Sunday, May 17, 2015

The International Religious Commodity

An article at Huffington Post profiling the very Latino make up of the Greek Orthodox Church in Latin America.

The article is source of consternation (or is it neurosis) for some. Rejoicing for others.

A more sobering perspective sees it as another example of the ever more fluid religious landscape brought by globalization.

There are numerous angles by which one can analyze the Roman Church in Latin America and attempt to diagnose the causes for its surprising losses among Latin Americans. The loses are typically in favor of Pentecostal Christianity, though the growth of the Greek Orthodox diocese of Central America, Colombia and Venezuela from 5,000 in 1996 to 550,000 in 2015 is a notable development.

Catholics and Orthodox will likely theologize the reasons. Catholics will claim it is because the Roman Church is or is not doing x and y. The Orthodox will trumpet the depth of the tradition and its tenacity.

In reality, while it is true both are probably correct to varying degrees, the bare fact causal principle is that in the age of globalization, religion is thoroughly exported.

The culture of Latin America is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Yes, there are residuals of the pre-colonial culture, but Catholicism was thoroughly injected into the region. What is left of the pre-colonial culture is filtered through the lens of Catholicism. Orthodoxy could never have hoped to penetrate the citadel had it not been for globalization, in which commodity and communication transplant ideas (including religions) instantaneously and at the behest of the intended recipient.

To some extent, this is nothing new. The exploration of the new world brought Western Christianity to a new hemisphere. The 1800s witnessed the rise of Buddhism as we know it  in the West (more often than not under the influence of theosophy), as Victorian intellectuals looked to be "liberated" from what they considered to be the chains of Christian dogmatism. The occult revival of the 1960s/70s, coupled with the dawn of New Age spirituality, was equally the result of the commerce of religious ideas. So, in principle, we are not dealing with anything new. The x-factor in the equation is the delivery of information. The information of a new religion in a given geographic territory is now almost instantaneous and fairly democratic - it is not subject to filtering by dominant religious or spiritual classes and is capable of being diffused to a broader base than in previous centuries.

The Orthodox dioceses that have understood this process and leveraged it are openly breaking free from an ethnic enclave. In the US, the Antiochian diocese can make a reasonable claim to leveraging the process. The Greeks, on the other hand, seem at war with themselves over whether or not this is a good thing.

Nevertheless, here we are. Globalization is shifting many of the once taken-for-granted religious delineations. Look at Africa. Catholicism has reaped the benefit of globalization as it continues its march across the continent and undergoes exponential growth.

There will always be the flip side to globalized religion. In the West or in places where Western Christianity was the norm, the traditional religious frame work is suffering attrition. Be it the near collapse in Europe, or the migration of 550,000 Roman Catholics to the Orthodox Church in Latin America, there is a genuine loss worth appreciating. While Catholicism expands in Africa, the rise of a foreign religion in normally animist or Muslim lands invariably stokes social conflict as societies cope with dramatic cultural change.

Yet this is the era (perhaps even the epoch) in which we find ourselves. Religion is thoroughly invested in the global commoditization of ideas.

No comments:

Post a Comment