Faith ghosts in the global recession

469px-la_fe_ls_carmona_mrabasf_e-108_01The world's economic troubles have many journalists writing articles about how the global society is changing as a consequence of the recession. For example, the Atlantic had this cover story on how communities like New York City will benefit from the financial crash (not exactly original or surprising considering the author). The Economist writes about how we may see a return "of economic nationalism." On the other hand, as Tmatt noted here, some are predicting the collapse of the Christian evangelical community.

The two hypothetical narratives for the future are not connected in any of the articles, but they should be. Regardless of the merits of the predictions that communities like NYC will benefit and evangelicalism will diminish, the two issues are connected in ways that reporters should explore.

For one reason or another, Anthony Faiola did not touch for a minute on religion in this Washington Post report on the drying up of the global economy. The article does a great job exploring the affect the economy has had on individuals all over the world, but not once is religion mentioned:

Globalization took years to reach Mae Sot, a remote town surrounded by jade-colored hills and tropic streams on Thailand's border with secretive Burma. It did not stay long. ...

When the global economy went code red, Thailand's exports collapsed. In December, the factory where Lamin worked began losing contracts. In mid-February, her employer joined dozens of others shutting down in the region and adding to a swelling refugee crisis. All 800 Burmese workers at Lamin's job site were fired.

Tucking away her $350 life savings, she tried to join many of her jobless co-workers crossing back into Burma. On the way, she was shaken down by Thai police who are conducting crackdowns in the area as public opinion shifts against foreign workers in hard times. Now penniless, she is living in a halfway house in a dusty corner of town, sleeping on a concrete floor and hoping to persuade her old employer to fund her return home.

"I don't want to go back to Burma. It is a horror, there is only poverty, no jobs," she said, eyes downcast as she spoke through a translator. "They only wanted us in Thailand when they needed us. Now, they just want us gone."

I don't recommend this story if you're not prepared to be seriously depressed. The picture is not pretty, and the consequences of the global economic meltdown appears to be getting uglier by the day.

But how does religion affect the economic crisis, and how will the economic crisis affect religion? Will Christianity continue to grow in the countries that used to be considered developing? Will Western countries continue to send missionaries? How will Islamic countries respond to the drying up of their oil revenues?

News stories deal with these subjects are difficult to report on because it does require some level of informed speculation and prediction. But as we have seen with both stories dealing with the economic crisis and with the future of Christianity, it is not impossible to report on predictions for the future. In addition, things are happening today with massive amounts of migration as demonstrated in the Post story that has to involve religion:

Thousands of foreign workers, including London School of Economics graduates with six-digit salaries and desperately poor Bangladeshi factory workers, are streaming home as the economy here suffers the worst of the recessions in Southeast Asia. Singapore is an epicenter of what analysts call a new flow of reverse migration away from hard-hit, globalized economies, including Dubai and Britain, that were once beacons for foreign labor. Economists from Credit Suisse predict an exodus of 200,000 foreigners -- or one in every 15 workers here -- by the end of 2010. ...

As exports crash worldwide, factories from China to Eastern Europe are shuttering. The World Bank estimates the crisis will trap at least 53 million more people in poverty in the developing world this year. Last week alone, $1 billion fled emerging markets -- the largest weekly loss since October, according to Merrill Lynch. Some of the hardest hit are migrants and foreign contract workers. Malaysia is expelling 100,000 Indonesians as part of a new policy to put Malaysian workers first as the recession sparks job losses. In Britain, strikes broke out nationwide to protest the hiring of foreigners at one the country's largest refineries even as thousands of Eastern European immigrants headed home anyway because they could not find work.

Migrations and immigrations have always impacted religion both in the destination country as well as the home country. People tend to rely and return to their faiths during times of hardship. Will churches in countries with large populations of returning migrants see a boost in church, mosque and synagogue attendance? Which religious institutions will see the most increase and if so, will they end up stronger as a result?

The faith ghosts in this story should not be ignored. Please let us know if anyone has seen the subject addressed. I would not be surprised to see publications like The Economist or The Atlantic deal with it, but to date, I have yet to see anything.

Image of Allegory of faith, by L.S. Carmona (1752-53), used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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