Religion in this new world

The cover story of this month's Atlantic Monthly is about the growth of Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere of the world, from Asia to Africa to Latin America. This is your father's Christianity, in a way. In the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in America's Protestant and Catholic community, a liberal uprising is increasingly critical of some of the Church's most traditional doctrines, including "mandatory celibacy among the clergy, intolerance of homosexuality, and the prohibition of women from the priesthood, not to mention a more generalized fear of sexuality." the story is much different below the equator. As author Philip Jenkins writes:
"The most successful Southern churches preach a deep personal faith, communal orthodoxy, mysticism, and puritanism, all founded on obedience to spiritual authority.... Whereas Americans imagine a Church freed from hierarchy, superstition, and dogma, Southerners look back to one filled with spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces that cause sickness and poverty."
Jenkins argues that in all the recent fervor over the influence of radical Islam, we in the West are blind to this tectonic shift in the world's religious makeup. By 2050, at current growth rates, four out of five Christians will be Latino. Pentecostal Christians could number a billion, dwarfing the world's Buddhists and matching the number of Hindus in the world. Recent polls have detected this shift, even while focusing their attention on the size of the Islamic community. The Southern church is far, far more conservative than the Northern church. The progressive secular movement seizing the imagination of Americans is completely alien to most of the rest of the world.
I wasn't raised with any religion. I didn't have to attend Sunday school, and the few times I attended church was as a guest of another family or friends. So my knowledge of and intuitive understanding of the influence of religion and religious history is limited to what I've learned from more religious friends or relatives or from books or movies (some would argue the only things I've ever learned are from books and comment). But this movement could add to the growing divide between America and the rest of the world.
What I do know is that the conflict between the haves and the have-nots is one of the most explosive social reactions in human history, and to me it lies behind 9/11 as much as any reason offered to date. Still, a growing religious rift between a liberal Northern church and a more populous, fervent Southern church is worrisome. Even I know enough about history to know that differences in religion can lead to just as bloody a confrontation as a battle over land or oil. Jenkins notes that the primary difference between Northern Christians and Southern Christians is that those in the South are poor. That means they relate much more to healing and exorcism elements of the Bible. There's a whole interview with Jenkins posted here--fascinating reading.
By the way, among popular magazines in the U.S., The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and Harper's form a three-headed monster of American culture. I recommend them all, though the biggest problem in doing so is how to keep up with all that reading. I have a pile of back issues about a foot high, and it's starting to lean.

Couples, II

Wow, I've never gotten as many e-mails over an entry in my weblog as I did over my recent post on couples. Some pretty heated responses, too. I won't quote any of them (though you can read Jenny's in her weblog--she's never been shy, and bless her for it), but suffice it to say many were critical of my rant. Some seemed a bit defensive, but on the whole some good points were made, and no one was openly hostile. The most popular point made was that I wasn't all that interesting myself because I'm always at work. Nothing I can say to that, other than I agree. Sometimes I bore even myself.
I'm a fairly agreeable guy, so I generally don't have to engage in many confrontations or arguments, and I rarely stir people up. That was kind of fun, though. I think I'll have to write a more opinionated weblog in the months ahead.
On a side note, The New Yorker heard me. David Denby reviews My Big Fat Greek Wedding in this week's issue. Maybe I'll read it to find out what the fuss is all about.

What to read?

For some reason, it just feels like a whole slew of artists whose work I've appreciated in the past have come out with new works in the past several months. On the musical side, new CDs by Coldplay, The Flaming Lips, Pulp, Aimee Mann, Bruce Springsteen, Beck, Paul Westeberg, and on and on. Lots of good stuff.
On the bookshelf, a similar wave of new hardcovers:
The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Summerland by Michael Chabon
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
new unnamed novel by David Eggers
Lullaby by Chuck Pahlaniuk
The thing is, I can't bring myself to purchase any of them. So many people love to declare with price that they're reading the latest novel by [insert popular author] as a medal of courage, but I must confess that most long fiction bores and/or disappoints me. What's worse, hardcovers are expensive, heavy, and they take lots of space in your room and lots of time from your life.. So if any of you have read any of the above and have any recommendations, please leave a comment or send me a line. Or if there's another new work of fiction I've missed, send those my way as well. I find you can't really trust newspaper reviews; every new novel can find some glowing reviews for the dustjacket. Glowing reviews by other authors whose works I enjoy (if Tobias Wolff or Jonathan Franzen or someone like that recommends something, I'll usually pick it up) are a much better gauge of readability, if not quality.
My latest recommendation? 12:30am reruns of Sports Night on The Comedy Channel. Can't go wrong with some rapid fire dialogue courtesy of Sorkin after a long and brutal day at the office. This is The West Wing without the gravity--a failed experiment in which you can see all the familiar ingredients and the promise Sorkin realized with The West Wing. And if you purchase one of these kits highlighted in today's Slashdot and soup up your Tivo, you could have an entire season of this show taped in about a month, with the equivalent of 1190 hours of free disk space left.

Kelly Kelly Kelly

Hey, it's American Idol! You bet I'm going to catch this show when it hits Seattle (and I know many of you out there will be lurking in the shadows there).
The real story behind Idol is the return of Paula Abdul and the rise to fame of Simon Cowell. Which of us couldn't benefit from having Paula on one shoulder to boost us up ("I've got two words for you Eugene...phe...nomenal") and Simon on the other ("Umm, look, let's be honest...there are about 3 people in this room smarter and better looking than you are, and if America does its job, you'll be out of one soon").
Simon. Cheeky fellow. But he speaks the truth. He speaks the truth.