Berger on evangelical Christianity as the most modern large religion

Sociologist Peter Berger argues evangelical Christianity may be so successful around the world because it is individualistic:

Why is this? David Martin, another British sociologist who has been a kind of dean of Pentecostalism studies, has shown in great detail how this astounding development can be understood as yet another incarnation of the Protestant ethic, which was a crucial factor in the genesis of modern capitalism.I think he is right.

But I think there is another important factor, which has been generally overlooked. Allow me to regale you with the Berger hypothesis on why Evangelical Protestantism is doing so well in much of the contemporary world: Because it is the most modern of any large religion on offer today. I am well aware of the fact that this contradicts the prevailing view of Evangelicals in academia and the media—so brilliantly expressed in President Obama’s priceless characterization of a demographic not voting for him in the 2008 election as economically challenged people “clinging to their guns and their God”. In other words, seen from the perspective of Harvard Yard these are the great unwashed out of step with modernity. But curiously this is also how diehard Evangelical fundamentalists see themselves—as defenders of the true faith against the intellectual and moral aberrations of modernity. They are both wrong.

Evangelicals believe that one cannot be born a Christian, one must be “born again” by a personal decision to accept Jesus. What can be more modern than this? This view of the Christian faith provides a unique combination of individualism with a strong community of fellow believers supporting the individual in his decision. It allows individuals to be both religious and modern. That is a pretty powerful package.

Berger isn’t the first to note the individualistic ethos of evangelicalism. This reminds me of one of the conclusions of Souls in Transition where Smith and Snell suggest that while conservative churches are the ones that have thrived in the United States, particularly compared to mainline churches, they too have accepted the tenets of liberal Protestantism including individualism, declining adherence to authority, and pluralism.

If Berger is right, can this tension between individual religiosity – notable dubbed “Sheilaism” in Habits of the Heart – and community (adherence to a larger umbrella of conservative Protestantism, going to church regularly, etc.) continue to propel evangelicalism or tear it apart?

Bigger gap in viewing race between white and black Christians

A new study looks at how white and black Christians in America view race – and the two sides are still far apart:

“The new findings … lay bare the dramatic and growing gap in racial attitudes and experiences in America,” writes David Briggs in releasing the second wave of results from the Portraits of American Life Study (led by Michael Emerson of Rice University and David Sikkink of Notre Dame) via the Association of Religion Data Archives. “We do not live in a post-racial nation, the [new 2012 results] suggests, but in a land of two Americas divided by race, and less willing than ever to find a common ground of understanding.”…

1) More evangelicals and Catholics have come to believe that “one of the most effective ways to improve race relations is to stop talking about race.” In 2012, 64 percent of evangelicals and 59 percent of Catholics agreed with this statement, up from 48 percent and 44 percent respectively in 2006…

2) More evangelicals now agree that “it is okay for the races to be separate, as long as they have equal opportunity.” In 2012, 30 percent of all evangelicals agreed, up from 19 percent who said the same in 2006…

In 2006, more than 4 in 10 white non-evangelical Protestants agreed that the government should do more, versus only 3 in 10 white evangelicals and white Catholics. But in 2012, researchers found that “the religion effect disappeared” thanks to “substantial declining support” among white mainline Protestants (dropping from 42 percent to 21 percent) and white “other” Protestants (42 percent to 20 percent). Thus, “regardless of religious affiliation, whites were statistically identical to each other” by 2012.

5) More Americans now say they have been “treated unfairly” because of their race. And moreover, the increase from 2006 to 2012 was statistically significant for all groups: blacks (36% to 46%); Hispanics (17% to 36%); Asians (16% to 31%); whites (8% to 14%); as well as all Americans (13% to 21%).

Looks like more evidence for continuing to assign Divided By Faith to my Introduction to Sociology classes…