All (Muslim) Politics is Local: How Context shapes Islam in Power~Charles Tripp


ALL (Muslim) Politics is Local
How Context shapes Islam in Power.

Gilles Kepel and Ali A. Allawi explore the troubled relationship between power and Islam and conclude, each in his own way, that Muslims who seek to shape the world according to their religious values often confront an obdurate reality.

CHARLES TRIPP is Professor of Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

The maxim Islam din wa-dawla (Islam is religion and state) is often said to describe a distinguishing mark of Islam -- the suggestion being that Islam is a religion with a political mission at its core. Both those who repeat the mantra with approving fervor and those who worry about it assert its essential truth and suggest that all Muslims must make it a part of their worldview. Some go so far as to claim that this axiom calls for a particular form of state structure or political behavior.

And yet, of course, the statement is nothing more than a political slogan -- an artifact of its time, its meaning contingent on the setting in which it is used, like any other rallying cry. This quality does not make the slogan any less meaningful for the Muslims who subscribe to it; what it does is highlight the fact that this saying reflects a preoccupation with state power in the modern world. The Muslims who adhere to it, no less than those who do not and no less than non-Muslims, are both the products and the makers of that world. This point is worth stating since much of the present debate about the role of Islam in world politics tends to downplay the political or, at least, display a one-dimensional understanding of what drives political ambition. The political behavior of Islamists, and sometimes that of all Muslims, is often treated as an exotic peculiarity that defies normal analysis and can only be explained as an extension of their faith.

Whatever one's reference point, however, the sometimes sordid business of politics has a gravitational pull that brings lofty ideals and grand sentiments down to earth with a thump. To play the game of politics is to grapple with the practicalities of power. This requires making sense of why people act as they do and when they do: why they respond to certain calls to action -- nationalist, Islamist, whatever -- and why they think their political activities are appropriate, ethically as well as practically, to the ends they imagine worthy of achievement.

Investigating these questions may be an empirical or epistemological challenge, but it does not require singling out religious motivations, Islamic or otherwise. The same searching questions should be asked of the religiously motivated that are asked of liberals, conservatives, Marxists, fascists, nationalists, and any other group that tries to put into practice its imagined notion of the good life. One should not rely only on the players' descriptions of themselves. Yet this is precisely what has happened to the effort to understand the role of religion in shaping the political lives of Muslims. Many members of the Western media, and even many Western academics, have pointed to the most extreme of Muslim political tracts and suggested that these are what Islamism, or even Islam, is really about.

It is all the more refreshing, therefore, to encounter two serious books that avoid this pitfall: Gilles Kepel puts the "politics" back in "Islamist politics," and Ali Allawi explores the often troubled relationship between worldly power and the spirituality of Islamic beliefs. Both books indicate, in their own way, that all Muslims who seek to reshape the world according to Islamic ideals and traditions, whatever they may define those to be, are confronted by the mundane need to bend an often obdurate reality to their will.

RELIGION AND POWER

The exercise of power is bound by time and place, and it depends on the competence of political actors. These conditions determine the political impact of any Islamic ideals. It is worth contrasting, for example, the very different outcomes of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's calls for revolt in Iran in 1963 and in 1978: the first foundered; the second started a revolution. In some cases, the venality of political actors can trigger disillusionment and a reappraisal of Islamic obligations, leading some to turn their backs on an Islamic political program. (Iran might become such a case, after the unrest over the presidential election earlier this year.) A program that does not work -- spectacularly, corrosively, or insidiously -- loses credibility and purchase. It can no longer move people; it has no traction. This may be the result of various factors unrelated to religion or ideology, but these factors necessarily affect the ways in which people understand and act on calls to put their ideals into practice.

Allawi captures this point well in his account of the rise, domination, and decline of secular ideologies and their adherents in the Middle East. Having lived through Iraq's turbulent years of revolution, he witnessed thousands of Iraqis being drawn to the Iraqi Communist Party and thousands of others coming to believe that Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, Baathist or otherwise, would bring modernity to Iraq. Unsurprisingly, Allawi is wary of these fallen gods.

For him, the Islamist political movements that originally emerged in Iraq in the 1950s and gained power thanks to the U.S. occupation after 2003, came not simply from the disillusioned secularists. Crucially, he sees them as products of a distinctively Iraqi politics. They certainly identify themselves as Muslim -- Shiite or Sunni -- but they also represent what it means to be political actors in contemporary Iraq: having to deal with Kurdish secessionists, foreign intervention, and oil-based political economies. The resources of Islamist groups may be very different now than when these groups first emerged; demographics and power structures have changed. But the expression of their political imagination, no matter how self-consciously attached to distinctively Islamic markers, is similar to their predecessors'. Thus their attention to defining community and collective loyalties; the importance they attribute to territorial control and administration; their building of coalitions; their ideas of representation; their use of violence; their cultivation, with money, of patrimonial networks; their competing for political leadership -- all are familiar features of political behavior. Self-consciously Islamist movements and parties, no less than the secular nationalist ones, to which they bear a strong family resemblance, are preoccupied with what works and how.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Grounding Islamist organizations and their sympathizers in a local political reality shaped by the histories, predicaments, and preoccupations of the people they seek to mobilize is a central theme of Kepel's wide-ranging study of various Islamic political movements, chiefly in the Middle East. Part of his intention is to demonstrate how political movements that define themselves based on their readings of Islamic traditions are best understood through a close analysis of the contexts that produced them; they are not the generic symptoms of "resurgent" or "radical" Islam.

Looking at Islamist organizations from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Palestine to Lebanon, Kepel gives a convincing account of the failure of what he says are the two "grand narratives" that have dominated common understandings of political Islam over the past decade or so. The first is the narrative of the "war on terror." Put forward by the Bush administration and its circle of ideologues, it implied that the U.S. military would clear the way for the establishment of democratic politics across the Middle East. The second is both the target and the mirror image of the first: propagated by Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, it holds that jihad directed against the "far enemy," is the best way of establishing Islamic rule in Muslim-majority states and elsewhere. As Kepel points out, both theories are delusions, have equally improbable goals, and have inflicted horrific damage -- damage that has often provoked local resistance and left the United States and al Qaeda bogged down in the intransigent politics of place, facing criticism, fragmenting alliances, and isolation.

Quite apart from the ethical revulsion these two narratives have provoked among Muslims and non-Muslims alike, another problem, as Kepel points out, is their remoteness from Muslims' actual, and diverse, experiences. Both narratives so reify religion as to turn political behavior into the mere reflection of an individual's attachment to a timeless set of prescriptions called "Islam," as if these were removed from the contexts in which Muslim principles and identities drive political actors. They also suggest that Muslims' politics can -- or, in the case of bin Laden, must -- be understood in relation to their faith. Yet the truth is more complicated, contested, and contingent than these two narratives allow. Neither can explain why at a given time and place a given group of Muslims chooses the prescriptions it does from Islam's vast and rich tradition to guide its political behavior. And neither can account for why other groups of Muslims act on very different understandings of Islam or why still others see their engagement with power as having only the most tenuous connection, if any, to their religious beliefs.

What does explain these differences is political context. Kepel's account makes sense of the diversity of Muslims' politics, not simply in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia but also in western Europe, where a series of violent incidents and symbolic confrontations over the past decade has prompted talk of a fundamental incompatibility of values and a "clash of civilizations." A cursory glance at political reality makes clear that most of the conflicts involving Muslim immigrants in, for example, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom owed more to the policies pursued by these states' governments than to the Islamic identities or even Islamist proclivities of the protagonists. For Kepel, the policy eschewing integration in the Netherlands ("pillarization," which sees religious communities as separate pillars that help hold together the Dutch republic) and its counterpart in the United Kingdom ("multiculturalism," whereby the state lets people of different cultures regulate their own affairs) created fertile ground for the growth of radical Islamist political sentiments among Muslim immigrants in those two countries.

These approaches have roots in the Netherlands' and the United Kingdom's imperial pasts: overseas, Dutch and British colonists favored ruling indirectly and cultivating native leaders to ensure order locally. In the Netherlands and the United Kingdom today, policies shaped by these traditions have prompted the authorities to be hands-off when it comes to their Muslim communities -- at least until state security is threatened, at which point the state takes clumsy measures that many Muslims interpret as discrimination.

Kepel holds up the contrasting example of France, which has pursued clear and, according to some, highly intrusive policies designed to impose secularism in public life. He does concede that France's "assimilation" policy has been a good deal more successful at integrating Muslim immigrants civically than economically -- hence, the politics of contestation, including riots involving French citizens with Muslim backgrounds, that has erupted periodically. But as Kepel's account makes clear, this is better understood as the rebellion of bored, out-of-work, and marginalized French youths living in dreary suburbs than as anything remotely resembling Islamist politics.

Whether these differences in policy provide the key explanation for the variety of political views among the Muslim immigrant communities of Europe is still up for debate. Some argue, for instance, that the explanation has more to do with these communities' links to the politics of their countries of origin. Nevertheless, Kepel's analysis is valuable for taking the trouble to scrutinize the micropolitics of different groups. He shows that the closer one looks, the more either irrelevant or troubling grand narratives about Islam and civilization become.

THE PRIVATIZATION OF ISLAM

Allawi's otherwise erudite and thoughtful book is, for its part, haunted by the kind of generalization that Kepel eschews. Allawi is writing about Islam as a faith on the stage of world history, and as the book's title suggests, his central concern is "the crisis of Islamic civilization." By this, he means a number of things but principally the fragmentation of authority, the loss of unifying cultural referents, and the divergence between the spiritual and the material in Muslims' conduct. Together, these fractures have deprived Islam of the kind of autonomous, self-rejuvenating drive that Allawi sees in other civilizations (say, China or the West) and have made it more vulnerable to domination by the forces of globalization, be they powerful governments, capitalism, or cultural hegemons. From Allawi's perspective, Islam has become privatized, an article of interior faith nothing like the framework for public life that he believes it has been historically and should continue to be. If for Kepel the privatization of religion is a recipe for social harmony and a goal of the secular state, for Allawi it is the beginning of the end.

This position presents Allawi with something of a dilemma. On the one hand, he pleads for Muslims to reconnect with the powerful spiritual essence of Islam and to reestablish Islam as a major player in world history. On the other, he is intensely wary of, indeed repulsed by the sight of, political Islamists scrambling to use any means available -- graft, corruption, violence -- for political advantage, thereby cutting themselves off from the "wellsprings of Islamic ethics." The targets of his anger include organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamist parties of Iraq, which he sees as symptoms of the crisis of Islamic civilization rather than as part of the solution. As he rightly says, these groups reflect the politics of those they are fighting in all its ruthlessness, not the spiritual values at the heart of Islam.

The question is, how can one have any impact on the existing order without in some way succumbing to the logic of political practicalities? The harsh truth is that however sublime or spiritual the ideals -- and Islam, no less than any other great religious tradition, can provide a dazzling array of such ideals -- their champions will need to engage with the politics of place in order to realize them. There may be many ways of doing this, and disputes about which ways are best are inevitable, but at the heart of this task lies the old political conundrum of how to engage effectively the existing power structure without compromising one's core ideals. Reflecting on this question, one realizes that political discourse is the very antithesis of civilizational discourse, even if the latter can sometimes be used polemically in political debates. The closer one looks at the multitude of hopes, prejudices, fears, and activities that constitute political life, the harder it is to meaningfully apply to a political order an overarching, homogenizing, and essentializing term such as "civilization."

MODERNITY AND ITS DISCONTENTS

It should be little surprise, then, that Allawi is at his best when he turns to the particular. Some of his book's most powerful passages concern the corruption of governments in the Middle East and, in his memorable phrase, the "sinister cities" of the Persian Gulf, which have embraced materialism and an "oppressive modernity." These grim facets of globalization form the reality of the modern world, as inhabited and created by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Much of Allawi's concern, in other words, is not really about Islam as a religion, or even about Islam as a civilization, but rather about what has been happening to Muslims. They have had various responses to modernity and in the process have created new ways of being Muslim.

Some of these responses -- peaceful or violent, accommodating or rejectionist -- could become an inspiration for millions. But even those will catch on not simply because of Muslims' professions of faith; if they do spread, it will also be because they help Muslims make sense of power, in all its forms.

This is the most important message of these books. Kepel and Allawi are at their strongest when they examine the intellectual and political trends that have shaped the experiences of Muslims across the globe. As Kepel and Allawi demonstrate, these trends have made Muslims full actors in the evolving story of world history, whether they act self-consciously with reference to their Muslim identities or not.

To be a Muslim in the modern world is both to be shaped by that world and to take part in its shaping.

Modernity, with all its ambiguities and sometimes contradictory impulses, is a composite affair, constantly refashioned by those who engage with it. Kepel's and Allawi's books are reminders that politics is rooted in time and place, and that at the same time it nonetheless follows a remarkably similar logic in all its various settings. Understanding this logic, while also grasping the full significance of context, helps one understand the behavior of political actors -- and not just Muslim ones.

Born Again in the U.S.A.:The Enduring power of American Evangelicalism~Timothy Shah


BORN AGAIN IN THE U.S.A.





The enduring power of American Evangelicalism
Religion and modernity were never expected to go hand in hand, and for centuries they coexisted uncomfortably. But thanks to the entrepreneurial model of American evangelicals, argue two journalists at The Economist, God is back.

TIMOTHY SAMUEL SHAH is Senior Research Scholar at Boston University's Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and a co-author, with Daniel Philpott and Monica Toft, of a forthcoming book on religion and global politics to be published by Norton in 2010.


In international politics, religion has been the elephant in the room for most of the modern age. And in recent years, it has only grown larger and louder. Policymakers and political theorists have adopted the mostly unpromising strategies of ignoring it in the hope that rationality and modernity will eventually push it out; using laws, coercion, or public opinion to remove it from the political sphere; or pretending that it is only a matter of culture and treating it accordingly.

The authors of God Is Back are an exception. They admit that religion is here to stay and seek to find out what it is really all about. John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, its Washington bureau chief, work for a publication that has been notably dubious about religion's long-term viability in the face of modernization and economic globalization. The Economist boldly published God's obituary in its millennium issue, declaring that "the Almighty recently passed into history." Micklethwait and Wooldridge, for their part, were not so sure about God's demise. To investigate God's place in the world today, the two men traveled thousands of miles to talk to religious leaders and ordinary believers across the world and spent hundreds of hours visiting mosques and temples, attending religious services, sitting in on Bible-study groups, and picking the brains of theologians.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge entered dangerous territory. They faced the literal dangers of encountering real live religious radicals and investigating religion's impact in all kinds of tough neighborhoods -- from inner-city Philadelphia to the northern Nigerian city of Kano. And they faced literary dangers by walking into a field thick with theological crossfire between believers and nonbelievers, epitomized on one extreme by Dinesh D'Souza'sWhat's So Great About Christianity and on the other by Christopher Hitchens' atheist manifesto, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The confessionally diverse duo of Micklethwait and Wooldridge -- the first is a Catholic and the second an atheist -- steers clear of polemics and focuses instead on reading God's vital signs rather than identifying his virtues or vices. What they find is that many of the forces that were supposed to consign the Almighty to the ash heap of history -- or to a quiet corner of the living room -- have only made him stronger.

Beyond discovering that God still has a pulse, Micklethwait and Wooldridge give a firsthand account of how religious groups all over the world -- from family ministries in the United States and megachurches in South Korea to televangelists in Egypt -- use modern methods to convert people. The result is more Robert Capa than Max Weber: arresting snapshots of bubbling religiosity rather than elaborate theories about the causes and consequences of the global religious revival. But the snapshots support an argument: that the United States' increasingly competitive religious market has incubated a form of entrepreneurial faith -- a religious style that is conservative at its doctrinal core but restlessly innovative in its techniques of organization and communication. Micklethwait and Wooldridge focus on this U.S. brand of religion partly because it has been the key to reconciling God and modernity. It also attracts their attention -- and admiration -- because it is contagious, increasingly winning practitioners and followers across the globalized world.

MUNDUS CONTRA DEUM

A happy marriage between God and modernity was never widely expected. In the eighteenth century, some members of modernity's self-appointed vanguard -- especially those writing in French -- considered traditional faith a skunk at the Enlightenment party and made God persona non grata in their Parisian salons. The revolutionary Jacobins even turned on Robespierre when he pushed his Cult of the Supreme Being further than their Voltairean tastes permitted. These radicals endeavored to displace God, not accommodate him. The nineteenth-century French historian Jules Michelet expressed the hope that the French Republic would "take the place of the God who escapes us."

God's partisans returned the favor. In 1864, the Vatican pointedly condemned the idea that the pope should "reconcile himself with progress, with liberalism, and with modern civilization." Even thinkers sympathetic to the church, such as the historians Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton, feared that an unbridgeable chasm was opening up between Christianity and modernity. By 1882, the anticlerical French philosopher Ernest Renan was exulting, "We have driven metaphysical and theological abstractions out of politics."

Across the world, the mutual hostility between divinity and modernity deepened further in the century between 1864, when the pope declared God antimodern, and 1966, when Time magazine asked whether he had died. In Europe, the cradle of Christendom, republican and socialist revolutionaries branded God and the church enemies of the people. God was hardly better off under conservative, monarchical, or royalist regimes -- such as Bismarck's Germany, Victorian England, and Franco's Spain -- where the church depended on government largess and kowtowed to those in power.

In the twentieth century, a worldwide march of the Jacobins' heirs attempted to get rid of God once and for all. From the Bolsheviks in Russia to the Kemalists in Turkey, the monarchists in Iran, the Nazis in Germany, the Maoists in China, and the Nasserists in Egypt, secular regimes seized church-held land, destroyed monasteries, evicted missionaries, criminalized religious movements, banned religious symbols, proscribed religious political parties, and even attempted to exterminate entire religious communities.

Over the last two centuries, most observers of world affairs took these partisans at their word. They assumed that truly modern men and women would never welcome God into their polite and educated company. And they assumed God's attitude would remain roughly that of Groucho Marx, and he would think twice about joining a club that would have him as a member. Sociologists, historians, anthropologists, and even theologians all concluded that God and modernity would inevitably go their separate ways.

But God did finally find refuge in the modern world, and Micklethwait and Wooldridge make a fresh case that it was thanks to the United States.

AMERICA BLESS GOD

The revolutionaries who founded the American republic respected God without patronizing him. Despite representing a broad spectrum of religious conviction, ranging from the deism of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to the evangelicalism of Patrick Henry and John Jay, the founders welcomed God as an ally and a cornerstone of their ultramodern political revolution. At the same time, they sought to free religion from its historical dependence on state patronage, which they feared would debilitate and corrupt the church and the state alike. Immediately after the American Revolution, Christians squabbled with one another, and some state governments -- unlike the federal government -- kept churches dependent on direct government financing. (The last of these state "mini-establishments," in Massachusetts, was not abolished until 1833.)

At first, Christian ministers in the young republic were much like their European counterparts: indolent wards of the state who nonetheless expected perfect devotion from the masses by virtue of their position in the social hierarchy. This traditionalism initially helped keep more than half of the United States' increasingly freedom-loving inhabitants from joining churches at all.

In time, however, organized religion became part of the fabric of American culture. Micklethwait and Wooldridge draw on the work of such historians of religion as Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, and Mark Noll to narrate God's rapid adjustment to the New World. In the early nineteenth century, churches became less dependent on state support, and in the absence of state sanctions compelling church attendance, they adapted their messages and methods to a society that was increasingly mobile, freethinking, and egalitarian. God rapidly became less European and more American -- less clerical, theological, and communal and more entrepreneurial, pragmatic, and individualistic.

In contrast to the influential interpretations of the historians Henry Steele Commager and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., both of whom viewed the American mind as essentially skeptical and this-worldly, Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue that Christianity became more literalistic and evangelical as it became more American. By 1860, close to 85 percent of the United States' churchgoing population was evangelical, upending Jefferson's famous prediction in 1822 that "there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian." Religion in the United States also reflected a powerful affinity between what the sociologist Peter Berger has argued is the individualistic and voluntaristic core of evangelical Christianity and the voluntaristic impulses of American democracy. As Berger has written, among evangelicals, "one cannot be born a Christian; one must be 'born again' to meet that designation," which makes evangelical Protestantism a "peculiarly modern religion." A variety of evangelical churches and movements -- Methodist, Baptist, and others -- were thus well suited to a rapidly modernizing United States.

Over the next 150 years, evangelical leaders such as Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, and Billy Graham used their revivalist techniques to popularize evangelicalism among successive generations of Americans: deploying modern communication strategies and building specialized voluntary organizations. They also succeeded in creating a new entrepreneurial style of religious propagation, which hinged on leaders who began their careers outside of established and respected religious institutions, who saw alienation from religion as an opportunity to be seized rather than a condition to be condemned, who preached a practical and parsimonious message, and who believed that people needed to respond freely and individually to the call for redemption. Their theology has long been well suited to a constantly churning and mobile nation: from a time when static and agrarian communities gave way to an industrialized and urbanized society down to the present day, filled with suburbanites seeking spiritual meaning. The genius of this American-style religion is that it respects individualism while equipping people to survive its excesses.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge are most perceptive and thorough -- and most entertaining -- when they document the continuing vigor of the United States' contemporary evangelical subculture. They take unexpected detours into evangelical vacation spots, such as Holy Land U.S.A., in Bedford County, Virginia, which features a 250-acre replica of the Holy Land in Jesus' time. Although some secular liberals fear that evangelical leaders are harboring a theocratic agenda out of step with mainstream Americans, God Is Back demonstrates that these ministers win large followings precisely because they are attuned to the struggles and aspirations of ordinary people. The Purpose Driven Life, a book by Rick Warren, the pastor at the Saddleback megachurch in Southern California, has tapped into consumerist Americans' undeniable anomie and hunger for spiritual direction. Twenty-five million copies have been sold, making it the second-best-selling hardcover book in U.S. history -- after the Bible. When Warren delivered the invocation at President Barack Obama's inauguration, he offered vivid evidence of evangelicalism's continuing influence.

DIVINE DECLINE?

If it is an error to equate God's relationship with modernity to Superman's with kryptonite -- a point God Is Back drives home -- religious triumphalism is also unwarranted. God may be back after a century of attempted deicides, but he still faces stiff resistance. Even in the United States, the most religious nation in the industrialized West, those who choose not to identify with any particular religion -- the "unaffiliated" in pollster parlance -- constitute the fastest-growing "religious group." Rather than flocking to more theologically relaxed denominations, an increasing number of Americans are abandoning organized religion altogether. According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2007, 16.1 percent of the respondents said they were unaffiliated.

The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found that 15 percent of the U.S. population had no particular religious preference, almost double the figure for 1990. In his April 2009 article "The End of Christian America," the Newsweek editor Jon Meacham used the ARIS study to argue that the United States is passing into a "post-Christian" period. "This is not to say that the Christian God is dead," Meacham explained, "but that he is less of a force in American politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory."

Meacham is onto something. Evangelical Christians in the United States now find themselves in the political wilderness after one of their own -- George W. Bush -- left the White House with one of the lowest presidential approval ratings in U.S. history. Many of the most politically powerful evangelical leaders of the last two generations, such as Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and D. James Kennedy, have either died or retired, passing their organizations on to younger and less influential successors. Obama, the man almost all evangelical leaders vociferously opposed during the 2008 campaign, was elected president. And the trends they have fought, such as the rising acceptance of same-sex marriage and abortion, are increasingly entrenched in the country's laws and social mores.

When Dobson stepped down as head of the Christian organization Focus on the Family in April, just after Meacham's article appeared, he gave a decidedly downbeat farewell speech about issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and pornography. "We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict," Dobson reflected. "Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles."

In other countries, too, the armies of God seem to be in full-scale retreat. In the last two years, Islamist parties have fared poorly in electoral contests across the Muslim world, including in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, and Morocco. In Iran, the hard-line clerical establishment succeeded in retaining power only by blatantly rigging an already skewed electoral process and crushing protests. Fundamentalist terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban are on the run from Iraq to Pakistan, as they lose battles and sympathizers. In India, the coalition led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party received a surprisingly decisive drubbing in national elections held in April and May. As Meacham observed about evangelicals in the United States, the problem is not so much that God is losing popularity as that many of his self-appointed representatives are suffering a palpable decline in social and political authority. Nietzsche may have been right after all: as an unquestioned arbiter of public culture, perhaps God is dead.

But the many attempts on God's life have made him remarkably resilient as an object of private devotion. The same survey that inspired Meacham to pronounce the end of Christian America found that just as many Americans identified themselves as Christian in 2008 as did in 2001 (about 76 percent). Meanwhile, the number of unaffiliated barely grew, remaining around 15 percent. Although the ARIS reported a big decline for Christians and a big jump for the unaffiliated between 1990 and 2001, these changes almost certainly stemmed in part from the increasing willingness of some nonreligious people to identify themselves as such, perhaps induced by a perception that secularism is becoming more socially acceptable. Since 2001, with most secularists already out of the closet, unaffiliated growth has slowed. Micklethwait and Wooldridge note that the link between faith and fertility may also be slowing secular growth: numerous studies, including the World Values Survey, which covers 80 countries, show that secular people go forth and multiply much more modestly than do their religious brethren. Thus, says Ronald Inglehart, director of the World Values Survey, secularization is its own long-term demographic "gravedigger."

A closer look at survey data also reveals that secular Americans remain surprisingly open to God. An analysis by the Pew Forum found that 70 percent of the unaffiliated surveyed believed in God and more than 40 percent said that religion was either somewhat or very important in their lives. Furthermore, a majority of Americans raised in religiously unaffiliated households adopt a religion later in life, giving the unaffiliated population one of the lowest retention rates of all religious groups in the country. Americans are not marching in lockstep toward a singular secular future, nor are they becoming a monolithic Christian nation. Instead, the United States is moving toward an ever more dynamic religious pluralism.

GREENER PASTORS

Micklethwait and Wooldridge are right to suggest that one effect of the United States' vigorous religious pluralism is to make religion in the country even more entrepreneurial and competitive. American evangelicalism has spawned a "church growth" industry driven by a class of preachers -- some of whom call themselves "pastorpreneurs" -- highly skilled in building megachurches that target the religiously disaffected with "seeker-friendly" services and family-friendly facilities, replete with on-site daycare, basketball courts, and fast-food restaurants. God Is Back reports that one of the United States' 1,000 megachurches -- Willow Creek, near Chicago -- is so successful that it has become the subject of a Harvard Business School case study.

The success of such churches is evident in the survey data: according to the ARIS, nearly half of American Christians now self-identify as "evangelical" or "born-again," and the number of Americans belonging to mostly evangelical and Pentecostal "nondenominational" churches -- which are quintessentially modern and American in their informality, their emphasis on a personal relationship with God, and their indifference to ancient ecclesiastical and theological traditions -- jumped from about 200,000 in 1990 to about eight million in 2008. In its 2007 study, the Pew Forum found that some 3.6 million Americans raised without an attachment to any organized religion converted to evangelicalism later in their lives.

Although God's armies around the world may have suffered a string of political defeats, they will regroup in due course. Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hindu nationalist movement in India are down, but they are not out. Political dynamics are cyclical, and religious parties will regroup in India and Lebanon when the political winds begin blowing in their favor once again. Most important, as God Is Back suggests, these movements are led by organizations that operate in increasingly competitive political and cultural markets. And these markets will force them to adapt -- or they will die.

The Iranian regime's mendacity and brutality after the June presidential election have driven this lesson home, not least in the minds of the Iranian clerics themselves, some of whom have long argued that men of the cloth should endeavor to gain popular credibility by voluntarily relinquishing political power.

God's partisans in Iran and elsewhere would do well to heed Micklethwait and Wooldridge's argument that their political influence will be minimal if they fail to take to heart the deepest lessons of U.S.-style entrepreneurial religion: let God be God by freeing him from both government regulation and government handouts; do not lash him to the mast of a particular government or political party and in so doing make him a hostage to political fortune. God will indeed keep coming back -- especially in those places where he has not been turned into a fawning palace courtier or a shackled political prisoner.

Sneak Preview for the Fall "Utmost with the Leastmost"

I am previewing here a site I am working on as a precursor to a publication in the future.

IN THE BEGINNING, the goal will be to introduce a 30 day online version blog which will be free to all for all to read and enjoy as God gives grace to you to appreciate.

There is always a "Free Version" somewhere, if I am involved, which is also why I am broke (Laughing) but happy.

IN THE END, I need your prayers to Keep Me on task to write a full 360 day version for publication and sales.

Yes I know we have 365 days in this calendar but there are only 360 degrees in a circle and I figure the left out days will be used to figure out if this devotion lead you in circles or there is circular reasoning to God bringing you round and round till you finally get it down....,

LOL, call it a Gypsy thing..., lol....Jesus Gypsy.

Michael James Stone




Seek God Where He Can Be Found - In Christ~Billy Graham

Seek God Where He Can Be Found - In Christ

  • (Photo: BGEA / File)

A: The first thing I would say to you is not to give up, but to keep on searching for God. The reason is because God has promised to come to us when we sincerely come to Him. The Bible's promise is for you: "If you seek him, he will be found by you" (2 Chronicles 15:2).

But where will you seek Him? Where will He be found? Will He be found by walking in the woods on a beautiful day, or looking at an awe-inspiring sunset? These may give you a hint of His presence - but by themselves they won't bring you into a close relationship with Him. Or will you find Him by emptying your mind and hoping somehow that He'll fill it with a sense of His presence? No, that won't end your search either - because how will you know that it's really God you feel?

Seek Him instead where He will be found - in Jesus Christ. Jesus wasn't just another religious leader or great moral teacher; He was God in human flesh! And He came into the world so we could know God in a personal way. He did this by erasing the barrier that separates us from God - the barrier of our sins. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus Christ as He is found in the Gospels, because "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9).

Then commit your life to Christ and begin to walk with Him every day. God loves you, and life's greatest joy comes from surrendering to Him and knowing He will be with us forever.

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Affectionately known as the "World's Preacher" for more than 60 years, the Rev. Billy Graham is one of the most influential and respected spiritual leaders of the 20th century. He has been a friend and spiritual advisor to ten American presidents and has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history - nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories - through various meetings. Hundreds of millions more have been reached through television, video, film, and webcasts. Send your queries to "My Answer," c/o Billy Graham, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1 Billy Graham Parkway, Charlotte, N.C., 28201; call 1-(877) 2-GRAHAM, or visit the Web site for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: www.billygraham.org.

How to handle anger~Rick Warren


We all get angry, but we do so in different ways. Some of us explode. Others simmer silently. But none of us is immune. It’s a very normal human reaction. Jesus got angry. In the Old Testament it says 375 times that God got angry. The Bible says, “In your anger, don’t sin.” There’s a right way and a wrong way to get angry. How do you deal with anger appropriately? Let me give you five steps.

1. Understand why you get angry.
The better you understand yourself, the better you’ll be able to control your anger. Anger is simply a warning light. It isn’t your real problem. It says that something much deeper is wrong.

Sometimes it’s pain. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, you’re going to get angry. If you get hurt emotionally, you’ll get angry as well. I saw an article in the Orange County Register some time back that said, “The divorce is far from over for the former spouses who are angrily ever after. In a study of people who have been divorced, one out of three people, slightly more than one-third of men and women after 10 years, still feel ‘intense feelings of anger’ associated with the former marriage.” Why? Divorce hurts. The deeper your pain, the deeper your anger. When you deal with your hurt, you’ll deal with your anger.

Sometimes it’s frustration. We often get angry when nothing seems to work, we don’t get our way, or we’re forced to wait. Instead of letting frustration turn to anger, we need ask ourselves, “Is this really worth getting angry over?” I read an article some time back about a teenage boy who got so frustrated when he got held up by traffic that he took out a gun and shot a warning shot in the air. Unfortunately, the shot hit someone.

The boy, who came from a Christian home, said later, “It’s a disaster I’ve caused and I’ve got to live with. I deserve to go to jail. Everyday I’m thinking about it. It’s like a nightmare I can’t wake up from. I can’t do a thing to change it. I just pray every morning and night for this man that God will touch his soul and make him well.” Was it worth all of that for the boy to get rid of a little frustration? Of course not. But frustration can easily turn to anger if not dealt with properly.

Other times it’s insecurity. We’re angry because we feel threatened. We feel like an animal being backed into a corner. This doesn’t have to be physical. It could come when our self-worth is attacked, when we’re embarrassed, or when we’re criticized.

What’s causing your anger? Before you can beat anger, you’ve got to know where it comes from.

2. Look to God not others for your self-worth.
A sense of self-worth is essential to controlling anger. Insecure people are easily angered. Confident people are not. When you have a sense of self-worth, you can handle hurt, frustration, and insecurity much easier.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:21, “Don’t pay attention to everything people say.” The more insecure we are, the more we depend on the opinions of others to feel good about ourselves. If you’re insecure and someone says something bad about you, anger will follow because your self-worth is dependent upon the approval of others.

If you want to overcome anger, you can’t get uptight when people criticize you. How do you get that kind of self-confidence? Proverbs 14:26 (GNB) says, “Reverence for the Lord gives confidence and security to a man.” To overcome anger, believe what God says about you. Believe that he has a plan and purpose for your life. When you remember that, you won’t blow up when someone criticizes you.

3. Stop and think before reacting.
Put your mind in gear before you engage your mouth. Often, when we’re angry, our mouth is moving way before we’ve thought about what we’re saying. Proverbs 16:23 (GNB) says, “Intelligent people think before they speak.” Because angry words come so easily, thinking is a key to anger management. You need to learn to delay your response. Thomas Jefferson once said, “If you’re angry, count to 10. If you’re very angry, count to 100.” And during that time you want to ask yourself three questions:

Why am I angry? Am I scared? Am I hurt? Am I frustrated? What’s the real issue here?

What do I want out of this encounter? You don’t really want revenge because revenge rarely gets you what you want. In fact, it usually takes you further away from what you really want.

How can I best get the outcome I want? You rarely get what you want by being sarcastic, cutting the other person down, yelling back, or playing silent. It simply doesn’t work.

You might think you can’t help blowing up, but you can! Anger is a choice. You get angry because you want to get angry. It feels good to get angry. You are responding how you choose to respond. Since you have a choice, choose to wait before reacting!

4. Learn to relax.
Proverbs 14:30 (TLB) says, “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life.” Temper and tension always go together. Deadlines tend to bring out the worst in us. They make us more irritable. I’m usually a relaxed guy, but once a week I get PMS – Pre-Message Syndrome. Every weekend I get nervous. What do I have to say to those folks I’m preaching to? Gratefully my wife lets me drive to church in my own car. It has avoided so many irritating experiences!

Some of you are wound so tightly that anything ticks you off. It’s week after week of tension, and you’re wondering why you’re yelling at your loved ones when you get home.

Here are a few simple suggestions to help you relax:

Be aware when tension is building up in your life. If you can notice tension building, you can relieve that tension in a healthy way.

Learn some relaxation techniques. Exercise is a good one. When you feel stressed and ready to blow your top, run, shoot baskets, hit a racquetball – get your body moving.

Develop a sense of humor. Sometimes we just take things too seriously. I have a saying with my staff: “Take God very seriously, but don’t take yourself very seriously.”

5. Continually ask God for help.
Most importantly, you need God’s help to overcome anger. The first four fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 are love, joy, peace, and patience. You need those if you’re going to overcome anger.

When the world puts pressure on you and you feel squeezed, what’s inside of you is going to come out. When you’re filled with the Spirit of God, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control will come out.

Anger is just a warning light for a deeper issue – whether it’s frustration, insecurity, or something else. God wants to help you with that deeper issue. Will you let him?

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Bogota Graham Festival Wraps Up with Over 11,700 Decisions for Christ

Bogota Graham Festival Wraps Up with Over 11,700 Decisions for Christ

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wrapped up "Festival de Esperanza" (Festival of Hope) in Colombia’s capital city Saturday, recording over 11,700 decisions for Christ.

  • (Photo: BGEA)
  • (Photo: BGEA)
  • (Photo: BGEA)
  • (Photo: BGEA)

Of the more than 11,700 decisions, over 7,200 were made by children who joined Saturday for what turned out to be the largest kid's event in the history of Franklin Graham Festivals. In total, more than 80,000 children were present.

"Today we are celebrating something very important for our whole nation," said Baola Hernandez, one of the entertainers who performed during "Festininos" Saturday morning. "It is important to reach all the families of Colombia through their children."

Later that evening, more than 1,700 people from a crowd of approximately 30,000 responded to a call by American evangelist Franklin Graham, who preached Saturday night about the Prodigal Son.

“The father saw the boy from a distance,” Graham stated, referring to the story recorded in Luke 15:11-32. “He was watching the road and when he sees his son, he runs to his son and throws his arms around his son and he kisses him! They celebrate and that can happen tonight if you run to your father!"

Before Saturday, over 2,800 decisions had already been made for Christ, beginning with the more than 1,500 on the opening night, followed by the more than 1,300 on Friday.

The last time the BGEA held a massive evangelistic event in Colombia was in 1962, when Graham’s father, world renowned evangelist Billy Graham, shared the Gospel with as many as 250,000 throughout his visit.

Around 9,000 at that time made decisions for Christ.

47 Years After Billy, Graham Association Returns to Colombia

More than 22,000 showed up Thursday for the first night of Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope) in Colombia’s capital city.

  • (Photo: BGEA)
  • (Photo: BGEA)

And in the end, more than 1,200 turned their lives over to Christ, accepting an invitation from U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham to have their lives changed.

“If you willing tonight to trust Him as your savior, if you willing to turn from your sins and accept Christ into your heart and your life, He will cleanse you and forgive and give you new life," Graham called out to the thousands assembled at Simon Bolivar Park in Bogota.

Festival de Esperanza, which runs until Saturday, is the culmination of months of preparation by some 900 local churches, which the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association notes as being the “backbone” of the festival.

"Our dream is to stimulate the body of Christ, to bring pastors and leaders together," reported Galo Vasquez, director of Latin America Ministries for the BGEA. "We are coming together with one vision. We are united for the cause of the Gospel."

In addition to nightly evangelistic messages, the three-night event will feature of number of musical guests including the Tommy Coomes Band and local favorites Dennis Agajanian and the Gutierrez Brothers.

The last time the BGEA held a massive evangelistic event in Colombia was in 1962, when Graham’s father, world renowned evangelist Billy Graham, shared the Gospel with as many as 250,000 throughout his visit.

Around 9,000 at that time made decisions for Christ.

Pastors: Jesus Loves the Glutton, Crook, Porn Star, Religious


Pastors: Jesus Loves the Glutton, Crook, Porn Star, Religious

Popularly known as "the porn pastor," Craig Gross has one simple message he wants to tell: Jesus loves you no matter who you are or what you've done.

Such inclusive messages are what have drawn some critical looks from the more conservative Christians. When Gross moved out to Las Vegas about a year ago and began proclaiming "Jesus loves sin city," some rejected the message saying it was wrong.

Now, the Las Vegas pastor is about to embark on a unique book tour to tell anyone and everyone that Jesus loves them.

Gross believes Jesus' vision and values have been distorted, twisted, hijacked, tweaked, relabeled, and distorted again, he writes in his upcoming book Jesus Loves You This I Know. And in the process, many have missed the simple yet profound message that Jesus loves them.

Christians have long been taught what Gross calls the "three-step approach to God."

"It starts with belief. Essentially, if you believe the right things, it will lead to a change in behavior. When you have changed your behavior, you will be accepted by the church. Believe, Behave, Belong."

Rejecting that approach, Gross declares, "It's time to flip this."

"The Jesus of scripture reached out and loved people regardless of where they were. It is essential to show people that they can belong in your world even if they don’t act, think, behave, or believe like you."

Whether a drunk, an inmate, a porn star or someone who claims to be Christian, "[t]o Jesus, we’re all just people who need God to save us from the mess we are in and lead us to a better way," says Gross.

As part of the Jesus Loves You project, Gross and co-author Jason Harper are launching on Sunday a six-city tour across the country. Their first stop is Topeka, Kan., where the infamous Westboro Baptist Church is located.

Their visit to Westboro is related to the last chapter, "Jesus Loves the Religious," in their book.

It was the toughest chapter to write, Gross says, because some of the most religious bring a bad name to Jesus. And Westboro Church is ultra-religious, he says.

When they arrive, the authors are not going to protest the church but they'll attend worship service there. Their intention is to simply show the family love and tell them that Jesus loves them.

Other stops in their tour will also relate to one of the ten chapters in the book including "Jesus Loves the Glutton," "Jesus Loves the Crook," "Jesus Loves the Outcast," "Jesus Loves the Disconnected," and of course "Jesus Loves the Porn Star."

For the glutton stop, Gross and Harper will be giving away 400 lunch buffets at The Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas on Sept. 30. The following week, Gross will debate porn star Ron Jeremy in Los Angeles. Then reaching the disconnected, the authors will be giving away a house in Detroit, Mich. Later in October, Gross and Harper will preach to inmates at Folsom State Prison in California.

Their last stop is the Atlanta Pride Festival on Oct. 30-Nov. 1 where they will set up a booth with the message "We Are Sorry."

"We're going to communicate that Jesus loves people right where they are," Harper said on XXXChurch.tv. "It gives us the opportunity to say 'I'm sorry ... for the way that we've punished people in the gay community by being judgmental, condemning or even dogmatic about their approach to life.'"

"I believe that rather than looking at their sexuality, we can speak to their spirituality and then let God work on their hearts the rest of the way," Harper noted.

Harper and Gross are anything but conventional pastors but they are two guys whose lives have been changed by Jesus and who want to tell others about him.

"Doesn’t matter what you do or who you are: Jesus. Loves. You," says Gross.

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