The authors say a huge world of faith has been hidden from Western
intellectuals, who assumed modernity would kill religion. Twenty-first
century faith is being fueled by a very American emphasis on choice and
competition. The global rise of faith is powerfully impacting and
destabilizing our century.
The First Amendment created tolerance in its fullest sense and it
introduced competition. It was up to churches to get people in the
Religious revival continued after the Second World War. Church
membership rose to 69% in 1959 and religion regained some intellectual
prestige. There were remarkable steps forward in religious toleration.
If the religious wars of the early twentieth century were ignited by
the overreach of America’s Evangelicals over alcohol and evolution, the
religious wars of the second half were ignited by the overreach of those
bent on driving religion to the margins of American society. The
Supreme Court decision to remove prayer and Bible reading from public
schools was followed shortly by a permissive decision on pornography and
the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Evangelical America
showed a resurgence led by Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Jerry Falwell, Pat
Robertson, and The Moral Majority. The rise of the religious right
bound Evangelical Protestants to conservatives of other religious
traditions. Several presidents articulated their Christian commitments.
Capitalism and the Rise of Religion
Nashville is a place where God and Mammon happily coexist. American
religion has a competitive advantage. Religious products make up a $6
billion business. America leads in producing religious entrepreneurs
and empires. Mainstream media is getting in the business. Faith based
companies are pushing into the mainstream market as well. Christians
are increasingly media savvy. The modern corporate model is working
well for worship in the total service mega churches. Some preachers are
worried they are producing a tribe of spectators who come only for the
spectacle, the Disneyfication of religion. The megachurches are simply
using the tools of American society to spread religion where it
wouldn’t otherwise exist…. The megachurches may be soft on the
surface, but they are hard on the inside. You may start out in a
Disney theme park but you end up in the heart of Evangelical America.
God and the Intellectuals
There is a resurgence of interest in religion among America’s
intellectual elite. A number are being caught up in the religious
revival. For most of human history the intellectual elite have been
religious. Theology was the queen of the sciences. The return to
religion was supercharged by 9/11.
William F. Buckley was instrumental with his 1951 bombshell, God and Man
in Yale followed by his founding of the National Review. Evangelicals
are starting to produce scholars again. Abut 10% of undergraduates at
Ivy League Colleges are regularly involved in Evangelical groups.
Harvard now has a chair in Evangelical Theological Studies.
Exporting America’s God
Pentecostalism is the great religious success story of the 20th
century. It can be seen everywhere in the developing world.
Christianity in Latin America and Korea is being fueled by the embrace
of the free market (competition) and individual choice.
Everywhere you look in religious America, Christians and churches are
taking the Bible’s ‘great commission’ to ‘make disciples of all nations’
to heart.” There is a vigorous ‘Christian solidarity’ movement
in America. The campaign against religious persecution quickly
developed into a wide-ranging campaign against everything from sex
trafficking to slavery. Religious organizations provided $8.8
billon in foreign aid in 2006, 37% of all U.S. government foreign aid.
Missionary work is dangerous, so why is it growing?
1. The success of
‘hot’ religion (growth of evangelicals),
2. The boom in short-term missions
(which is having a big impact on the next generations), and
growing sophistication of missionary activity. At the same time
immigrants are helping reshape American religion. And developing
countries are sending missionaries here.
The great forces of modernity–technology and democracy, choice and
freedom–are all strengthening religion rather than undermining it. Democracy is giving the world’s people their voice and they want to
talk about God. The world
is generally moving in the American direction – with three caveats.
1. The relationship between religion and modernity is far from smooth
for many believers.
2. This does not mean that the alternatives
3. The natural accompaniment of modernity is not
religiosity but pluralism: religious beliefs become competitors in the
Excerpts from God is Back
by John Micklethwait is the editor in chief and Adrian Wooldridge is
the management editor for The Economist. One is an atheist and one a