ROAD TO THE
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IN 1909, CHARLES W. ELIOT addressed the students of Harvard on the Religion of the Future. It would not, he assured them, be based on authority, or personifications of primitive forces of nature, or worship... of dead ancestors, teachers, or rulers. It would not be concerned with personal welfare or salvation, or be propitiary, sacrificial, or expiatory. It would not perpetuate the Hebrew anthropomorphic representations of God, and it would not be gloomy, ascetic, or maledictory. (Eliot 1909) But in fact the religions of the twentieth century, secular and transcendental, were all of these. Authority is everywhere, and the environmental movement dabbles in the personification of nature and in the need for sacrifice to expiate for the sins of pollution. Salvation is alive and well: socialism deals in class salvation and fascism in race salvation. Gloom and doom reign as never before, and the biggest religious movement of the century, Pentecostalism, founded in 1906, is determined to perpetuate the Hebrew anthropomorphism with enthusiasm.
Pentecostalism is the most vigorous current of modern Christianity. It was created by an African-American, William J. Seymour, when he moved to Los Angeles in 1906. It was at his Azusa Street Mission that the speaking in tongues style of worship got its start. A century later, at the turn of the twenty-first century, there are at least 250 million Pentecostals worldwide. Some authorities estimate half a billion. Pentecostalism has been the most dramatic development of Christianity in the twentieth century. (Martin 2002 p1) It has exploded in Latin America, is strong in Africa, it has a firm footing in China and Korea, and a significant presence in other Asian nations. What happened, and why?
Western scholars did not bring the Pentecostal phenomenon to the notice of an educated readership until about 1990, when David Martin in Tongues of Fire and David Stoll in Is Latin America Turning Protestant? first publicized the growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America to the reading public. The reason is not hard to find. Everyone knew that Latin America was Catholic. The future of its religion, if any, given the identification of the church with the oppressive upper class, was with the liberation theology associated with populist left-wing movements like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In Africa, on the other hand, everyone looked to the post-colonialist rulers and their aid-fueled politics to drive the future. In the words of David Martin:
Liberal humanism, with its dominance in the western elites, is perhaps the major reason why educated people are so little conscious of the size and impact of Pentecostalism in the non-western world. It provides the glasses through which we misread or edit out much of what is going forward there. (Martin 2002 p174)
And now we learn that Pentecostalism is surging in China. The unofficial house churches all feature an evangelical Christianity with a strong emotional component.
When Latin American Pentecostalism first registered on the radar screen, the first impulse was to assume that US imperialism was at work. And indeed, the initial seeding of Pentecostalism had owed something to American missionaries. But it was clear, even to David Stoll, who was looking for validation of his left-wing agenda, that Pentecostalism was authentic and homegrown. It was closely associated with the migration to the city, and to the cultural transition from an aboriginal spiritist world of familiar powers and demons to the urban world of trust and reciprocity. Since 1990, numerous sociologists have conducted fieldwork among Pentecostals all over the world. Their findings amplify and confirm the original conclusions of Martin and Stoll. In Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish, Martin rehearses the numerous confirming research studies that he and others have sponsored. Their findings confirm the argument of this book. There is something about enthusiastic Christianity that appeals directly to the millions committed to the great worldwide migration to the city. It helps them acquire the skills and the culture they need to thrive in the city.
Pentecostalism appeals directly and dramatically to women. This needs emphasizing, if only to counter the weight of feminist scholarship that equates Christianity and its male God with patriarchy and oppression of women. In the left-wing feminist narrative, religion and politics intertwine in a male dance of power to oppress and marginalize the traditional objects of left-wing compassion. To give the feminists their due, it is important to remember that all religions, all belief systems, with their search for truth and for a compelling source of meaning, are always enticed by and usually succumb to the temptation to enforce truth with the help of temporal powers. But Pentecostalism usually appears in subcultures far from the corridors of power. In Latin America, it characteristically empowers and frees women from their subjection to the humiliation and depredations of the Latin machista culture of the street, bar, brothel, football stadium, and drug culture.(Martin 2002 p75) The restoration of the family as a viable moral, cultural, and economic household, largely through the reformation of the male and the elimination of the double standard of morality for the two sexes is the key result of converting to Pentecostalism. From this, more good things can flow, for instance the improvement in health that follows from abandoning the machista life,
in work, in giving priority to feeding, clothing, disciplining, and educating the children, and oneself, in discovering a potential for leadership and initiative within the life of the church.
And the Protestant movement easily accommodates the prosperity gospel, as a celebration of the improvement in material prosperity that follows the abandonment of machista culture.
It is a culture which positively celebrates material and physical goods as the Lords blessings, especially the healed bodies and full tables which everywhere signal domestic comfort in place of machista chaos and waste. As one Chilean ex-alcoholic put it: We believers may have given up manly drink (alcohol) for the drink of young girls (cola and orange juice) but in the womens kitchen we eat better. (Martin 2002 p76)
Pentecostalism calls upon women to leave passivity and fatalism behind and demand the reform of their menfolk.
The embarrassing thing about Pentecostalism, from the viewpoint of the western educated secularist, is that not only does it set itself up in willful opposition to modernist and postmodernist elites with its patriarchal male God of the Bible and his rigid table of rules and the eternal and irreconcilable conflict between right and wrong, but it also displays irrational elements, deeply embarrassing to the secularist, in its glossolalia, faith healing, and exorcisms. In fact, of course, it is precisely the genius of enthusiastic Christianity that it perches so precariously and so daringly on the fault line between the fatalistic, passive culture of the country, with its age-old submission to the power of nature and of the landowner, and the rational, cause-and-effect world of the middle class culture, with its reason, its purpose, its faithful performance of promises, and its society of equals. With its roots in both the red culture of power and the blue culture of rules it provides a bridge from power to rules, providing rituals of power to exorcize the ghosts of the power consciousness and then, when the ghosts have been driven away, to provide a new culture of rules and mutual support to sustain the newly arrived candidates in the challenging world of the city. It is perhaps more intelligent to ask by what miracle of cultural genius anyone has succeeded in constructing a bridge between two apparently irreconcilable cultures. The answer is, ever since the Axial Age, to look around you. Every one of the great religions is involved in precisely this feat of levitation, showing people acculturated to a world of powerthe power of nature and of the oppressorthe possibility of a world of purpose and fairness and reciprocity, and bringing them to belief in the extraordinary possibility, that a woman, even a subservient and reviled woman victimized by a male machista culture had the power to set herself up against this power and win. It is, of course, on the face of it, absurd. But perhaps the apparently contradictory combination of ecstatic excitement and rigid rules is precisely the combination that helps people most decisively on the road to the middle class. There are demons to be exorcised, the powerful pagan gods of pre-city life, the powerful gods of nature, and the powerful sons of heaven. Perhaps only a wrathful father God, who combines the judgmentalism of the Strict Father with the love of the Son, has the power to banish the old gods and bring in the new world of the law and contract, the world of the city and its essential relations of trust. City commerce is powered by a network of trust and fair dealing. A religion that directs its adherents that my word is my bond or honesty is the best policy is training its faithful to live a life without waste and dissipation, to strive for fair and reciprocal dealings, to learn skills of administration and to exercise responsibility, to gain a good reputation, to belong to useful networks, is teaching its flock how to thrive in the city.
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When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of agesthey seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
E. G. West, Education and the State
Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures
The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since
1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and
philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West
Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its
characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then,
once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities
But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie
that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all.
In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness...
But to make a man act [he must have]
the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove
or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm