God's Obituary was published in the Economist in 2000. In a commendably open way, it's changed its mind, with the latest issue carrying a Special Report on Religion that's usefully long enough to avoid some common knee-jerk analysis. The main point is that world politics cannot be understood now without understanding the interplay of religion in its moderate and fundamental forms. It develops the theme by realising that the decline of religion in the public sphere, in the 20th century is increasingly obviously an aberration not the norm, much to the exasperation of the liberals who thought they'd killed God off. There are some encouraging notes (to me):

  • The number of Christians is projected to increase from 2bn to 3bn between 2000 and 2050. This will then be a full third of the world population.
  • It visited David Cho's megachurch in Seoul, with over 830,000 members (and some significant logistical challenges getting people in and out of its 8 services each Sunday!) and didn't find anything important to criticise.
  • It realises that religion can be a force to help end conflict, citing the Catholic and Protestant Priests in Northern Ireland standing together after many atrocities, and condemning it, thus helping forge a path to peace.
  • "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."
  • Over 2m adults in the UK have attended an Alpha course.
  • And there are some well-observed cautions as well, such as:

  • "for prosperous [American] suburbanites, faith has become something of a lifestyle coach. It is no accident that the bestselling religious book is called The Purpose Driven Life."
  • The most challenging religion to world order is Islam, because by nature "it wants to take over more of the public space" - for example the desire for sharia law to take priority over secular government. But even here it points that it can be made to work - for example in Indonesia, and not least the many muslims happily living in the US.
  • The trend is not to secularisation but to pluralism.
  • This latter point provides opportunities as well as threats. A combination of the need to be "tolerant" (which is becoming seen as 'not expressing an opinion that others might disagree with') with pluralism, makes those who want to talk about the core Christian beliefs in public a target for the political correctness police. After all, there are just as large areas of agreement between Islamic and Christian Theology as there are points of agreement. As far as I understand it, the concept that Jesus could be God's Son is as good as blasphemy to a Muslim, yet is the core truth to Christians.When will we start seeing Vicars, Priests or Chaplains jailed for speaking out Christian beliefs? I've heard predictions it will happen in the UK by 2020. Which is an interesting thought as I start to write my sermon for December on "Suffering for being a Christian" ...

    AuthorJonathan Clark