lunes, 21 de enero de 2008

Religion: The power of private prayer


The power of private prayer

Nov 1st 2007
From The Economist print edition

A heretical thought about religion in Europe

EVEN in these dark days for the Bush presidency, there is one topic that can make American conservatives smile—religion in Europe. The White House might be going to hell (or at least to Hillary Clinton), but Europe faces a worse nightmare: a continued descent into Godlessness, and then a takeover by Islam.

The second part—the imminent arrival of Eurabia—can be dismissed as poor mathematics. Muslim minorities in Europe are indeed growing fast and causing political friction, but they account for less than 5% of the total population, a tiny proportion by American standards of immigration. Even if that proportion trebles in the next 20 years, Eurabia will still be a long way off.

The more interesting question is whether Christianity will recover. A new book by Philip Jenkins on European religion comes up with some gloomy statistics. Only 20% of Europeans say that God plays an important role in their lives, compared with 60% of Americans. A survey in 2004 found that only 44% of Britons believed in God, whereas 35% (45% among 18-34-year-olds) denied His existence. Only 15% of them go to church each week, against 40% of Americans. Even in the Catholic heartlands of Spain, Italy and Ireland attendance rates have dropped below 20%. And priests are dying out: in Dublin, home to 1m Catholics, precisely one was ordained in 2004.

But there are a few signs of revival. Some of this is of a demographic kind: even in Europe, the religious breed more. Writing in Prospect magazine, Eric Kaufmann calculated that in the most secular bits—France and Protestant Europe—the “non-religious” majority (currently 53%) would peak at around 55% in 2040. If present trends continue, by the end of the century there will be more religious Europeans than there are today.

This has to do with recovering Christian belief as well as fertility and immigration. Islam plays a role: where there are lots of Muslims in Britain, the locals are more likely to profess Christianity. But the real change is coming on the supply side: religion is being privatised.

Grace Davie of the University of Exeter argues that there are really two religious economies in Europe. In the old one, religion is “a public utility”: there is one state-backed supplier, and most Christians follow their religion vicariously (in the sense that somebody else does your churchgoing for you). For instance, around 75% of Swedes are baptised as Lutherans, but only 5% regularly go to church. The church pockets a staggering $1.6 billion in membership fees, collected by the state through the tax system. It has been rare for Swedes to opt out, though that seems to be changing.

Alongside this old religious economy, a smaller one, based on personal choice, is growing. Together evangelicals, charismatics and Pentecostals accounted for 8.2% of Europe's population in 2000, nearly double the rate in 1970, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia. Pentecostalism is France's fastest-growing religion. London's immigrant-packed East End is thought to have twice as many Pentecostal congregations as Church of England ones.

However, most evangelicals and charismatics are contained within the older religions. Over 2m Britons have now taken the Alpha course, “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life”, which began at Holy Trinity Brompton, a posh church in Kensington. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, uses Alpha veterans to “rechurch” areas of his diocese.

Ms Davie cites two examples of opt-in behaviour within the older churches. First, the number of adult confirmations in the Church of England has risen sharply even as the overall number has fallen. Second, pilgrimages are booming. Some 100,000 hikers a year make the trek across Europe to Santiago de Compostela in Spain; 6m people visit Lourdes and 4m go to Jasna Góra in Poland.

The optimists point out that Europe's churches are roughly as full as America's were before the First Amendment separated church from state. Hence the importance of the current pope. One rumour is that Benedict XVI would prefer a smaller but more vibrant Catholic church in Europe. In Germany he is said to have argued privately against the churches' lavish state funding. If he took the same line publicly in Rome, that would certainly test the free-market hypothesis.

Religion: O come all ye faithful

O come all ye faithful

Nov 1st 2007
From The Economist print edition

God is definitely not dead, but He now comes in many more varieties

MENTION a “megachurch” and most people think of a gleaming building in the American suburbs. In fact, many of the biggest churches are outside the United States. In Guatemala, Pentecostals have built what may be the largest building in Central America: Mega Frater (Big Brother) packs a 12,000-seater church, a vast baptism pool and a heliport. One church in Lagos can supposedly bring 2m people out onto the streets. But five of the world's ten biggest megachurches are in just one country: South Korea.

The largest of them all, Yoido Full Gospel Church, sits opposite the national assembly in Seoul, an astute piece of political positioning. It looks somewhat unprepossessing—a brownish blob surrounded by office buildings—but Yoido 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.

Each of the seven Sunday services at Yoido is a logistical challenge: apart from the 12,000 people in the main sanctuary, another 20,000 follow the service on television in overflow chapels scattered around neighbouring buildings. Some 38,000 children go to Sunday school during the day. As one service begins and the next ends, around 60,000 comers and goers are ushered by white-jacketed traffic directors. If you want to attend one of the two services starring the church's founder, David Cho, you need to be an hour early or you won't get in.

Not that you will lack entertainment whilst you wait. The massed choir (one of 12) is already belting out hymns, backed by a large orchestra (one of three). The audience sings along, with huge television screens supplying the words, karaoke style. Pictures of the service are beamed to hundreds of satellite churches around the world and to Prayer Mountain, a gruelling religious camp close to the border with the North. Translation is offered in English, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Malay and Arabic.

By the standards of American preachers, Mr Cho is a relatively unflashy figure. With his glasses, tie and tidy red cassock, he looks like one of the more bureaucratic kinds of Asian politician. His tone is logical and unrelenting. His theme today is “Deliver us from the Evil One”.

Sin and Satan are omnipresent, he argues, but if you ignore their enticements, “your grave is already empty.” As he cites scripture, the passages appear on the big television screens. Mr Cho urges the liberation of North Korea and quotes Edward Gibbon. He then invites people to touch the part of their body that most needs healing. There are shouts of success. After he sits down, a young opera singer performs while the money is collected—by the sackful in gold and scarlet bags—and piled up in front of the pulpit.
Divide and multiply

To Mr Cho's critics, Yoido, like many megachurches, is too much of a business nowadays; and there was a fuss to do with his son running the church's newspaper, Korea's fourth-largest. Yet its beginnings were humble. Mr Cho, who was converted to Pentecostalism from Buddhism by his nurse after he nearly died of tuberculosis, founded Yoido in 1956 in a battered $50 tent bought from the Marine Corps. Like Pentecostals the world over, Yoido's system is rooted in “home-cells”. Most of the praying and converting is done at home, in small groups of around a dozen people. The idea is that these cells, like their biological equivalents, will multiply. Women are crucial. Mr Cho's right-hand woman was his mother-in-law, Jashil Choi, a figure known as “Hallelujah Mama”. Today Yoido boasts 68,000 female deacons—twice the number of male ones. A typical evangelist will make 35 visits a week and drink an unhealthy amount of coffee in the process.

This sort of “viral marketing” might seem untraditional to those used to bishops, cardinals and popes. In fact, Christianity advanced from an obscure sect to the official religion of the Roman empire by focusing on women. Christians stressed fidelity and marriage, which attracted women to the faith, who then bore Christian babies.

The Protestant surge in South Korea has slowed down a bit recently, a development which is variously blamed on changes in school laws and the abuses of some clerical families. Even so, the growth has been phenomenal. In 1950 only 2.4% of South Koreans were Protestant. Now the figure is close to 20%. Counting Catholics (which many Korean Protestants don't), Christians make up close to 30% of the population. “Koreans don't play church,” says an American elder at Yoido.

The people who have flocked to South Korea's megachurches are the upwardly mobile. Asked (in 2004) which faith had been most instrumental in their country's modernisation, 42.7% of South Koreans named Protestantism and 11.3% Catholicism. Hahn Meerha, a professor at Hoseo University, points out that 42% of the chief executives of listed companies and a third of its senators are Protestants. There are monthly prayer breakfasts at the national parliament, and the current favourite to win the presidency in the election due in December, Lee Myung-bak, is the elder of a megachurch.

That is not an undisguised blessing for Mr Lee. If one part of the middle classes has flocked to the megachurches, another is increasingly unhappy about religion's role in society: the same 2004 poll also found that 59% of Koreans thought the churches were going in the wrong direction. When a group of clueless young Korean missionaries were captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan earlier this year, there were widespread complaints in Seoul that the youngsters had been brainwashed into going there as a marketing ploy for South Korea's churches.

Korean Protestantism is certainly export-minded: Yoido sends out 600 missionaries a year. One target is North Korea, which used to be the more Christian end of the country. Yoido already has plans to build a second sanctuary in Pyongyang. Yanbian, a district in China that has a large ethnic Korean population, is choc-a-bloc with missionaries.

But the biggest prize for Christians across Asia is China itself. 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. Officially, the Chinese government admits to 23m Christians within its borders, but it counts only churches that register with the authorities, and the real figure is probably around three times as high. Most Christians prefer private “house churches”. China even has two Catholic churches, one official and one underground. One Korean ruse is to set up small businesses and get work permits for traders who are really missionaries.
On this rock

South Korea illustrates three features of modern religion: competition, heat and choice. To understand the competitive mechanism, you need only two sacred texts. The first is “The Wealth of Nations”, in which Adam Smith argues that the free market works in religion as in everything else. 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. Europe has been a textbook illustration of this (see article).

The second text is the American constitution. As a refuge for dissenters, America was always closer to Smith's vision, though it was not quite the religious city on a hill its boosters claim. The early Puritans were soon swamped by more venal colonists: in Salem, the zealous town in Arthur Miller's “The Crucible”, 83% of taxpayers in 1683 had no religious allegiance. Most of the Founding Fathers thought religion was useful in a squirearchial sort of way, but they were not particularly godly: George Washington never mentions Jesus Christ in his personal papers.

Thus, the First Amendment—“that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—was a compromise between dissenters (who wanted to keep the state away from religion) and more anti-clerical sorts like Thomas Jefferson (who wanted the church out of politics). Yet it became the great engine of American religiosity, creating a new sort of country where membership of a church was a purely voluntary activity.

Look back at the first great success in this free market, Methodism, and it is not difficult to spot where Yoido's growth formula came from. 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 (the 19th-century equivalent of megachurches). The Methodists paid their preachers only a nominal stipend, gave them no job security and told them to avoid arid theology (“Always suit your subjects to your audience,” went the instruction, and “choose the plainest texts you can.”)

The constitution explains not just why America still excels at the religion business (the late Peter Drucker, a famous management guru, used to point out that American business could learn a lot from its “pastorpreneurs”) but also how it has become a huge export industry. Rick Warren, America's favourite preacher, likens his “purpose-driven formula” to an Intel operating chip that can be inserted into the motherboard of any church; there are now more than 100,000 “purpose-driven” churches in 160 countries. Korea was converted by Americans.

As the Methodists became more hierarchical in the mid-19th century, they began to lose ground to the Baptists. In all likelihood creative destruction will eventually hit Yoido and Mr Warren too. Religion in America tends to come in waves—and the current “awakening” may just be dying down. But an advantage of competition is that it spurs responses. For instance, the recent setback for Korean Protestantism has given a push to Catholicism (whose priests don't have sons to inherit churches). The Catholics are also fighting back against Pentecostals in Latin America, “becoming less Roman and more local”, says Harvey Cox, a Harvard divinity professor. In Nigeria Catholic priests have so embraced the habits of their evangelical competitors that the Cardinal of Lagos recently warned them about the “incalculable damage” being done to services by “unorthodox spontaneous prayers by all the faithful at the same time”.

Has the same competitive spirit gripped other religions? Buddhism, the religion whose market share has dipped most over the past century, remains pretty passive: its adherents believe that people should discover faith for themselves rather than be energetically introduced to it. But there are some signs of awakening. In South Korea Buddhist monks, often hidden away in inaccessible rural shrines, have set up meditation areas in cities to fight off the Protestants.

Hinduism tends to be more turf-conscious. Some states in India have passed “anti-conversion” laws banning evangelists from using force or “allurement”—code for Christians and Muslims converting Hindu untouchables, who tend to get a raw deal under the caste system. And when it comes to marketing pizzazz, the trendier Hindu ashrams are more than a match for America's pastorpreneurs. The Art of Living, a Bangalore ashram that “is committed to making life a celebration on this planet”, has offshoots in 141 countries.

This spirit of competition also helps to explain some of Islam's success. That may sound odd. Saudi Arabia enforces religious orthodoxy with police and prisons. Under many sharia systems, apostasy is still punishable by death. And in many Islamic countries mosques get far more financial help and direction from the state than Adam Smith would have approved of. But in fact there is more competition within Islam than at first appears.

Like Pentecostalism, Islam is a religion without much hierarchy: most mosques claim to be following the teachings of one preacher or another, but their real authority comes from the Koran. This helps new imams to set up shop and allows them to do pretty much what they like. But marketing has not been neglected. There are megamosques (one in east London, planned by missionaries, will hold 12,000 people, five times as many as St Paul's Cathedral) and televangelists, such as Amr Khaled, an engaging former accountant from Egypt, whose sermons are watched by millions in Europe and the Middle East. If you want a fatwa (religious ruling), you do not have to go to a mosque: you can get it online (and in English) from, or

Islam is not as evangelical as Christianity. Its followers are less intent on spreading the good news; much of their attention is focused on stiffening the resolve of communities that are already Muslim. But Islam is expansionist in some areas, including sub-Saharan Africa and the fringes of China. In Xinjiang province, the state government has got so worried about Muslim separatism that it has cracked down on Islam. China may yet end up being both the world's largest Christian country and its largest Muslim one.

The second lesson from Korea is that hotter religion does better. In the 1960s it was thought that if any sort of religion would survive, it would be the reasonable and ecumenical sort—intellectual Anglicanism, say, or Graham Greene's doubting Catholicism. In fact, certainty has proved much easier to market.

In America the famously tolerant Episcopal Church (which recently elected a gay bishop) has been in decline; the Southern Baptists (who in 1988 denounced homosexuality as “a manifestation of a depraved nature”) have jumped forward. Altogether conservative Christians now make up around 25% of America's population, compared with 20% in 1960.
Hot as hell

In global terms the most remarkable religious success story of the past century has been the least intellectual (and most emotive) religion of all. Pentecostalism was founded only 100 years ago in a scruffy part of Los Angeles by a one-eyed black preacher, convinced that God would send a new Pentecost if only people would pray hard enough. There are now at least 400m revivalists around the world. Their beliefs are not for the faint-hearted. According to a study of ten countries by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, most adherents have witnessed divine healing, received a “direct revelation from God” or seen exorcisms (see chart 3).

The only other Christian faith to grow at such rates is the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, again hardly an easy-going religion. Mormonism remains a favourite butt of comedians, because of its historic belief (now abandoned) in polygamy and its ban on such worldly pleasures as beer, coffee, tea and “passionate kissing” outside wedlock; there will be more fun poked if Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination. But clean-living certainty sells: over the past half-century the church has grown sevenfold, with half the world's 13m Mormons living outside the United States.

The hotter bits of Islam have also gained ground. As American neoconservatives never tire of pointing out, this is partly a matter of Saudi money: petrodollars have flowed into fundamentalist madrassas around the world and paid for millions of copies of the Koran with Wahhabi interpretations (for instance, stressing jihad as an extra pillar of Islam). But the main driver has been globalisation.

In the Arab heartlands fundamentalism has become a refuge for anyone worried by the spread of Western culture and power. In overseas communities where Muslims are in a minority, notably Europe, it has had far more to do with a search for identity. Scholars such as Olivier Roy have shown that extremism has become a form of generational warfare, with Western-born Muslim girls choosing to wear the headscarf that their mothers jettisoned on their arrival from Pakistan and Morocco.

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. An ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman in Israel will produce nearly three times as many children than her secular peer. By some counts, three-quarters of the growth in the hotter varieties of American Protestantism is down to demography.

But heat 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.

Nor does the heat always last. “You don't see many graveyards in megachurches,” say the sceptics. Emotional, unhierarchical religion may be gloriously customer-centred, but it lacks a control mechanism. Pentecostal pulpits have been a home to some almighty rogues, and many Muslims would like to bring radical imams under control.

Besides, should religion really be so focused on rounding up customers? Rowan Williams, the thoughtful Archbishop of Canterbury, points to the many things his church does in the fields of social welfare and urban regeneration that pew-focused rivals do not. Pick-and-choose religion, he argues, has less depth. From the front-line in Nigeria, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos makes the same argument. He might be able to push up numbers if he spent his money on television rather than hospitals, and if he did not spend six years training priests. But that is not his job.
The value of choice

The final lesson from South Korea, however, is one that both archbishops admit is crucial. Modern religion is pluralistic and increasingly based on choice.

Often the spur is immigration. Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, calls his city “a test case”, pointing to the sprawling number of mosques, Sikh temples, synagogues, African and West Indian churches, even the Church of Scientology. In Latin America, evangelical churches now offer a ready alternative to Catholicism. And in the United States mainstream Protestants will soon account for less than half the population. Although the country remains predominantly Christian, America is home to around 10m other believers (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus) as well as 30m agnostics and atheists.

And atheism is definitely part of this pluralism. The proportion of Americans citing no religious preference has increased from 7% to 14% (20% for young people). As Ross Douthat argued recently in the Atlantic Monthly, anti-religiosity has moved from America's east-coast elite to the masses. By some counts there are at least 500m declared non-believers in the world—enough to make atheism the fourth-biggest religion.

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.” 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.

This has a profound affect on public life. The more that people choose their religion, rather than just inherit it, the more likely they are to make a noise about it. Miroslav Volf, director of Yale's Centre for Faith and Culture, says this is showing up in the workplace too: “It used to be that workers hung their religion on a coat rack alongside their coats. At home, their religion mattered. At work, it was idle. That is no longer the case. For many people religion has something to say about all aspects of life, work included.”

The same applies to politics. For instance, South Korea's megachurches have recently created their own version of America's religious right. The New Right movement already has around 200,000 members, around two-thirds of whom are Christian. Its views are somewhat vague. The founder, Jin-Hong Kim, complains about the country's leftward drift, America-bashing, North Korea and corruption. His enemies say the New Right is really just a way to help his friend, Mr Lee, win the presidency. In the primary, Protestants voted overwhelmingly for Mr Lee. The churches are banned from endorsing candidates, but one prayer at Yoido asks God “to help us choose the right president”.

The rest of this special report will look at the various ways in which religion intrudes into public life—from religion-based parties to attempts to challenge capitalism and science. It begins with the subject that people fear most: the wars of religion.

Religion: In God's name


In God's name

Nov 1st 2007
From The Economist print edition

Religion will play a big role in this century's politics. John Micklethwait (interviewed here) asks how we should deal with it

THE four-hour journey through the bush from Kano to Jos in northern Nigeria features many of the staples of African life: checkpoints with greedy soldiers, huge potholes, scrawny children in football shirts drying rice on the road. But it is also a journey along a front-line.

Nigeria, evenly split between Christians and Muslims, is a country where people identify themselves by their religion first and as Nigerians second (see chart 1). Around 20,000 have been killed in God's name since 1990, estimates Shehu Sani, a local chronicler of religious violence. Kano, the centre of the Islamic north, introduced sharia law seven years ago. Many of the Christians who fled ended up in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, where the Christian south begins. The road between the two towns is dotted with competing churches and mosques.

This is one of many religious battlefields in this part of Africa. Evangelical Christians, backed by American collection-plate money, are surging northwards, clashing with Islamic fundamentalists, backed by Saudi petrodollars, surging southwards. And the Christian-Muslim split is only one form of religious competition in northern Nigeria. Events in Iraq have set Sunnis, who make up most of Nigeria's Muslims, against the better-organised Shias; about 50 people have died in intra-Muslim violence, reckons Mr Sani. On the Christian side, Catholics are in a more peaceful battle with Protestant evangelists, whose signs promising immediate redemption dominate the roadside. By the time you reach Jos and see a poster proclaiming “the ABC of nourishment”, you are surprised to discover it is for chocolate.

Recently Christians have been returning to Kano, partly because sharia law (which in any case applies only to Muslims) has been introduced sympathetically. None of the bloodier sentences has been carried out. Indeed, the election in April was settled in a reassuringly secular way—with the local political barons swapping cash and ballot papers in the bungalow of the Prince Hotel.

Yet it would not take much for things to boil over again. The Muslim north resents the Christian south's hogging of Nigeria's oil money. When earlier this year the shadowy “Black Taliban” struck a police station in Kano, around 20 militants were killed. In September Muslim youths set shops on fire after rumours that a Christian teacher in the area had drawn a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. And the missionaries are still pushing provocatively north. Salihu Garba, a prominent Muslim convert to Christianity (who has survived various assassination attempts), claims that the Evangelical Church of West Africa now has 157 churches in Kano state—double the number five years ago.

The journey from Kano to Jos may seem a trip back in time. In fact, religious front-lines criss-cross the globe.

Most obviously, Americans and Britons would not be dying in Iraq and Afghanistan had 19 young Muslims not attacked the United States in the name of Allah. The West's previous great military interventions were to protect Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croatians. America's next war could be against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Other conflicts have acquired a new religious edge. In the poisonous war over Palestine, ever more people are claiming God on their side (with some of the most zealous sorts living miles away from the conflict). In Myanmar (Burma) Buddhist monks nearly brought down an evil regime, but in Sri Lanka they have prolonged a bloody conflict with Muslims. If India has an election, a bridge to Sri Lanka supposedly built by the god Ram (and a team of monkeys) may matter as much as a nuclear deal with America.

Formerly communist countries are also getting hooked again on the opium of the people. Russia's secret police, the KGB, hounded religion: its successor, the FSB, has its own Orthodox church opposite its headquarters. In the Polish parliament the speaker crosses himself before taking his seat. Some of China's technocrats think that Confucianism, which Mao condemned as “feudal”, is useful social glue in their fast-changing country. But they brutally repressed a Buddhist sect, the Falun Gong, and they are worried that Christian churchgoers may already outnumber Communist Party members.

In Western politics, too, religion has forced itself back into the public square. The American president begins each day on his knees and each cabinet meeting with a prayer. The easiest way to tell a Republican from a Democrat is to ask how often he or she goes to church. And although European liberals sneer about American theocracy, American conservatives claim that secular, childless Europe is turning into Eurabia.

Many secular intellectuals think that the real “clash of civilisations” is not between different religions but between superstition and modernity. A succession of bestselling books have torn into religion—Sam Harris's “The End of Faith”, Richard Dawkins's “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens's “God is not Great—How Religion Poisons Everything”. This counterattack already shows a religious intensity. Mr Dawkins has set up an organisation to help atheists around the world.

Part of that secular fury, especially in Europe, comes from exasperation. After all, it has been a canon of progressive thought since the Enlightenment that modernity—that heady combination of science, learning and democracy—would kill religion. Plainly, this has not happened. Numbers about religious observance are notoriously untrustworthy, but most of them seem to indicate that any drift towards secularism has been halted, and some show religion to be on the increase. 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 (see chart 2).

Moreover, from a secularist point of view, the wrong sorts of religion are flourishing, and in the wrong places. In general, it is the tougher versions of religion that are doing best—the sort that claim Adam and Eve met 6,003 years ago. Some of the new converts are from the ranks of the underprivileged (Pentecostalism has spread rapidly in the favelas of Brazil), but many are not. American evangelicals tend to be well-educated and well-off. In India and Turkey religious parties have been driven by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie.

With modernity now religion's friend, an eternal subject has become fashionable. Father Richard John Neuhaus points out that when he founded his Centre for Religion and Society in 1984, there were only four centres of religion and public life in America; now, he thinks, there are more than 200. Religious people are getting more vocal in all sorts of fields, including business. Religion is also cropping up in economics. Niall Ferguson, a Scottish historian, re-examined Max Weber's theory of the Protestant work ethic to explain why Europeans work less than Americans.
The garden of Eden

Philip Jenkins, one of America's best scholars of religion, claims that when historians look back at this century, they will probably see religion as “the prime animating and destructive force in human affairs, guiding attitudes to political liberty and obligation, concepts of nationhood and, of course, conflicts and wars.” If the first seven years are anything to go by, Mr Jenkins may well turn out to be right.

What has changed? The main protagonists are oddly unhelpful in providing explanations. Believers usually produce some version of “you can't repress the truth for ever.” Sociologists point out that outside western Europe most people have always been religious. Peter Berger, the dean of the subject, chides journalists for investigating the religious rule, not the secular exception: “Rather than studying American evangelicals and Islamic mullahs, you should look at Swedes and New England college professors.”

Yet even if underlying piety has not changed that much, religion's role in public life plainly has. Only ten years ago, most academics and politicians would have dismissed Mr Jenkins's claim about religion being central to politics as weird.

After all, for much of the 20th century religion was banished from politics. For most elites, God had been undone by Darwin, dismissed by Marx, deconstructed by Freud. Stalin forcibly ejected Him, but in much of western Europe there was no need for force: religion had been on the slide for centuries. In Britain the “long withdrawing roar” of Anglicanism that Matthew Arnold lamented faded to a distant echo in the 20th century.

In America the number of churchgoers stayed high, but evangelical Christians retreated from politics, embarrassed by the failure of prohibition and the Scopes Monkey trial (in which creationists were mocked). In 1960 Jack Kennedy assured the country that his Catholicism would not pollute his politics. In 1966 Time magazine famously ran a cover asking “Is God dead?”; three years later man reached the moon, metaphorically conquering the heavens.

For modernising post-colonial leaders in the developing world, secularism and progress were indivisible. “The fez”, said Kemal Ataturk, “sat upon our heads as a sign of ignorance and fanaticism.” In India Jawaharlal Nehru wished to make “a clean sweep” of organised religion: “almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.” In Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser, the champion of Arab nationalism, clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Africa's new rulers nationalised the Christian mission schools that had taught them. Even “the Jewish state” deemed religion a distraction: after Israel's founding in 1948 the secular David Ben-Gurion agreed that rabbinical law would prevail in matters such as marriage and divorce partly because he assumed the Orthodox would melt away.

In retrospect, the turning point came long before Osama bin Laden declared his jihad on Jews and Crusaders. For Timothy Shah, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York who is writing a book on secularism, the symbolic turning point was the six-day war of 1967. It marked a crushing defeat for secular pan-Arabism; meanwhile Israel's “miraculous” triumph gave God a stronger voice in its politics, emboldening the settler movement. In the same year a Hindu nationalist party won 9.4% of the vote in India.

By the end of the 1970s this counter-revolution was in full swing. America had elected its first proudly born-again Christian, Jimmy Carter; Jerry Falwell had founded the Moral Majority; Iran had replaced the worldly shah with Ayatollah Khomeini; Zia ul Haq was busy Islamising Pakistan; Buddhism had been formally granted the foremost place in Sri Lanka's constitution; and an anti-communist Pole had become head of the Catholic church.

What caused this shift? Believers inevitably see a populist revolt against the overreach of elitist secularism—be it America's Supreme Court legalising pornography or Indira Gandhi harrying Hindus. From a more secular viewpoint, John Lewis Gaddis, a Yale historian, points out that much religious politics dates back to the 1970s, a time when more worldly “isms” seemed to fail. By then, the Soviet Union's evils had made a mockery of Marxism, and capitalism had also hit some buffers (the oil shocks, hyperinflation). More generally, politicians' ability to solve problems such as crime or unemployment was questioned: faith in government tumbled just about everywhere in the 1970s—and has stayed low since.

But why has religion's power seemed to keep on increasing? The first reason is a series of reactions and counter-reactions. Fundamentalist Islam, for instance, has helped spur radical Judaism and Hinduism, which in turn have reinforced the mullahs' fervour. Hamas owes much to Israel's settlers. Without Falwell, Messrs Hitchens and Dawkins would have smaller royalties.

Second, the latest form of modernity—globalisation—has propelled religion forward. For traditionalists, faith has acted as a barrier against change. For prosperous suburbanites, faith has become something of a lifestyle coach. It is no accident that America's bestselling religious book is called “The Purpose Driven Life”.
A hitch for the Hitch

Whatever the exact cause, two groups of people in particular have struggled to come to terms with this new world. The first is politicians, especially practitioners of foreign policy. Realpolitik does not easily cope with the irrational. For instance, religion does not appear in the index of “Diplomacy”, Henry Kissinger's 900-page masterpiece on statesmanship (a mistake, admits the former secretary of state, who now sees some “depressing similarities” with 17th-century Europe).

Mr Kissinger is not alone. Before September 11th 2001, most “big books” (with the exception of Samuel Huntington's “Clash of Civilisations”) predicted a secular end to history. The Economist was so confident of the Almighty's demise that we published His obituary in our millennium issue. Madeleine Albright recalls a meeting at the State Department about Northern Ireland in the late 1990s when a diplomat asked despairingly: “Who would believe that we would be dealing with a religious conflict near the end of the 20th century?”

September 11th has changed that. A decade ago, a proposal by the CIA to study religion was vetoed as “mere sociology”; that would not happen now. But mistakes are still made. When America went into Iraq, people worried about George Bush's God-directed foreign policy; in fact it would have helped if Donald Rumsfeld et al had understood more about religion—especially the difference between Shias and Sunnis. “Everywhere we look, we have religious problems,” admits one (born-again) member of the Bush team. “And it is not just Islam. There are the Orthodox in Russia, Hindu nationalism in India, Christians in China...the list is long.”

The other group struggling to deal with religion's role in public life are liberals. When religious belief is plainly unreasonable—for instance, when schools teach creationism—it is easy to fight. But in many disputes there are liberal answers on both sides. Those who are embracing religion nowadays are doing so out of choice. Is it liberal to stop a British Airways worker from wearing a crucifix? Whose rights are being infringed when a majority of people on a Turkish bus ask the driver to stop so they can pray?

A schism in Western liberalism that dates back to its two founding revolutions seems to have reopened. In France, where the Catholic church was the sole faith, the revolutionnaires detested God as a crucial part of the ancien régime: politics, they declared, henceforth would be protected from this evil. By contrast, America's Founding Fathers, used to many competing faiths, took a more benign view. They divided church from state not least to protect the former from the latter.

This special report is an attempt to tease out these conflicts. It comes with three health warnings. First, many numbers in religion are dodgy: most churches inflate their support and many governments do not record religion in their censuses (in Nigeria the best source is health records). Second, in a field where many believers claim to know all the answers, it poses mainly questions. And lastly, given the emotion the subject arouses, the chances are that some of what follows will offend you.

viernes, 18 de enero de 2008

The advanced liberal

From Prospect Magazine

John Stuart Mill believed in liberty but he valued it less for its own sake than for its contribution to human advancement. It was "man as a progressive being" that most interested him. If we want to resurrect his liberalism, we may have to revive his draconian idea of progress too

Jonathan Rée

John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand, by Richard Reeves
Atlantic books, £30

The Liberal electoral committee for the parliamentary borough of Westminster took a big risk when it invited John Stuart Mill to be its candidate in the general election of 1865. The 58-year-old philosopher had written respected books on logic, political economy and representative government, and spent 35 years working as a senior public servant at the India office. But he was impatient with all kinds of formal flummery and he had a most unfortunate reputation as the cleverest person in the world. He was also a grief-stricken widower who had just retired to a cottage in the south of France to study wild flowers and commune with the Greek philosophers. He made it clear to the committee that he would prefer not to become an MP, and that if elected he would devote himself only to the "emancipation of the dependent classes"—particularly workers and women. He was committed to "advanced liberalism," he said, and would never lift a finger to promote the "local interests" of his constituents.

In spite of his perversity, Mill was elected by a comfortable margin. A vast crowd gathered in Covent Garden to greet the announcement, cheering so loudly that he could not make himself heard. He blinked out at them for several minutes before his reserve gave way and he rewarded them with a brilliant smile.

Mill proved an effective politician and—as Richard Reeves shows in his timely and readable biography—a virtuoso in parliamentary banter. Asked early on to withdraw a remark about the Tories being "the stupidest party," he retrieved himself with a perfect Westminster apology, as recorded in Hansard. "'I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative.' (Laughter and cheers.) 'And I do not see why the honourable Gentlemen should feel that position at all offensive to them; for it ensures their always being an extremely powerful party.' (Hear hear.)"

When the Liberals got into trouble over their electoral reform bill in 1866, Mill staved off defeat with some well-judged appeals to high principle, putting Gladstone deeply in his debt. But he had always intended to concentrate on unpopular causes (popular ones could take care of themselves), and when the Liberal administration fell in June 1866 he was able to get into his stride. He began with a campaign to indict Edward Eyre, governor of Jamaica, for his murderous response to an uprising of freed black slaves. Later he agitated for Irish tenants to be granted "permanent possession" of their land. And when Disraeli and the Conservatives came up with a reform bill more radical than the one proposed by the Liberals, Mill achieved what he regarded as the most honourable defeat of his political career—proposing that the word "man" be replaced by "person," thus initiating the first parliamentary discussion of the enfranchisement of women.

The 1865 parliament was dissolved after three years, and by that time Mill was accustomed to being lampooned as a transvestite, a Fenian rebel, a Jacobin or an anarchist who was "nuts upon niggers." He was neither surprised nor displeased when the electors of Westminster turned Conservative, putting an end to his brief but eventful political career.

Reeves tells his stories well, and if he is right we should be looking to Mill for inspiration and enlightenment in our perplexing political times. He realises, of course, that "advanced liberalism" would be pretty distasteful to most of those who call themselves liberals today. Mill may have been a pioneering feminist and anti-racist, but he would not have had much sympathy for the liberal tenderhearts who put their faith in "human rights" and recoil from the death penalty, military intervention or the exercise of political despotism over those who are not civilised enough to govern themselves. He was also an admirer of capitalism, but he regarded it as an engine of economic growth rather than an arbiter of social justice, so he would have repudiated the liberal shock troops of untrammelled market freedom. He himself looked forward to a form of production based not on competition between capitalists in the exploitation of labour, but co-operation between workers in the exploitation of capital: "associations of labourers," as he put it, "collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers elected and removable by themselves." More tentatively, he anticipated a further transition from co-operation to a system of communism or socialism where all the instruments of production would be under public ownership, and goods distributed not according to ability to pay, but in conformity with some "pre-arranged principle of justice."

But even in his most collectivist moments, Mill detested the political quacks who peddled socialism as a moral panacea, "the sole refuge against the evils which bear down on humanity." The resolution of fundamental political issues depended, he thought, not on assertions of ethical absolutes but on inventories of available options and evaluations of "comparative advantages." He may have said it through gritted teeth, but Gladstone was probably right when he described Mill as "the most open-minded man in England."

Mill spelt out his standards of political judgement in On Liberty in 1859. Admirers of this pungent little book usually focus on Mill's maxim that "the only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilised community, is to prevent harm to others." And they tend to interpret the remark as a simple warning against the extension of state power above the minimum required for the security of its citizens. But as Reeves points out, On Liberty goes beyond the so-called "harm principle" to make a positive case for what might be called cultural biodiversity—the cultivation of "a large variety in types of character," as Mill put it, "giving full freedom to human nature to expand itself in innumerable and conflicting dimensions." The liberty that Mill prized was not political or economic so much as intellectual, moral and artistic; the real struggle, he thought, was not between individual and state but between originality and conformism, or between creative spontaneity and the "despotism of custom." What Mill wrote was a manifesto for free spirits, not free markets.

Reeves may be right to promote On Liberty as "the greatest celebration of the value of human freedom ever written." But Mill's argument depended on some assumptions that Reeves passes over in silence. He was a disciple of progress before he was a disciple of liberty, and he valued liberty not for its own sake or for the sake of short-term human happiness, but as a contribution to what he called "the permanent interests of man as a progressive being." He preferred creativity to contentment because it was more progressive—it kept people on the move, he thought, and on their way to something better.

Contemporary liberals will probably regard Mill's appeals to the principle of progress as an extravagance and an embarrassment. Yet anyone who uses the term "progressive" as a byword for political virtue—and there are not many people who don't—is standing in the tradition of Mill's "advanced liberalism," whether they know it or not. Indeed, they may well be parroting lines from one of Mill's early books, even if they have never read it. The work in question was a 19th-century bestseller and a standard university text all around the world, and Mill thought he had never written anything better. But it had the misfortune of being called A System of Logic and the title seems to have sunk it. Even Reeves, whose enthusiasm for Mill may seem immoderate, sums it up as "a formidable tome" and then moves on.

Actually, the Logic is a great book, if a little long-winded. The earlier parts are devoted to proving that there is more to science than the observation of patterns in nature: knowledge becomes scientific, according to Mill, only when these patterns are made intelligible on the basis of first principles or "laws of nature"—as when Newton explained planetary motions in terms of the forces of attraction and inertia. And what was true of natural science applied to "social science" too. Political economy, in particular, was not based on empirical observation of people producing wealth, but on a priori calculations showing how people would behave if they were perfectly intelligent and cared for nothing except getting rich. Mill thought that social progress was ripe for similar treatment, and in the Logic he sketched out a "science of history" based on the assumption that every generation is in a position to improve on the civilisation of its predecessors. But progress could never become a reality without the constant clash of competing ideals, hence the importance of cultural freedom. Progress depended on freedom, according to Mill, and if we want to resurrect his liberalism, we may have to revive his theory of progress too.

The centre cannot hold

Jan 10th 2008 | SANTIAGO
From The Economist print edition

Bachelet picks a new strongman

WHEN she took office as Chile's president almost two years ago, Michelle Bachelet promised to be a different kind of politician, one who would lead a “citizens' democracy”. Her first cabinet contained only two members with previous ministerial experience; half of its members were women and several were independents. Three reshuffles later, on January 8th, Ms Bachelet unveiled her latest team, one stuffed with seasoned party figures.

That smacks of near-desperation. Broadly speaking, Chile remains a success story. Ms Bachelet has some achievements, such as an agreement on education reform, new child-care centres and wider health care. But she is much less popular than she was, and her government has found it hard to shake off a sense of drift.

The economy no longer outperforms its neighbours, despite record copper revenues. High energy prices—Chile imports almost all its oil and gas—have contributed to a blip in inflation. A new transport scheme in Santiago, designed under her predecessor, has brought misery for commuters. Not all of this is the president's fault. But she has been both hesitant and meddling, and has often allowed a small cabal of personal advisers to overrule and undermine ministers.

The reshuffle is a fresh start, she said. But it was a clumsy one. After weeks of delay, her hand was forced by the sudden resignation of her interior minister. His replacement, Edmundo Pérez Yoma, is a plain-speaking and experienced Christian Democrat who as defence minister in the 1990s oversaw the departure as army commander of General Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator. He is expected to act as a de facto prime minister—if the president lets him. The changes weaken the position of Andrés Velasco, the ultra-orthodox finance minister, several of whose protégés have lost their jobs. Mr Pérez Yoma criticised him last year for lacking “imagination and boldness”.

The reshuffle is in part an attempt to shore up Soledad Alvear, the leader of the Christian Democrats (DC), one of three main parties in the centre-left Concertación coalition, which has ruled Chile since the return of democracy in 1990. The DC suffered a serious split last month, when supporters of Ms Alvear, who is a potential presidential candidate, expelled Adolfo Zaldívar, a senator who led the party's right wing. Several of his senior followers departed too. As a result, the Concertación has lost its majority in Congress.

It has also lost much of its discipline and energy. Municipal elections are due in October, which in turn will mark the start of campaigning for the next presidential election in December 2009. Although the right has not won a presidential vote in Chile for half a century, many in the Concertación fear that after almost two decades in power their time is nearly up. The risk for Ms Bachelet and Mr Pérez Yoma is that this defeatism could become self-fulfilling. They have their work cut out.