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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[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[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
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self