Tuesday, May 8, 2007

John DiLulio on the Importance of Religion in Global Affairs

John J. DiIulio Jr., an iconoclastic thinker who served for a brief time in the early Bush White House, is always worth reading even if you don't agree with him. His early work on crime had a profound effect on public policy in the early 1990's. He has now written a very interesting essay in the Weekly Standard on the importance of religion in global politics--and the fact that most "experts" have no clue that this is happening. Here is just a sample from this rich essay:

Speaking last December before journalists assembled by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Peter Berger had some explaining to do. Berger, an emeritus professor at Boston University, is a rightly esteemed sociologist of religion. "We live in an age of overwhelming religious globalization," he began. But, as late as a quarter-century ago, neither he nor most other academics saw it coming. Most analysts, he explained, had the same stale orthodoxy about religion's inevitable demise. "The idea was very simple: the more modernity, the less religion. . . . I think it was wrong."

Except in Europe, where it has proven half-right, the idea was all wrong. . . .

. . .

Most countries once ruled, in whole or in part, by Europeans have modernized to varying degrees, but without religion losing its hold. Christianity, in particular, is growing in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One cannot begin to understand post-colonial Africa, for example, without knowing how profoundly religion matters--and which religions matter where and to whom. Nigeria is one small case in point. There are now about 20 million Anglicans in Nigeria, on the way to 30 to 35 million over the next generation. In 1900, Nigeria was one-third Muslim and had almost no Christians. By 1970, the country was about 45 percent Muslim and 45 percent Christian.

. . .

All in all, there are today two billion Christians worldwide, and Christianity in various orthodox forms, from Pentecostalism to Vatican-certified Catholicism, is the world's fastest-growing religion. Take it from Penn State's superb global religions watcher, Philip Jenkins, who has established beyond any reasonable empirical or historical doubt that, for decades now, Catholicism and many other Christian sects have been growing rapidly in the southern hemisphere. By or before 2050, Africa will supplant Europe as home to the most Christians. In 1900, Africa had an estimated 10 to 15 million Christians. In 1959, the Catholic church had not yet appointed a single black African cardinal. By 2000, however, Africa had some 350 million Christians, including well over 100 million Catholics.

Some demographers would bet that Latin America will outdistance Africa, and that South America will be first to succeed Europe as the continent with the most Christians. It has long had the heaviest country-by-country Catholic concentrations. Even as Pentecostals and other Christian sects have made converts, South America's Catholic seminaries have grown (up more than 350 percent since 1972). The Vatican counts some 60,000 priests, 100,000 lay missionaries, and 130,000 nuns on the continent.

So, from Brazil to Belize, from Beirut to Boston, religion in over a hundred forms and in a thousand different ways has outlived "modernity" and "postmodernity," too. And whenever religious individuals, ideas, and institutions get newly mobilized into politics and public affairs, at home or abroad, look out, because they have the power to transform things, and fast.

. . .

[H]istory teaches that when religion is used as hard power, it sooner or later destroys those who wield it. Christianity's hard-power-wielding religions, including king-making Catholicism, had their days (even centuries) but resulted in ruins (and, in Catholicism's case, a junior role in North America). Protestant-inspired church-state separation doctrine is a prudential prohibition against using religion as hard power at home, and a caution against using religion as hard power abroad. It is also an invitation for the state to be faith-friendly, promote religious pluralism, and avoid sectarian strife.

Thus, what I hereby baptize as spiritualpolitique is a soft-power perspective on politics that emphasizes religion's domestic and international significance, accounts for religion's present and potential power to shape politics within and among nations, and understands religion not as some abstract force measured by its resiliency vis-à-vis "modernity" and not by its supporting role in "civilizations" that cooperate or clash. Rather, a perspective steeped in spiritualpolitique requires attention to the particularities that render this or that actual religion as preached and practiced by present-day peoples so fascinating to ethnographers (who can spend lifetimes immersed in single sects) and so puzzling to most of the social scientists who seek, often in vain, to characterize and quantify religions, or to track religion-related social and political trends.

Consider how this perspective might inform the ongoing debate on Iraq. Some have advocated increasing the U.S. presence in Iraq and staying there until violence is well under wraps. Others have devised or advocated various draw-down or get-out plans. Although it took a few years, almost all now acknowledge that the struggle behind most homegrown bombings that have killed innocent civilians in Iraq has specific religious roots. But some on both sides in the debate over U.S. policy seem not yet to know that any conflict-ending compromise or resolution, no matter its military, economic, or other features, will not last unless it takes those particular religious differences very seriously. It is not a "civil war." It is "sectarian violence," complicated by the region's wider religious rifts and their intersections with state-supported terrorism networks.

Spiritualpolitique lesson one is that even in stable representative democracies, intra-national religious cleavages, whether long-buried or out in the open, always matter to who governs and to what ends. The religious cleavages in Iraq existed long before the U.S. occupation. And the sectarian sources of the violence there will persist even if the country somehow, some day becomes a textbook, multi-party, stable parliamentary democracy. (If you doubt it, just study the Israeli Knesset in action.)
Spiritualpolitique lesson two is that constitutionalism, not democratization, matters most where religious differences run deepest or remain most intense. It was good to hold elections in Iraq. Majority rule via free and fair plebiscites is often among the first steps toward a more humane polity, whatever its official form and legal formalities. But majority rule can also mean the proverbial two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for supper. Constitutionalism, democracy or not, means that a government's powers are limited and any law-abiding civic minority's fundamental rights--starting with religious rights--are legally sacred.

Read it all. I might also add that many political pundits on domestic U.S. politics display a profound lack of understanding of religious faith, and they therefore fail to really understand the political dynamics at work even in the United States. And, as is clear from the experience in Iraq, we make profound mistakes when we ignore the dynamics of religion in global affairs.

Thanks to Michael Cochise Young for bringing this essay to my attention.

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