The Rise of Anti-Western Christianity
During Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to London this September, Cardinal Walter Kasper noted two things about London: it’s secular and parts of it resemble a Third World country. While the politically correct were quick to condemn Kasper and the Vatican was even quicker to exhibit its pro-Third World, anti-racism bona fides, Kasper’s two statements taken together are noteworthy in that they demonstrate two antagonistic aspects of the modern world. The First World is secular; the Third World is religious.
How can London be both? What happens when you mix First World secularism and Third World religion? In particular, what happens when you import the Third World to the First—as in London? Often, the Third World tries to convert the First, regardless if the evangelizers are Christian or Muslim. While Westerns may be more shocked by Third World Muslims because they expect them to be different, they often are more disoriented by Third World Christians because they are so different from what they expect. The Christianity that the Third World brings to the West is unlike anything ever seen before—just as alien as Islam.
Highlighting this realization is the acknowledgement that Christianity is fast becoming a non-Western religion. Although not the first to make the point, and certainly not the last, Philip Jenkin’s The Next Christendom popularized the notion that Christianity is undergoing a metamorphosis. Jenkins, an Englishman and the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities at Penn State University, maintains that the heart of Christianity soon will be, if it is not already, Africa and Latin America. And the shift is not merely a demographic one, but an ideological one as well. Various African and Latin American expressions of Christianity are currently eclipsing the European version of Christianity. Eight years out from the first publication of The Next Christendom, now with a revised and expanded edition and two accompanying books in the trilogy, Jenkins’ observations in the first edition still hold true, a fact that he seems to celebrate in a pointedly anti-Western tone.
The Masque of Africa, a travel book by award-winning Indian-Trinidadian author V. S. Naipaul, although really about traditional African belief and not Christianity per se, often underscores Jenkins’ thesis, at least as it relates to Africa. Despite the conversions to Christianity, Naipaul maintains, the older world of African animism and magic persists, influencing and shaping modern belief systems.
Occidental Christians assume that Christianity is Western. After all, “Europe is the faith”, asserted Hillaire Belloc. Although by birth a Middle Eastern religion, Christianity, at least as Westerners know it, soon became a European religion in the sense that it melded with various forms of European paganism. Christianity, the story runs, cannot exist in a vacuum. It conforms to the various cultures with which it comes in contact. In its European manifestation (after syncretization with Celtic, Germanic, Greek and Roman paganism), Western Christianity became the religious expression we know today. Comfortable with pagan-Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, most Westerners could not conceive of Christianity any other way. (By “Westerner” is meant a European or someone of the European Diaspora.)
Yet Jenkins maintains this is not the entire picture. The idea of “Western Christianity,” he maintains, “distorts the true pattern of the religion’s development over time”. First, even during medieval Europe (which is heralded as the epitome of European Christendom), many Christians lived outside Europe and practiced other forms of Christianity. To the Armenian or Ethiopian Christian, European Christianity would have seemed odd. Furthermore, in more recent times, the missionary work of modern Europe has laid the foundation for a new type of Christianity that is different from anything that preceded it.
If “Europe is the faith” for Western Christianity, then, Jenkins maintains, “Africa is the faith” for the coming Christianity. In 1900, Europe possessed two-thirds of the world’s Christians. By 2025, that number will fall below 20%, with most Christians living in what Jenkins calls the “Global South”, largely a proxy term for “Third World”. The Global South could be thought of as slightly modified Gondwanaland, including Africa, Latin America, Philippines, southeast Asia/India, etc. This Global South, not the West, will be the new heart of Christendom.
The statistics are compelling. By 2025, nearly 75% of the world’s Catholics will be non-Western (mostly African and mestizo). At present, Nigeria has the world’s largest Catholic theological school. Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro may be the world’s largest Catholic church. India has more Christians than most Western nations. By 2050, more than 80% of Catholics in the U.S. will be of non-Western (often mestizo) origins. By 2050, only a small fraction of Anglicans will be English or of the European Diaspora. Nigeria, not England, is the new heart of Anglican Christianity. Lutherans, Presbyterians and other mainstream denominations find their chief centres of growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Then there are the ever-growing Pentecostal and other indigenous Christian churches. Pentecostals have made tremendous inroads in Latin America, and churches like the Zion Christian Church have grown tremendously in South Africa. The Zion Christian Church attracts over a million pilgrims every Easter (more than greet the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Easter mornings).
But this is not simply a matter of static (European) Christianity being implemented by people of other races. Christianity itself is radically changing. The New Christendom is “no mirror image of the Old. It is a truly new and developing entity”. Jenkins writes:
“As Christianity moves South, it is in some ways returning to its roots. To use the intriguing description offered by Ghanaian scholar Kwame Bediako, what we are now witnessing is ‘the renewal of a non-Western religion.’”
As once Europeans appropriated Christian iconography as their own, so does the New Christianity in Latin America, where images are filtered through the lens of mestizo identity. The Catholic Church has proclaimed the Virgin of Guadalupe as the patron of all the Americas. Probably the result of syncretization with the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, the Guadalupe Virgin, the dark one (La Morena) as she is called, looks like the local Americanian and mestizo populations, not like Europeans. Likewise, images of the Cuban La Caridad show her “appearing to rescue black and mestizo sailors”. In Equador, the Virgin of El Quinche is popular “because her skin color is that of the local mestizos”. “Ethnically as much as spiritually,” these non-European Virgins are their Virgins. (1).
Mestizo identity, writes Jenkins, is important to understanding this new Catholicism in Latin America. He writes:
“[A key concept among Latinos] is that of mestizaje, ‘mixed-ness’, that status of being mestizo or mixed blood. In contemporary theology, mestizaje is so critical because it transcends traditional racial hierarchies. It thus comes closer to the New Testament goal of a society without racial privilege or domination, in there is neither Jew nor Greek, Latino nor Anglo. And while mixed-race people were traditionally marginalized and despised, newer theologians see this status as uniquely privileged…. [In The Future is Mestizo, Virgilio Elizondo] presents Jesus as a mestizo son of Galilee’s mixed and marginalized society, who enters the great city of Jerusalem in order to challenge its wealth, to confront the racial arrogance of the pure-blooded elite.”
Such racial overtures also exist among African Christians and have for a very long time. Kimpa Vita, 17th-century Christian convert in the Kongo, had a dream that Jesus was a black Kongolese and was told that black Christians need to find their own way to God, even if it meant using practices condemned by white priests. Although burned as a heretic and witch, she was ahead of her time and serves as a model for the present trajectory of African Christianity distancing itself from a dying Western Christianity. A Nigerian
Pentecostal pastor has proclaimed:
“This is the time of the African. The Europeans have had their time, the Asians have had their time, the Americans have had their time. The black man is going to read the last Gospel before the coming of Christ. . . . It’s our time.”
As one would expect, these stressed racial differences carry over into theology. The types of Christianity that thrive in the South, Jenkins maintains, are more concerned with the
“immediate workings of the supernatural, through prophecy, visions, ecstatic utterances, and healing.”
Charismatic religion, even for Catholicism, is part of the new landscape. John Allen said
“As Roman Catholicism in the future speaks with an African and Hispanic accent, it will also speak in tongues.”
Snake handlers and faith healers may be the new norm for Catholicism as for Pentecostalism.
Although often initially converted by Westerners, Third World congregations follow a typical pattern, argues Jenkins:
“An individual is enthusiastically converted through one of the mission churches, from which he or commonly she is gradually estranged. The division might arise over issues of church practice, usually the integration of native practices. The individual receives what is taken as a special instruction from God, commonly in a trance or vision. This event is a close imitation of one of the well-known New Testament scenes in which God speaks directly to his people, as at Pentecost or on the road to Damascus.”
Jenkins notes that once Christianity is accepted by a new people, they typically then will “purge away from that essential truth [of] the foreign cultural trappings with which it was originally presented”, to let it speak anew in African, Asian or mestizo terms. For instance, in India, local theologians emphasize non-Western elements of Christianity complementary to indigenous religions. In Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s River Between contains a vision of Jesus where a new synthesis demands that Christianity be acclimatized to African ways. Although there are kernels of truth in the white man’s religion, it
“…needed washing, cleaning away all the dirt, leaving only the eternal. And that eternal that was the truth had to be reconciled to the traditions of the people.”
Expunging its European elements, Christianity becomes animated by new substrata of indigenous beliefs. The former dean of a university of Gabon remarked to V.S. Naipaul,
“The new religions, Islam and Christianity, are just on the top. Inside us is the forest [the magical world of their ancestors].”
Naipaul writes that although nominally Christian, families still honour the old African ways, which perhaps are more influential than the formal outer faith. The interchange between Christianity and African animism might involve Christianity making “mellower and less warlike” African beliefs, but with an inevitable mixing of the two. Naipaul reports the characterization by a Ghanaian man named Pa-boh:
“The supreme being [Jehovah] is very powerful and is not to be used in daily rituals. The others, spirits and gods and so on, are invoked daily. They have physical representations: they can be trees, stumps, stools, carved idols, rivers and pools…. These deities have their own spokesmen, who are high priests and prophetesses. They have to be initiated into the cults. Both the high priests and prophetesses are possessed…. If the prophetesses take up an issue they go into frenzy; they tear their upper clothes off and bare their breasts, and start talking in unknown languages.”
Naipaul was surprised to find that Pa-boh, given his enthusiasm for African animism, was Christian with a Christian grandfather running a local church.
Unsurprisingly, liturgies are fast changing across the Global South. Pentecostal customs, such as spontaneous dancing and emotional expressions, are now the norm. Such zeal is imported to Catholicism, with Catholic centres offering opportunities to “pray, weep and dance”. Vernacular prayers and liturgies are now associated with new places, like Guadalupe discussed above or Ekuphakameni in South Africa, which may become the modern Lourdes or Walsingham.
Ancestor worship (which was not uncommon in European paganism) has been incorporated into much African Christianity. Jenkins notes:
“[The African] Jesus exercises for all people the same care and love that the ancestor of a specific tribe would for his or her descendants. Integrating the idea of ancestors into the liturgy has been the primary goal of the newer African Catholic rites.”
While this may seem odd to Westerners (many of whom have not practiced ancestor worship for at least 1,500 years), Jenkins notes that ancestor-worship sycretism is quite normal in Africa and Asia. In 2000, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bloemfontein, South Africa, not only allowed Africans to honour their ancestors through blood libations, but also permitted the ritual sacrifice of sheep and cows in the Mass.
Many Mexicans also claim blood ties to Jesus. The Tarahumara, for instance, believe that Amerindians descend from Jesus, while all non-Amerindians are the offspring of Satan. Likewise, throughout Latin America, there are various prayers and liturgies that include the veneration of older ancestral deities alongside Jesus (2).
Although Third World Christianity at present may be ethnocentric, some people hope it will eventually become more universalist (ie, more liberal), as Western Christianity has become. But there is no reason to assume that the development of the new Christendom will mirror Western Christianity. For all we know, Third World Christianity could become more ethnocentric, more anti-Western, and privilege non-whiteness even more.
Many Western conservatives (and leftists) have denounced the liturgies of the new Christendom as overly syncretistic, as essentially non-Christian. Jenkins, however, argues that the meaning of Christianity is rather fluid, noting that even the Nicene Creed is not static, as Western Europeans altered it by adding the filioque. “We cannot be too precise about defining Christianity,” he maintains, because people following Jesus have “always been very diverse, and we should acknowledge and accept that broad range of self-conceptions.” Besides, Western denunciations of non-Western syncretism will probably carry very little weight in the future. Jenkins writes:
“If we are to live in a world where only one Christian in five is a non-Hispanic white, then the views of that small minority are even less likely to claim mainstream status, however desperately the Old World order clings to its hegemony over the control of information and opinion.”
In short, the Global South does not care whether Westerns deny that a particular practice is Christian. Westerners, in their eyes, no longer define what is Christian.
Regarding the politics of the Next Christendom, European terms like ‘right’ and ‘left’ do not apply. While these Third World Christians may agree with American social conservatives on a few issues, they practice anti-Western identity politics and often demand wealth redistribution from the First World to the Third. Third World Catholics, for instance, may cite the 1967 papal encyclical Populorum Progressio, calling for “bold transformations to redistribute wealth globally”. In this respect, Samuel Huntington has identified the modern Catholic Church as one of the principal engines for Third World progressive movements in the 1980s. The Catholic Church also sides with the Third World and against the West on the issue of mass immigration.
The religious divide between First World and Third World will probably only widen. This “mysterious non-Western ideology called Christianity”, Jenkins maintains, will appear odd to many Westerns. Christianity will eventually acquire the same bleak stereotypes that have been applied to Islam. In the near future, many Westerners might see Christianity as a “black thing” rather than a “God thing”. Jenkins suggests that as Christianity becomes more associated with Africa and the African Diaspora,
“the religion as a whole may come to be dismissed as only what we might expect from the Heart of Darkness.”
Once Westerners realize that Christianity has become largely a non-Western, an anti-Western, religion, they could be even more eager to distance themselves from what they will see as ‘jungle religion’.
While Jenkins may accurately describe the current trajectory of Christianity, his support and recommendations seem to lack much “Western sympathy”. In fact, when reading between the lines of Jenkins’ suggestions, one might aver that Jenkins has ‘gone native’.
While it is true that many Westerners will feel estranged from the coming Christendom, many in the United States, especially conservatives, already feel estranged from Western Christian leaders (eg, Cardinal Roger Mahony or Reverend Leith Anderson) who have sided against their fellow compatriots in support of mass immigration from the Third World. Jenkins unsurprisingly takes the pro-immigration side, and it’s telling that a book nominally about Third World Christendom appears to have such a vested interest in mass immigration into the First World.
What Pat Buchanan bemoans in Death of the West, Jenkins seems to celebrate. Dismissing the concerns of commentators like Jean Raspail as “perverse”, Jenkins trumpets pro-immigration talking points such as for Western nations “mass immigration represents the only possible means of maintaining a viable society”. The very idea, however, that immigrants are necessary to prop up the welfare state is illogical. Immigrants take more out of the welfare system than they put in. Numerous studies show that Third World immigrants typically use more in tax-based services (eg, healthcare, education) than they pay in taxes, as well as bringing a whole host of other problems (driving down wages, crime, ethnic divisiveness, etc). And even if immigrants did make positive economic contributions, why would they want to contribute to a welfare system without recouping their contributions? It’s a vicious cycle. As the German politician Jürgen Rüttgers quipped, Germany needs “Kinder statt Inder” (“more children, not Indians”). Furthermore, it’s uncertain whether a multiethnic society can even maintain a welfare state. As Christopher Caldwell notes, welfare economies tend to arise on “conditions of ethnic homogeneity”. The more diverse a society becomes, the more the welfare state begins to teeter.
Yet these concerns might not trouble Jenkins. Although an Anglican, Jenkins seems to sympathize with the Catholic neoconservative view that flooding the West with Third World (preferably Christian) immigrants is necessary for the spiritual revitalization of the West. Jenkins praises the efforts of Third World missionaries in building, or taking over, churches and proselytizing. He does not object when he quotes Matthew Oshimolowo, head of the black Kingsway International Christian Centre in London, as saying that the Anglican church should “die gracefully” and hand over its buildings to Africans.
Jenkins’ suggestion (supporting Third World immigration to evangelize the West) is troubling on a number of grounds. First, it treats religion as an overtly ideological weapon. Second, it assumes that Westerners cannot revitalize themselves if they see the need to do so. Third, Jenkins has shown that the new Christianity is non-Western, so flooding the West with its representatives will not resuscitate a Western variety of Christianity but rather impose a new, non-Western variety upon Europeans.
Jenkins repeatedly calls for stronger ties between First and Third World Christians, arguing that the West should allocate more resources to the Third World—priests, missionary work, charity, and so forth. Yet he admits that the next major conflicts could be between Christians and Muslims in the Global South. Why would Westerners want to become involved in such a quagmire? What is wrong with religious isolationism?
Furthermore, aiding the Third World (via wealth redistribution, charity, adoptions, etc) combined with the Third World’s opposition to birth control spells a demographic disaster. It essentially portends that the Third World will replicate its genetic information at a greater rate than Westerners and at the economic expense of wealthier, Western nations. Western religious conservatives, by forging coalitions with Third World Christendom, will be playing cuckolds to an exploding Third World population.
In summation, Jenkins’ prescriptions would result in a massive reshuffling of people. Priests and ministers from the West should go to the Third World. Third World Christians should come to the First World to re-Christianize it. Cui bono? This is a form of social engineering reminiscent of cultural Marxism. Interestingly, like leftist diversicrats, Jenkins thinks schools should celebrate this diversity:
“American universities prize the goal of diversity in their teaching, introducing students to the thought-ways of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, often using texts from non-Westerner cultures. However strange this may sound in terms of conventional stereotypes, teaching about Christianity would be a wonderful way to teach diversity, all the more so now that [this] non-Western religion is returning to its roots.”
Under this view, Christian Studies can become an extension of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Samuel Huntington was correct when he said that prescribed diversity is inherently an anti-Western ideology.
While a review of Jenkins’s description of the rise of non-Western Christianity may help to reconcile Cardinal Kasper’s seemingly contradictory statements about London being secular and Third World, Jenkins’s prescriptions (such as evangelizing the First World with the Third) often appear hostile toward the historic West.
Unlike the vibrant syncretization of Third World Christianity (which incorporates the believers’ ancestral traditions)—the current manifestation of Western Christianity has become too universalist, too obsessed with “rights” and love of The Other. It is not surprising that traditionalists have abandoned it. While Western religious leaders invite the Third World to colonize their ancestral lands, many Western conservatives view contemporary Christendom as becoming antithetical to their own survival.
Small contingents on the right—both in Europe and the United States—have returned to the indigenous pagan religions of Europe. Unlike the universal, creedal aspects of contemporary Western Christianity, European pagan religions are passed on by blood and progeny, and often involve forms of ancestor worship – either worshipping immediate ancestors or claiming the gods as ancestors. But neopaganism remains marginal.
Another possibility, which Jenkins overlooks, is the possible rise of distinctively pro-Western varieties of Christianity. As The Other becomes more apparent, some Western churches may try to define themselves against it. These pro-Western churches would not only have to accept their lack of global influence in the vast sea of non-Western Christianity but embrace it. Breaking off ties with the Third World, these churches would cherish their Western heritage, possibly reincorporating elements of European indigenous religious practice. They would be anti-globalist and mend fences at home, hence ceasing all charitable and missionary work in the Third World, and prohibiting Third World churches from evangelizing in the West. They would support a moratorium on all Third World immigration into the West, and stress localism while shunning universalism. They would cease all “rights” talk, come to terms with human evolution and ethnic interests (3), and remain neutral in Third World Muslim versus Christian conflicts. Most importantly, unlike most Western Christian churches today, these churches would not shy away from defending the real interests of their host nations.
Whether a new pro-Western variety of Christianity can arise remains to be seen. Regardless, Jenkins is correct in his assertion that Belloc’s “Europe is the faith” is no longer true.
The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, revised and expanded edition. Philip Jenkins; New York: Oxford University Press (USA), 306 pp., $14.95
The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief. V.S. Naipaul; London: Picador, 325 pp., £20
1. To view footage of this phenomenon, watch “Christianity – Mexico 2/2” at YouTube
2. To view footage of local divinities mixed with Christianity, watch YouTube, ibid.
3. It is commonplace for Third World Christian churches to denigrate evolutionary thought. For a vivid example, see “Crazy Preacher Kid” at YouTube