In a series of articles comprising a November 3 issue special report, "In God's Name," The Economist identifies some global trends in religion and makes some predictions. The report stresses the role of globalization on religion, including the exportation of American-style values and political identity religion, much to the delight of the Christian Right, which has an increasingly global perspective about their efforts.
"Religion will play a big role in this century's politics," is a conclusion buttressed strongly by the simple fact that, "The proportion of people attached to the world's four biggest religions—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism—rose from 67% in 1900 to 73% in 2005 and may reach 80% by 2050." The report sees religion today for "traditionalists" as being "a barrier against change," and for "prosperous suburbanites,...something of a lifestyle coach."
The Economist goes on to examine how religion has become a matter of choice in an era of globalization --there's something of a more robust, free, and interconnected marketplace of religious thought on the planet now, and people pick and chose not unlike consumers. The report hammers this point home.
First there are "three features of modern religion: competition, heat and choice."
Then, "Modern religion is pluralistic and increasingly based on choice."
Finally, the expert testimony:
Choice is the most “modern” thing about contemporary religion. “We made a category mistake,” admits Peter Berger, the Boston sociologist, who was once one of the foremost champions of secularisation but changed his mind in the 1980s. “We thought that the relationship was between modernisation and secularisation. In fact it was between modernisation and pluralism.”
And then a reiteration: "Religion is no longer taken for granted or inherited; it is based around adults making a choice, going to a synagogue, temple, church or mosque."
The report looks at South Korea as a prime example, where five of the world's 10 largest churches are located. The reader is introduced to the largest:
...Yoido Full Gospel Church, sits opposite the national assembly in Seoul, an astute piece of political positioning. It...boasts 830,000 members, a number it says is rising by 3,000 a month. One in 20 people in greater Seoul is a member.
"Yoido sends out 600 missionaries a year," The Economist notes, including many to China, which Christians globally see as the big prize. "Some call it 'the Africa of the 21st century', recalling that the number of Christians in that continent rose from below 10m in 1900 to 400m in 2000."
The Economist sees the free market at work, quoting Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations:
Non-established clergy, who rely on the collection plate, show greater “zeal” in proselytising “the inferior ranks of people” than the established, salaried sort, who are more interested in sucking up to clerical bigwigs.
Look back at the first great success in this free market, Methodism.... When Francis Asbury arrived in America in 1771, there were barely 1,000 Methodists in the country. By the time he died in 1816, 1m people, one-eighth of the entire population, were attending Methodist camp meetings.
[But a]s the Methodists became more hierarchical in the mid-19th century, they began to lose ground to the Baptists.
And what do consumers of religion like, based on which kinds of faiths are rising? "Hot" religion--"the least intellectual (and most emotive)." For instance, Yoido is, like many megachurches in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, Pentecostal. Also, the report points out, the "hotter bits of Islam have also gained ground." Additionally, "[C]onservative Christians now make up around 25% of America's population, compared with 20% in 1960."
Also, "One final advantage for hotter religion of all sorts is demography. From Salt Lake City to Gaza, religious people tend to marry younger and breed faster than non-religious ones."
The caveat is:
[H]eat in religion does not necessarily generate light. Relatively few Muslims have actually read all of the Koran, and although 83% of Americans regard the Bible as the word of God, half of them do not know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. American evangelicals are so worried by fundamentalists being ignorant of the fundamentals that they have set up refresher courses in Bible knowledge.
Finally, there is the point that
Slowly a phenomenon that America knows as “the culture wars” is going global. Abortion, gay marriage, stem cells and euthanasia are popping up all over the place as rallying calls for religious people. In many developed countries politics is increasingly driven by problems of identity and values rather than economics.
American Protestants are now rallying to the global fight. Focus on the Family has sister organisations in 54 countries.
Now the UN's proceedings are monitored by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute; and various right-wing organisations including Concerned Women for America (which was founded by Mr LaHaye's wife) have become accredited lobbyists at the UN. In March 2005 the General Assembly voted to ban all forms of human cloning, a non-binding vote that still enraged several European countries, particularly Britain.
The resurgence of religion and the spread of "hot" versions of the world's faiths are likely to continue to have significant consequences for the public square in America and abroad.