Sunday, April 18, 2010
Competing Second Comings: Christ vs. The Caliphate
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a study of religious life in sub-Saharan Africa - the most religious region in the world.
One of the driving facts of religious life in Africa is the competition between Islam and Christianity. The report details many elements of this competition, some of which are actually quite encouraging.
One comparison was new to me. They asked Christians "do you believe Jesus will return in your lifetime?" The median answer among the 19 sub-Saharan Africa countries was 61%. This question is often asked of Christians in this country, and usually produces high percentages of "yes" answers among conservative Christians of all denominations.
Pew asked a parallel question that I had not seen in a survey before. They asked Muslims "do you expect the caliphate to be re-established in your lifetime?" The median answer among the 19 sub-Saharan African countries was 52%.
Theologically, these two answers are not really parallel - the return of God Incarnate to establish a new heaven and earth is metaphysically a bigger deal than the restoration of the earthly rule of Muslims. Sociologically, though, I think the two ideas are parallel for many people. The second coming of Christ will, many Christians think, mean a golden age for Christians; the second coming of the caliphate will, many Muslims think, mean a golden age for Muslims.
Moreover, I think the competition between Islam and Christianity in Africa has probably spurred on the hope of both kinds of second comings as a way of resolving the competition.