By Joe LaGuardia
Every election year, we see the influence of a demographic voting block, often pitched as a uniform, monolithic movement, called “evangelicalism”.
Evangelicalism, a loosely-defined subculture in American Christianity, rose to political prominence under the Christian Coalition in the late 1970s and has championed major reforms and legislation that transcend partisanship.
Now, nearly 40 years later, evangelicalism appears to be the national faith of the United States. For all the folks declaring that we’ve strayed from our Judeo-Christian origins as a nation, we still are one of the most religious countries in the world.
Some claim this is unique to our place and time — no other religion aside from Islam plays such an influential role in politics. This myth reinforces the idea that America is morally exceptional, anchored in biblical values, and divinely blessed.
As times change and the global economy limps along, however, this no longer rings sincere or true. In fact, a variety of nationalist religions are on the rise in other nations, and we are experiencing none other than a global revival of religion, as it were.
In Japan, for example, the government has been quietly pushing for the revival of Shintoism, an indigenous polytheistic religion of the island nation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a faithful Shinto disciple, is making the religion a central part of governance and social life, not only supporting Shinto shrines with tax dollars but also incorporating ideologies into his political philosophy and promoting the inclusion of its tenets in public education.
According to Michael Holtz, writing for The Christian Monitor, the emphasis on Shintoism resulted from a growing sense of national pride and a concern over “economic stagnation, materialism, and the rise of China.”
Shintoism has always had a precarious place in Japanese culture, but has historically provided the nation with a sense of power and security. After the Second World War, the government exchanged Shintoism for a more pacifist, secular platform that emphasized industrialism and cultural growth.
Even now, fears exist that a return to Shintoism will influence broader militaristic fervor and lead to regional conflicts and Japanese aggression.
Russia is yet another nation instilling a religious awakening with nationalist pride among the populace. The Russian government has increased its support of the Russian Orthodox Church.
This program of national spirituality, which dangerously aligns church and state, contends that Russia’s religious and cultural way of life dominates what it perceives to be the West’s evil imperialism, according to Wallace Daniel with The Christian Century.
According to Daniel, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow recently “argued that Western nations had ‘abandoned their Christian identity,'” claiming that “both liberal democracy and secularism as enemies of Orthodoxy and envisioned a ‘clash of civilization’ in which Russian Orthodox values stood against those of the secular West.”
Against Kirill’s wishes, the government brokered a historic meeting between Kirill and Pope Francis in Havana, Cuba. It was the first time the two figureheads met in over 1000 years of church history, and conversation centered on political, economic, and religious aims between the East and West.
For some, the meeting was productive and reflected a religious commitment to greater cooperation; for others, it was a sign that a third World War, entrenched in both political and religious ideologies, is eminent. With tensions rising between East and West in hotbeds like Ukraine and Syria, these hyperbolic claims may be well-founded.
The fact remains: As economies stall and the world shrinks in the wake of increasing regional tensions, people will turn to religions that reinforce tribal pride, quail fears regarding economic inequality, and promote the interests of nation-states bent on building the capital and leverage needed to elbow their way onto the global stage.