Friday, December 22, 2006

The Religious Revival

Last night, we were talking about this sort of development:
In their book, Adjiedj Bakas, a professional trend-watcher, and Minne Buwalda, a journalist, argue that Holland is experiencing a fundamental shift in religious orientation: "Throughout Western Europe, and also in Holland, liberal Protestantism is in its death throes. It will be replaced by a new orthodoxy."
From both sets of figures, it seems clear that something of a high-water mark for secularization in Holland was set in the last decade. What is less clear is what is happening now and what happens next. If 40-50 percent of the population are Christian, yet only half of these are in traditional churches, Protestant or Catholic, what is going on with religion in Holland?

The reason the Christian population of Holland has stopped shrinking and is likely to avoid further decline is a phenomenon that until now has been largely overlooked by commentators on Dutch politics and society: Christian immigration. Analysts usually focus on the one million Muslim immigrants and their offspring who have made the Netherlands their home since the early 1950s. But in the past decade, Muslim immigration has been overtaken by a larger stream of immigrants, namely Christians from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. An SCP estimate puts the number of Christian immigrants in Holland at around 700,000-- and rising fast. Recent immigration reports suggest that for every new Muslim moving to Holland, there are at least two new Christian immigrants.
For better or for worse, Dutch Christianity is now largely an underground phenomenon. If an average Dutchman has any picture of Christianity, it is of empty pews and derelict church buildings. Dutch Christians have increasingly withdrawn from the public sphere, either voluntarily--as in the case of the house churches and the youth church movement--or because they lack the confidence to speak publicly about their faith to an unbelieving audience. If they do enter the public sphere, as in the case of the Alpha course, they do so under a neutered, de-Christianized guise: not imposing their views, merely inviting people to come along, have a meal, and ask any questions they like. They may be successful, but a city upon a hill they are not--more like a city in wartime, its lights hidden behind thick dark curtains. Any genuine seeker might stumble past it without knowing it was even there.

What that seeker will find, and very visibly, is Islam. While Dutch Christianity is making the move from church buildings to living rooms, sports centers, and factory halls, Dutch Islam is moving in the opposite direction. At the Kostverlorenvaart in the Amsterdam suburb of De Baarsjes, the foundations are being laid for a new mosque, with a 110-foot-high dome and 140-foot-high minarets. "We don't want to pray in basements and school buildings anymore. We want a proper mosque," is how Fatih Dag explains the idea behind this project. Dag is chairman of the board of the local Aya Sofia Mosque. He says he understands local objections to the scale of the project: "Of course, if I were living in Turkey and people wanted a big new church next to my house, I might object too. But the fact is that we are here, and we're here to stay. And we want a place to worship." Indeed, in all major towns in Holland, building projects are under way for the construction of supersized mosques.
It's an interesting article but there are parts I don't find convincing:
With government sponsorship--and the accompanying demands of gender neutrality--of university-based imam training courses about to become a reality, the day is not far off when the first feminist and gay imams will start preaching in mosques in Holland. There is no reason to assume Islam will be any better placed to deal with this liberal onslaught than mainstream Christianity was in the 1950s and '60s.
The assumption here is that secularization and liberalization are world historical forces that are bound to affect all religions similarly in time. This may be true in some very general sense; but the specific content of any "secularization" or "liberalization" will always depend on what it is being secularized or liberalized. The difference between Jesus' and Mohammed's revelations is all important in shaping what can evolve from them, and there is no reason to think that just because one has led to openly homosexual clergy (in the kind of churches, by the way, that the article notes are in decline) so will the other.

In other words, the secular is just another evolving form or stage of the sacred within a particular cultural tradition. And what may be partly behind the reported religious revival in the Netherlands is a dawning realization that the dichotomy between the sacred and secular as it has long been understood is something of a false dichotomy. At our Thursday night meetings, we never tire of noting that the "secular" elites in our universities and mainstream media practice a religion - a devotion to certain understandings or visions of the sacred - that is just as powerful a mix of the rational and irrational, probably more so, than the practice and thought of those often more humble folk who profess belief in God. And on the other hand, religion can be a much superior vehicle for a "secular" or rational human self-understanding as anything put out by the likes of, say, Richard Dawkins.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict's understanding of Christianity is receiving further clarification, here:
The point of departure is the radical crisis in which Christianity finds itself today, especially in Europe: a Christianity that has lost its certainty of being the “true religion.”

What has separated the faith from the truth has been both the changes that have taken place in thinking and in science, and those who have weakened Christianity itself.

But Benedict XVI, on the other hand, wants to reunite reason and freedom with Christianity – and with this, to illuminate the “strange shadow” in which modern man lives, who in addition to losing God has also lost the awareness of good and evil.

But Ruini emphasizes that the pope does this “in a way that is not at all rationalistic.”

The heart of Benedict XVI’s preaching is, in fact, Jesus.

This explains why he has dedicated himself to writing a book about Him: about the “historical” Jesus, who is one and the same as the Jesus of faith.

In rediscovering Jesus as true God and true man, the Christian West can approach the other cultures and religions of the world, offering them its own genuine proposal.

Raztinger and Ruini say ‘no’ to both inculturation and multiculturalism.

In their view, the approach that “belongs to the original form of Christianity” is that of interculturalism.

Interculturalism “implies both a positive attitude toward other cultures and religions, and the work of purification and the ‘courageous stance’ that are indispensable for any culture that truly wants to encounter Christ.”
(Hat Tip: GABlog)

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