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The Way of Education Living Under Law

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The Way of Faith

by Christopher Chantrill
January 01, 2005 at 12:18 pm


WHEN PEOPLE make the great migration from the country to the city, how do they acquires the skills of the city? How do they adapt from the life of the sun to the life of the clock? How do they change from a life in thrall to a noble lord to a life in thrall to the almighty dollar? It is clear that one road is faith, the monotheistic faith of Judaism and Christianity that encourages its believers to cast aside the life of instinct and impulse and build instead a life of faith and purpose.

But weren’t the people in the countryside—the peasants and farmers—religious, and didn’t they lose their faith as they came to the secularized city? That is the received paradigm of the secularized elite that experiences the Enlightenment as a moment when modern man awoke from the superstitions of the past and learned to base society on rational principles. In God is Dead, British British sociologist Steve Bruce experiences western Europe beginning in the religious era of the Protestant Reformation and gradually secularizing through individualism, rationalism, and relativism to the present European disinterest in religion. But American sociologist Rodney Stark and his collaborators disagree. From their research, they conclude that the pre-modern era was not religious. In revolutionary North America, only 15 percent of the population were church adherents. But by 1850 after the rise of Methodism over 35 percent were church adherents. Today, over 60 percent of Americans are church adherents.

Perhaps both sociologists are right if we understand the Christianity of the agricultural era as a top-down affair. The lord was Christian, the church was established, and the peasants got with the program. In the United States, where there is no lord and no established church, the people build their own churches. In Peru, for instance, where Pentecostalism is growing rapidly, the Catholic church is usually located in the central Plaza de Armas alongside the government buildings; the Iglesia Cristiana Pentecostes is a hole-in-the-wall on some side street.

Christianity answers the need of the person who is learning how to take responsibility for his life in the rough and tumble of the city. That is why the Wesley brothers found a ready population for their Methodism in England and colonial North America. That is why the Methodist circuit-riders of early nineteenth century United States doubled the church adherence of Americans in 50 years. That is why “Dagger” John Hughes, first Catholic archbishop of New York, energized the Irish and Italian immigrants of mid-nineteenth century Gotham to a new revivalist Catholicism that had learned from the Methodist revivalists. That is why Christianity is booming in Africa and South America, and reportedly spreading in China against firm repression. That is why Christianity is booming in the striver suburbs of North America, and why a new Pentecostal church opens in New York City every three weeks. And that is why Christianity does not thrive in Europe, where the welfare states relieves the people of the need to take responsibility for their lives.

In Latin America, writes David Stoll, Penecostalism 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... The restoration of the family as a viable moral, cultural, amd 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. 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.

The urban sophisticates who have mastered the life of the city have forgotten the power of Christianity. They see its rigid rules and its personal relationship with God as superstition. Advancing beyond rules and traditional roles; they believe in creativity and universal community. Their faith extols the right to experiment and to pursue the demands of the creative life, and their most authentic experience is the heroic break with their strict Catholic or Protestant childhood. Knowing only their own needs, and blind to “the other” plodding along the road to the middle class, they declare war on “so-called Christians,” and support pressure groups organized to drive religion from the public square.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Featured RMC Books on Religion

David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing
How Christianity is booming in China

Finke & Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
How the United States grew into a religious nation

Robert William Fogel, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism
How progressives must act fast if they want to save the welfare state

David Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish
How Pentecostalism is spreading across the world

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