By BONNIE ERBE
Scripps Howard News Service
December 29, 2006
Sounds to me like a man on a mission, a worried man on a worrisome mission. Would you be asking these questions if business were good, if your flocks were growing? He went on: People should not allow technology to trump theology. "Mankind, which has reached other planets and unraveled many of nature's secrets, should not presume it can live without God." Implicit in the positing of this presumption is the subliminal fear technology will lead to just that end.
Truth be told, Christianity is wilting if not dying in the continent that propelled it to global prominence, Europe. Europeans pay lip service but eschew church services. Christianity's growth markets are on other continents.
A Policy Review magazine article in 2003 recounted the following, "Of the roughly 2 billion Christians worldwide, Europe still claims a plurality, with 560 million believers - although that number includes many who are counted as Christian only on the baptismal rolls of their emptying churches.
If present trends continue, by 2025 there will be 633 million Christians in Africa, 640 million in South America, and 460 million in (South) Asia. Europe's numbers will have remained constant, leaving it at third place among the continents and falling. By 2050, to extrapolate further, only a fifth of the world's Christians will be non-Hispanic whites. As (author) Jenkins puts it, quoting a Kenyan scholar, "the centers of the church's universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa and Manila."
What does this mean? Christianity is growing all right, but not in world financial centers, not in nations housing the world's foremost educational institutions, not in the world's technology hubs. It is growing most rapidly among the poor and the uneducated.
Does Pope Benedict's tone imply that God - the Christian God in any event - is dead? God's death has been debated since time immemorial. The answer is, of course not. At home among our own highly educated, financially savvy and technologically gifted populace, the most powerful and cohesive voting bloc remains that of evangelical Christians. Democrats took back both houses of Congress only by narrowing the so-called God gap and stealing Catholics and Evangelicals back from the Republican column.
At the same time, God as we know him/her/it is in mid-morph. Western culture is personalizing God and turning him into her, person into spirit and customizing God to fit all shapes, sizes, hair colors and beliefs. Gone are the days when one could walk into an African Methodist Episcopal church and witness a portrait of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus hovering above a room full of black believers. Gone is America's uniform vision of God as a bearded white man seated on a cumulonimbus.
Historical evidence places Jesus as a first-century Middle Eastern Jew. This means Jesus probably looked a lot more like Yasser Arafat than a Nordic prince with long blond locks. European transmogrification of this religion born in Israel imposed Eurocentric visions onto its icons. Thus, Jesus' features were magically overtaken by those of his more powerful followers: the Europeans.
Perhaps Pope Benedict's fears of a god-bereft populace are better explained by today's custom-fit God. The Pope wants God to remain as traditional Christianity sees him - the God of the Crusaders, a God whose followers are on a short leash and allowed little by way of interpretation, questioning or free-thinking. A transgression of the 10 Commandments is a sin and that's all there is to it.
Educated believers are demanding more variety, having more doubts and reworking religion to fit their own mores, lifestyles and cultures. Religion without penance - no hair shirts, no self-flagellation? No wonder the Pope is worried.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com