Saturday, June 16, 2007


Fair Play

The history of European colonialism is, in major respects, the history of the expansion of Christianity into the largest religion in the world. It seems the world is getting a bit of its own back.

[M]illions of European missionaries traveled to other continents to spread their faith by establishing schools and churches. Now, with European church attendance at all-time lows and a dearth of preachers in the pulpits, thousands of "reverse missionaries" are flocking back, migrating from poor countries to rich ones to preach the Gospel where it has fallen out of fashion.

The phenomenon signals a fundamental shift in the power, style and geography of the world's largest religion. Most of Christianity's more than 2 billion adherents now live in the developing world. And as vast numbers of them migrate to Europe, they are filling pews and changing worship styles.

Thousands of missionaries from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Korea and the Philippines have come to Europe to set up churches in homes, office buildings and storefronts.
The missionaries are not affecting only their fellow immigrants. Danish sea captain Stendor Johansen has also rediscovered a more vibrant faith:

"The Danish church is boring," said Johansen, 45, who left the state-run Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church three years ago and joined this high-octane interdenominational church run by a missionary pastor from Singapore. "I feel energized when I leave one of these services." ...

"As kids, we were not allowed to make any noise on Sundays," he said. The church seemed to him to place a higher value on order and ancient traditions than on tending to the concerns of parishioners. "The church didn't add any value to me. It gave me nothing I could use in my day-to-day life."
Bess Serner-Pedersen, who runs Alpha Denmark, a private group that offers adult courses in the basics of Christianity makes the point that

... since the 18th-Century Enlightenment, which stressed reason and science as means of understanding the divine, European religious teaching has focused more on the intellectual than on the spiritual.

"We have a country where the churches are talking to the mind, but we've forgotten that spirituality is about the heart as well," she said. "Our population is looking for churches that are more alive. We need these immigrant churches because they are bringing a message that we have forgotten."
Even officials of the state church agree:

Karsten Nissen, one of the country's 10 Lutheran bishops, said that a quarter to a third of all people in church in Copenhagen any given Sunday morning are attending a foreign-run service. "These churches are a gift to our Danish Lutheran Church," Nissen said. "They open our eyes to a more human way of being Christians. It's the way we were Christians 100 years ago — a very simple way, a good way, a more pious way, and a more open and happy way of worship."
Of course, not all the missionaries come from the Third World:

U.S. Ambassador James Cain said that shortly after he and his family arrived in Denmark in 2005, they went to a scheduled Sunday service at a Danish Lutheran church and they found the door padlocked. ...

Cain said Denmark's lack of religious culture was partly to blame for last year's Muhammad cartoons controversy, in which a Danish paper published unflattering caricatures of Islam's most revered prophet, touching off Muslim fury worldwide.

"That, for the first time in a generation, caused the Danes to realize that their loss of faith and their increasing secularism made it very difficult for them to understand, or even feel empathy for, people who felt offended by caricatures of religious images," Cain said.
The irony of that issuing from an official of an Administration whose foreign policy boils down to a count of how many times the word "Islamofascist" can be repeated per paragraph of press release is almost too great to bear.

As for the larger lesson, Richard Dawkins calls religion a mind virus. Viruses evolve.

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