen.
It is likewise more valuable to be a member of the church than to be a citizen of Nigeria or Peru, because in these vast cities, where you have deracinated masses, it tends to be churches that provide the human community. If you look, for instance, at the role of providing health services in spreading what we call Islamic fundamentalism in countries like Egypt, it is immense; it is understated; it is probably far more important than any ideological teaching.
Urbanization is terrifically important. As Africa urbanizes in the next thirty-forty years, as that urbanization grows, you may see a dramatic growth of the most fundamentalist—that "F" word—the most traditional-minded, enthusiastic, charismatic, religious groups. Lagos [Nigeria] in the last two years has played host to two of the largest Christian gatherings in world history. One was a Pentecostal healing service that attracted 2 million people. Close behind that was one by a German televangelist—a white Christian; can you imagine anything more bizarre? —which attracted 1.5 million people.
Urbanization is critical. Industrialization, again, is a separate story. Gender and changing gender roles is also important.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much for bringing this important issue to our attention.