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BBC asks: What is the future of religion? Does organized religion have a future?

BBC asks: What is the future of religion? Does organized religion have a future?

THE QUESTION:

This cosmic theme is raised by a British Broadcasting Corporation article under the headline, “Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the Future of Religion?”

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

In its early history the BBC (born in 1927, the year of the U.S. Radio Act) was nicknamed “Auntie” for its comforting, old-style tone. But The Beeb goes futuristic in a current online series that takes “the long view of humanity.” An August article offered the forecast about  religion (click here).

Writer Sumit Paul-Choudhury, former editor-in-chief of the New Scientist magazine, notes that religions ebb and flow across eons.

The Parsees’ religion originated with Zarathustra (a.k.a. Zoroaster) in roughly the era of the ancient Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. The faith  had millions of followers in the Persian Empire’s heyday but today counts only 60,000. Christians began as a tiny Jewish sect, spread through the Roman Empire, and today are found  most everywhere and practice the world’s largest religion.

Rather than seeing religions as providing spiritual truths and essential morality, Paul-Choudhury leans toward the “functionalist” theory by which creeds evolved to provide social cohesion. Think Karl Marx, who deemed religion the “opium of the masses.” As clans and tribes gave way to large and diverse nations, people were able to coexist through devotion to “Big Gods,” and so forth.

Importantly, this BBC writer foresees a bleak future. Growing numbers “say they have no religion at all. We obey laws made and enforced by governments, not by God. Secularism is on the rise, with science providing tools to understand and shape the world. Given all that, there’s a growing consensus that the future of religion is that it has no future.”

Thinkers have been promoting that same consensus since the 17th and 18th Century “Enlightenment.”

A special problem hampered religions during the past century, he briefly acknowledges. Nations like Soviet Russia and China “adopted atheism as state policy and frowned on even private religious expression.”

Frowned”?

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NBC takes on the Epoch Times in bid to push Falun Gong-linked outlet off Facebook

NBC takes on the Epoch Times in bid to push Falun Gong-linked outlet off Facebook

Whenever I see one media outlet go after another, red flags pop up in my mind. The recent spectacle of NBC attacking a conservative newspaper called the Epoch Times is a bizarre head trip in that NBC is pretending to have discovered that the paper was founded by members of the Falun Gong, a spiritualist Chinese group.

“NBC News has exclusively learned that the popular conservative news site The Epoch Times is funded by a Chinese spiritual community called Falun Gong, which hopes to take down the Chinese government,” the network stated on Aug. 20.

Excuse me? Those of us on the religion beat have known about the Epoch Times (ET) for many years. Founded in 2000, it never hid its Falun Gong origins nor its hope that China’s Communist overlords would experience divine retribution.

Why? Ever since 2009, news has been leaking out that the Chinese government is torturing and killing Falun Gong members. I was reporting on this back then, especially after members of Congress began having hearings on Capitol Hill about forced organ “donations.”

Thus, it’s understandable that the ET might be a bit unhappy with the Chinese government and very happy with President Trump who has taken China on. So why has NBC mounted a multi-week campaign against the ET and persuaded Facebook to censor any ET ads, particularly those that support President Trump?

It’s entirely possible that the ET broke Facebook’s rules on transparency and may have deserved its punishment. But NBC’s over-the-top campaign against the Epoch Times goes way beyond whether or not it broke some Facebook rule. No, the newspaper is seen as a dangerous fifth column empowering Trump supporters and for that, it must be taken down.

Let’s start with this NBC newscast that broke the story. The anchor’s opening statement begins as follows:

Exclusive reporting from NBC News linking a Chinese spiritual group footing the bill for some of the biggest pro-Trump advertising on FB. The Epoch Times has spent more than $1.5 million on 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months alone. …

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And this just in from the 13th century: What did the popes (secretly) say to the Mongols?

And this just in from the 13th century: What did the popes (secretly) say to the Mongols?

I’ve been in Mongolia the past two weeks helping a friend write a book and seeing as much of this Central Asian nation as I possibly can. I say “central” because the ethos of this place is high steppe, not the coastlines of the Far East.

English-language media are almost non-existent here, but I have found one: Montsame, a government-run national news agency, that ran a tiny piece last week about letters between Mongol emperors and medieval popes during the 1200s.

Is that breaking news? Maybe not. But today we will focus on new information.

St. Francis had been dead about 20 years when all this started. Marco Polo was being born (in 1254). A photo I’ve included with this entry shows how folks (minus the 21st century interlopers) dressed during this time.

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME — On July 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received official copies of letters of khans of the Ilkhanate to the Popes.

Copies of letters from Pope Innocent IV to Guyuk Khan (March 13, 1245), Pope Urban IV to Khulegu Khan May 23, 1263, Abaqa Khan to Pope Clement IV (summer of 1268), Pope Nicholas III to Abaqa Khan (April 1, 1278), a travel permit given to the envoys of Roman Catholic Church by Abaqa Khan, two letters from Pope Nicholas IV to Argun Khan (April 2, 1288) and the letter from Argun Khan to Pope Nicholas IV were received.

Never knew the 13th century had so much ecumenical activity, did you?

The letters were copied according to the official agreement with the Vatican Secret Archives established with the support of the officials of Mongolian Embassy in Italy headed by Ambassador of Mongolia to Italy Ts. Jambaldorj.

This is pretty stilted, but there’s a fascinating story behind it all.

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Trump, China tariffs and God's holy word: Is there really a chance of a Bible shortage?

Trump, China tariffs and God's holy word: Is there really a chance of a Bible shortage?

This Associated Press story got really wide play this week, so you — like me — may have read it in your local newspaper, assuming you still subscribe to your local newspaper (and as a journalist, I hope you do).

I’m talking about AP’s news report out of Nashville, Tenn., on Bible publishers’ concerns about President Trump’s trade war.

It’s a fascinating piece on an industry that — I’ll admit — I don’t think about as much as I used to. It’s not that I don’t consider the Bible important anymore. As a Christian, I most certainly do.

It’s just that I personally do most of my Bible reading on my iPhone and iPad these days. I don’t even own a personal copy of the Scriptures in written form anymore.

But what about those people who do? Is there really a chance of a Bible shortage?

Here’s the news from AP:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Religious publishers say President Donald Trump’s most recent proposed tariffs on Chinese imports could result in a Bible shortage.

That’s because millions of Bibles — some estimates put it at 150 million or more — are printed in China each year. Critics of a proposed tariff say it would make the Bible more expensive for consumers and hurt the evangelism efforts of Christian organizations that give away Bibles as part of their ministry.

HarperCollins Christian Publishing President and CEO Mark Schoenwald recently told the U.S. Trade Representative that the company believes the Trump administration “never intended to impose a ‘Bible Tax’ on consumers and religious organizations,” according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the publisher.

The two largest Bible publishers in the United States, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, are owned by HarperCollins, and they incur close to 75% of their Bible manufacturing expenses in China, Schoenwald said. Together, they command 38% of the American Bible market, he said.

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Secular or sacred? LA Times says some Hong Kong protestors tempted to become 'martyrs'

Secular or sacred? LA Times says some Hong Kong protestors tempted to become 'martyrs'

I have covered quite a few public protests in the past four decades and I have even taken part in two or three, after leaving hard-news work in a newsroom and moving into higher education.

If I have learned one thing about protests it is this: They are almost always very complex events. Protestors may have gathered to protest about a single issue or event, but they often are doing so for different reasons. While they are there at the annual Right to Life march, members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians will have their share of differences with most mainstream Catholics and evangelicals who are taking part. Then there is the Secular Pro-Life network of atheists, agnostics and others.

I have also noticed that protestors are rarely silent, in terms of chants, songs and symbolic speech (think signs and banners). It is often important to listen to what protesters say and then (a) ask them questions about these statements, (b) quote the statements verbatim or (c) both.

This brings us to a long, long, I would say appropriately long Los Angeles Times news report about the protests that continue to rock Hong King. The headline: “Activists fear shattered glass may obscure demands of Hong Kong protest movement.” What caught my eye, online, was a reference to some of the protestors seeking “martyrdom.” Hold that thought.

I read this piece, of course, with an intense interest in whether some — or perhaps many — of the protesters where motivated by fears about Chinese crackdowns on Christians, Muslims and members of other minority faiths. Have these human-rights concerns continued to play a role in the protests. GetReligion readers (about 6,000 people have clicked that, so far) may recall Julia Duin’s recent post with this headline: “American media ignore 'Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,' the anthem of Hong Kong's protests.”

So what did protesters do and say, during that recent protest when they shocked authorities — including some sympathetic to their cause — by seizing Hong Kong’s legislative chambers? What kinds of groups took part and why?

I would still like to know answers to those questions. And who is talking about new “martyrs”?

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Open Doors CEO slams U.S. churches, while persecuted Christians are murdered overseas

Open Doors CEO slams U.S. churches, while persecuted Christians are murdered overseas

Open Doors, the watchdog organization that monitors Christian religious persecution worldwide, released their annual report on the 50 worst countries in the world back in January, but it’s only gotten some air time recently.

What kind of reactions?

Well, let’s look at an editorial that ran Tuesday in USA Today by Open Doors CEO David Curry with this attention-grabber of a headline: “Global Christian persecution is worsening while American Christian churches slumber.” It opened with the latest anti-Christian outrage in Nigeria, where 3,731 Christians were killed in 2018.

We usually don’t talk about opinion in these blog posts, but the complaint here is directly related to press coverage about persecution.

The bottom line: If people don’t know something’s happening, they can’t very well protest it.

If such violence had occurred in Nashville rather than Nigeria, it would dominate nightly news broadcasts and saturate social media feeds. American churches would be launching fundraising campaigns for victims’ families and addressing it in their weekly gatherings. In this case, however, the American church has barely acknowledged it. Unfortunately, when violence occurs somewhere “over there” instead of in our backyard, it is often dismissed as just another story. American churches must do better…

Yet the leadership of the American church, with its superpastors and megachurches, is whistling through the graveyard. The beast that we have created, which relies on upbeat music and positivity to attract donors to sustain large budgets, leaves little room for pastors to talk about the suffering of global Christians. Like most of the culture, the American church is more concerned about college entrance scandals and "Game of Thrones" than persecution.

Inoculated by entertainment and self-absorption, they are completely detached from the experience of the global church. The American church is feeding itself to death while the worldwide church is being murdered.

You can also substitute “American media” in there, too, although it’s accurate to note that most U.S. readers are notorious for not caring about international news. Christians are basically the same with the possible exception of news about Israel.

What the editorial is asking for is something on the line of what happened in 40 years ago when a quarter million people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., in December 1987 on behalf of Soviet Jews.

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American media ignore 'Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,' the anthem of Hong Kong's protests

American media ignore 'Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,' the anthem of Hong Kong's protests

There are two million people marching in the streets of Hong Kong these days, which is one-quarter of the population of the entire city-state that is China’s last bastion of freedom. This fabulous video from TeamBlackSheep shows you a little of what it’s been like.

Not only was a controversial law at stake that would have greatly impacted what little freedoms Hong Kong Chinese have these days, but the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre was just two weeks ago.

What hasn’t been reported on by much of the international media in Hong Kong these days is how a song from the 1970s Jesus movement has become, for many, the anthem of the pro-democracy movement. Here’s a report from Shanghaiist.com that contains a bunch of videos of folks singing this hymn.

Remember, English is not their first language, which makes it all the more compelling:

A hymn sung by Christian groups participating in the ongoing anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong has caught on and become the quasi anthem of the movement.

Composed in 1974, the song is sung in a minor key, and notable for its simplicity and catchiness due to its repeated harmonies of just one phrase.

Alarmed by reports of police brutality, many church groups galvanized to participate in peace protests, calling on the authorities to stop the violence.

Their presence on the front lines of the protests were helpful in making the demonstrations look more like an outdoor worship service rather than the “organized riots” the government said it had to crack down on to bring back law and order.

“Outdoor worship services?”

Why hasn’t anyone reported on this? I saw tiny mentions in foreign media, like in The Economist, but that’s about it in the secular media. Oh, and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said this:

"Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" has become a hit across Hong Kong in the past few days, and it's the first thing I heard as I made my way to Sunday's anti-extradition bill protest.

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When reporters have time for a big think: Where is world religion heading, anyway?

When reporters have time for a big think: Where is world religion heading, anyway?

Baylor University historian and Christian Century columnist Philip Jenkins set forth 21st Century prospects in his book “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity” (Oxford University Press, 2002, updated 3rd edition 2011). His work underscores a theme that has become familiar to all religion specialists, the shift of Christianity’s center of population and power away from traditional Western Europe and North America toward the “Global South,” especially in Africa and Asia.

When time permits, journalists should consider updating that scenario — with accompanying graphics. If you need a local or regional news angle, check out the links to tensions inside the United Methodist Church.

Then, for a fresh global angle, focus on the implications if Christianity is supplanted by Islam as the world’s largest religion. That brings us to data recently posted by Pew Research Center’s Jeff Diamant (a former colleague covering the religion beat).

Pew estimates that as of 2015 there were 2,276,250,000 Christians globally, compared with 1,752,620,000 Muslims. Its projection for 2060 is that the totals will be nearly even, 3,054,460,000 versus 2,987,390,000. Flip that a couple percentage points and Islam would take the lead, and current trend lines suggest Islam could become number one at some point in our century. Birth rates play a key role in this drama.

Hold that thought.

Pew is one of two major players in world religion statistics. Another, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, projects for 2050 (not 2060) a slightly lower 2.7 billion for Muslims and significantly higher 3.4 billion for Christians. This even though CSGC figures that in this century’s first decade Islam was growing faster than Christianity, at 1.86 percent per year, as opposed to Christianity’s 1.31 percent (and a world population rate of 1.2 percent).

These two agencies of number-crunchers are friendly partners in some ventures but have some differences on method.

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China considers three-child policy while India ponders two-child limit due to Muslim birth rates

China considers three-child policy while India ponders two-child limit due to Muslim birth rates

I’ve been watching for almost a year now as China has radically changed its child control policies from the infamous one-child policy to an almost-three child policy.

Thirty-five years of forced abortions, sterilizations, hysterectomies and outright murders of any children who managed to survive these procedures have drastically affected the Chinese family and kin structures on which Chinese culture rested. The South China Morning Post said the psychological trauma to Chinese society surpasses the impacts of other calamities, such as the Great Famine of the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s.

So … now three children?

Last fall, the Wall Street Journal laid out some hints the government was throwing around. And there is a religion connection to this, so please stay with me.

BEIJING—A government-issued postage stamp of a happy pig family—with three piglets—has raised expectations that China may loosen its family-planning policy yet again.

China Post, the national postal service, on Tuesday unveiled its Year of the Pig stamp for 2019, prompting commentators on social media to speculate that the two-child policy is on its way out.

There is precedent: The ditching of the one-child policy in 2016 was foreshadowed by a Year of the Monkey stamp showing two baby monkeys.

Yi Fuxian, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—and longtime critic of China’s birth policy—said the government is likely to go further this time. “It’s a clear sign that they are going to abandon all birth restrictions,” Mr. Yi said.

China’s fertility rate is one of the world’s lowest and nowhere near the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. The country disbanded its family planning commission last year.

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