Religious Nationalism, Revivalism Rising on the world stage

 

Picture from Terrasanta.net. (Click on the picture for link and source)

Picture from Terrasanta.net. (Click on the picture for link and source)

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.

Trends in Theology, Pt. 2

This is the second article among several exploring trends in theology.  Theology is a search for and conversation with God to realize how God is working in each one of us, in our communities, in our world, and in history.  We do theology because God calls us to respond to His love in creative ways; such reflection is the stuff of theology.

Last week I mentioned that the work of theology is becoming a global discipline, meaning that Western civilization no longer has a monopoly on theology and that various regions spanning from South America to Japan are contributing to the conversation on how humans and God interact.  The trend I’m writing about this week has to do with the relational aspect of theology.

As the world continues to connect in urban, suburban, rural, and cyber-communities, people are hungering for deeper relationships and sustainable partnerships.  But there is an irony here because people are seeking these relationships outside of churches.  People are attending church less but are joining intimate fellowship groups in far greater numbers.  The aim of relational theology is therefore to put Church back in center stage to help build sustainable relationships.

A theology that focuses on relationships mirrors the Trinity—God-in-Three Persons—for it is the Trinity that gives us a vision of the diverse-but-interdependent mode of what it means to be truly human.  What this means is that we are to see that all humans are interdependent upon one another, and that we find God and experience God by listening to one another’s life stories.  It is within this storytelling that God emerges as a major character in the patchwork quilt of our lives.

This trend in theology also obliges us to seek Christ in community, for the sake of community.   In this way theology does not merely help us think about God or talk about God, it forces us to discover God’s Presence no matter how mysterious or uncomfortable that Presence may be.  It forces us to respond in active social justice and repentance.

Emerging out of this theology is the idea that we are firmly rooted in all of God’s creation whereby Christians see themselves as a part of creation.  We are interconnected with creation and have mutual obligations to creation.

This does not lead to pantheism or panentheism (worshipping the Earth or creation); rather, this is a re-claiming of the ancient biblical understanding that humans are holistic beings who partner with the Earth in order to bring about the effects of God’s redemptive plan in every square inch of our world.

Additionally, relational theology assumes that humans naturally seek out authentic relationships and make us aware that there are some ways of seeking relationships that are inauthentic.  These deceiving paths do not lead to the type of authenticity that includes God in the mix.  One false way of building relationships is partnering with the idol of mass consumerism.

It is my opinion that we live in a sort of technocracy in which major corporations study how we live and then feed us products that we think we need.  As long as these products insure us that we “belong”, we buy into the myth that our material things provide identity.  Such an identity does not foster the God-conversations that theology demands, nor does it enact wise stewardship of creation and of the Earth’s resources.  Instead our own desires in a must-have world blind us to the needs of others.  We are so busy seeking the things of this world, we miss out on exploring how God’s Kingdom is manifesting itself in our midst.

A friend of mine often quotes Desmond Tutu: “I am who I am because of who we are.”  Relational theology requires us to stand before a Trinitarian God that calls us into sustainable communities with our neighbors. It keeps us from falling into a consumerism mold.  It intentionally builds relationships that emphasize our interdependence on the Creator and all creation.

Trends in Theology, Pt. 1

By Joe LaGuardia

Over the next few weeks, I would like for you to journey with me into a field that we rarely explore in the everyday interactions of church life: the discipline of theology.  Theology is often neglected because we think it is a topic that is too esoteric or cerebral to confront; however, I believe that theology is something that we do all the time.

Whenever we reflect on our faith or figure out how our faith applies to our daily living, we are doing theology.

I know that when we speak of theology, it is hard to not feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the tidal wave of history and heritage that gets pulled into perspective from over two millennia of Christian tradition.  Theology is a fluid and evolving discipline.

And there have been those who have tried to control theology and turn it into a scientific equation in which all the pieces fit into a perfect jig-saw puzzle; even systematic theology has shown the wear of time as Modernity fades into human history.

Writing about theological trends, therefore, requires a great amount of humility and an even greater amount of skepticism.  When all things are said and done, establishing trends is like trying to swat a fly–God always seems to elude us at the last minute, right when we think we have Him figured out!

The future of Christianity and of theology is changing as more voices clash for publicity rights and audiences, tenures and lectureships.  Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, I would like to take a stab at what I think the future holds when it comes to Christian theology and the Church.

I should define theology before I continue: Theology is a conversation with the Trinity in which humans try to catch a glimpse of how God is at work in their personal lives, in the world, and in all of history.

With that said, trends in theology are shifting from a science-based approach (systematic theology) to a global approach, letting in perspectives from a vast amount of church traditions and regional contexts.  The first trend I would like to explore in this article starts from the broad perspective of globalism:

Theology is taking on a global phenomenon in which the West (Europe and North America) is no longer determining what the purpose of Christ’s Church is for the rest of the world.  In The Next Christendom, author Philip Jenkins argues that the southern, global hemisphere is becoming a hotbed for Christian growth, evangelism, and (naturally) theology and ecclesiology.

The epicenter of Christian thought is moving from the cathedrals of Europe to the village churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In addition, Christians in North America are catching on to a global worldview.  Ecological, humanitarian, and economic concerns are striking the hearts and imagination of Christians who are hungry to change the world.  Rick Warren, as one example of a global-bound Christian, is leading a whole new generation of socially-conscious Christians into places like Africa to help the most impoverished and marginalized of people.

Christians are also heading to China, Japan, and India to live among people that have the potential to know Christ through a stranger.  Theology will take on a global hue as cultural diffusion continues to shape the “melting pot” of an increasingly mobile world.

In our community we can see how globalism is shaping society.  We are a multiethnic and multihued society that makes room for various perspectives and approaches to worship, church life, culture, ethics and social justice.  The internet is also making the world a smaller, more connected place.

Many people fear globalism, but my deepest conviction is that globalism will be an asset in the larger vision of evangelism and missions when it comes to spreading the Gospel.