March 8, 2006

Spreading the meme of God

I was shocked to find out recently that Pentecostalism is the world's fastest growing religion.

What started off in 1901 as a small bible college in Topeka, Kansas, is now a religion that has as many as 500 million followers worldwide. There are more than 140,000 American missionaries around the world and American-style mega-churches are beginning to appear in Europe.

Missions expert David Barrett estimated in a Christianity Today article that the Pentecostal and charismatic church is growing by 19 million per year. About 25% of the world's Christians are Pentecostal or charismatic, according to historian Vinson Synan.

The Pentecostal movement within Protestant Christianity places special emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as shown in the Biblical account of the Day of Pentecost. It is similar to the Charismatic Movement, but developed earlier and separated from the mainstream church. The Charismatic Movement began with the adoption of certain Pentecostal beliefs, specifically what are known as the bibilical charisms of Christianity (ie speaking in tongues, prophesying, etc.) within mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches. Over time, many Charismatic Christians formed their own churches and denominations.

Why the sudden surge in Pentecostalism and religion in general?

Globalization and the so-called "clash of civilizations" has in part caused the recent global religious resurgence. Also, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the bipolar geopolitical structure has unleashed an explosion of the long oppressed ethnic, religious, and social movements. And as Majid Tehranian argues, modernization has been mobilizing and fragmenting traditional societies to such a degrees that identity insecurities and anxieties have become a permanent feature of the modern world. "Mass nationalist, ethnic, and religious movements have emerged to provide a cultural and political home to the teeming millions of uprooted individuals stranded in the congested cities and countryside," writes Tehranian.

But these explanations seem suspiciously focused around the spread of Islam, and not that good ol' time religion comin' out of the USA. It seems to me that the spread of Pentecostalism is only partly explained by these suggestions.

Yes, human psychologies ripe for religion are in abundance today. But the memes require a vector, and in the case of Pentecostalism, its missionaries are its greatest asset. It's an aggressive religion that's excellent at perpetuating itself. And it doesn't help that Americans, and now Europeans, are fixated on mega-churches, or what I like to call factory churches (there's a brand new one just down the road from me).

What I'm having a hard time getting over, however, is why Asians and Africans are eating it up. I can only suppose that the human psyche is particularly prone to Christian memes and that the evangelizing Pentecostals are doing one heck of a job spreading the meme of God.

Too bad there's no such thing as evangelical atheists.

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Anonymous said...

After reading this article I kind of wonder if this man has ever attended any church at all. What is wrong with helping people? That is what the missionairies do, they go anywhere to do what GOD wants them to do and some of the places that they go to is not safe, but they rely on GOD to protect them. As far as speaking in tongues and the holy spirit, if you read the bible you will know that is possible. It is sad that some people only believe only some of the bible. But not all. So sad. But I will pray for this man and all others.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh... this comment was typical for the "I-pray-for-everything-instead-of-doing-things-myself" type of person.