The Turning of the Tide? (Part 1)

The Facts

The International Bulletin of Mission Research (IBMR) reported last year (2016) the following:

"In 2014, a significant milestone in world Christianity went unnoticed. For the first time ever, Latin America passed Europe [including Russia] as the continent with the most Christians. Note that in 1900 Europe had six times as many Christians as Latin America. Looking ahead to 2025, we see that Latin America is likely to be surpassed by Africa, with 628 million in the former and more than 700 million in the later. We also project that by 2050, Asia will surpass Europe in the number of Christians. Each of the three continents in the Global South could outnumber Europe, together representing nearly 80% of all Christians (from just over 20% in 1900)."

Also you can read in the IBMR that by 2050 36% of the World population should be Christian while 28% should be Muslim (i.e. together nearly two thirds of the entire world). The great decline is in the unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics and those who do not identify with any religion). It is predicted that they will shrink as a percentage of the world's population (from 16% in 2010 to 13% in 2050).

In all this the key figures are the world-wide growth trends. From 2000 to mid-2016 while the global population was growing at 1.19%, Christian growth was 1.30% (but Muslim growth was 1.87%). That 1.30%, as you would expect, marks radical differences. For while African Christians grew at 2.79%, Asians at 2.19% and Latin America at 1.19% in North America it was 0.56% and in Europe a mere 0.14% (with I suspect much of that small growth due to immigration). However, from 2000 to 2016 the world-wide growth for Non-religionists is 0.31%; for Agnostics 0.36%; and Atheists 0.05% with a permanent numerical decline for Atheists now predicted while, of course, the world population grows.

The Wrong Side of History

It certainly looks from a global perspective that Western secular extremism, now in the driving seat, with its anti-Christian "religion of me" is nearing the end of its shelf life and already on the wrong side of history. And certainly it looks as though from the 2016 Western election results something is being rejected. With Catholics waking up in France and Evangelicals in America, there is some sort of common-sense revival against the legitimizing of any and every form of consensual sexual aberration, family patterning and self-harm (including drunkenness and drug abuse).

At the time of writing I read in The Times newspaper that a student at Newcastle University, being initiated into the Agric Society, "got really drunk and they didn't realize he had stopped breathing until it was too late." So, just before Christmas he "died at the Royal Victoria Infirmary … after 18 hours on a life support machine with his parents at his bedside." But that terrible tragedy was one of hundreds of thousands of the fruits of a pervasive philosophy of life and culture that is utterly foolish and cruel.

This culture has been imposed since the 1960's by, what sociologists call, the "new class". These are those who control in Western societies symbolic information – Government agencies, the educational empire, the therapeutic services and, because of the BBC, the media, with all having a vested interest in centralism, because centrally funded. Sadly, as corporate entities they have been major contributors to the emergence of a world gone wrong. They have given rise to this notion of self idolatry, 'the religion of me', where I am to define what it means to be human and to 'find myself'. Philip Rieff, in his Triumph of the Therapeutic, brilliantly describes this philosophy, or 'religion of me', as the creed that,

"we can live freely at last, enjoying all our senses – except the sense of the past – as unremembering, honest, and friendly barbarians all, in a technological Eden."

For a host of reasons this philosophy has had amazing permanence. But at last people are realizing that the lone individual needs significant others, in stable families, as the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, taught and certainly the Bible teaches. And families need to be in wider societies which have to have some common philosophy and notion of the common good, other than that a consensus (or democracy) itself is a common good. Normal human beings want a consensus about the truth or what is actually good and beneficial for society. Societies cannot be infinitely pluralistic.

Things are Changing

But things are changing. Certainly the reality of populist movements suggest so. What the British Referendum result in June 2016 to leave the EU hinted might be the case, the November 2016 US Presidential election result seems to have confirmed. So what is going on? The answer may be clearer from considering the other side of the Atlantic when American electioneering was getting to white-heat. For here is how Walter Russell Mead summarized the situation – writing, note, in May 2016, long before the election of Trump, when he was seriously unpopular and unattractive to the punditocracy:

"But this apparent weakness and vulnerability conceals a strength: Trump is an unconventional candidate whose proposition to the electorate isn't about particular stands, experience, credentials or even personal and political honesty. Trump is the purest expression of the politics of 'No!" that I personally can recall. He's the candidate for people who think the conventional wisdom of the American establishment is hopelessly out of touch with the real world. He's the little boy saying that the emperor, or in this case, the aspiring empress, has no clothes. What energizes the Trump phenomenon is the very power of rejection: people who think the train is about to head off a cliff want to pull the emergency cord that stops the train even if they don't know what happens next. To many of Trump supporters, Hillary Clinton looks like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: the enforcer of a fatally flawed status quo and the personification of bureaucratic power in a system gone rogue.

What makes Trump so appealing to so many voters is that the establishment does seem unusually clueless these days. The great American post–Cold War project of seeking peace and security through the construction of a New World Order based on liberal internationalism and American power doesn't seem to be working very well, and it's not hard to conclude that neither the neoconservatives nor the Obama-ites really know what they are doing. When it comes to the economy, it's been clear since the financial crisis of 2008 that something is badly awry and that the economists, so dogmatic and opinionated and so bitterly divided into quarrelling schools, aren't sure how the system works anymore, and have no real ideas about how to make the world system work to the benefit of ordinary voters in the United States. With the PC crowd and the Obama administration hammering away at transgender bathroom [toilet] rights as if this was the great moral cause of our time, and with campus Pure Thought advocates collapsing into self-parody even as an epidemic of drug abuse and family breakdown relentlessly corrodes the foundations of American social cohesion, it's hard to believe that the establishment has a solid grip on the moral principles and priorities a society like ours needs."

The writer of these comments was expecting Hilary Clinton to be elected. Also he was not confident that,

"burning down the old house is the best way to build something new. But it would be equally wrong and perhaps more dangerous to take the view that there is nothing more fueling [Trump's] rise than ignorance, racism and hate".

Conclusion

How are we to respond to all that is happening? Many American Evangelicals, who helped the election result, responded by seeing this as, in Franklin Graham's words, "one of the most stunning victories in the history of Western democracy" and claiming it was because "hundreds of thousands of Christians from across the US had been praying." I, also, respond by remembering Psalm 146.3-5:

"Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God."

I quoted, in December (to which this January Coloured Supplement is a sequel): "one of two deeply flawed candidates is now the president-elect" (F. Maier). So the good in Trump's policies needs to be supported while the bad resisted.

But, it needs also to be said, that if Trump is a bellwether for the Western world (America currently being a 'lead society'), we must expect changes eventually to come in Britain. And if what is happening is a revolt, for a range of reasons, against the decadent and divisive culture and politics of the West, it is not enough to say "No!" There needs to be a positive vision to which people say "Yes"! So this presents Christian people with a great opportunity to fill a dangerous vacuum that could be filled by what is worse rather than by what is better. So next month (February) I hope to suggest ways forward for recovering our Christian roots, and that are in line with our vision of 'Changing Britain'.

Back to top