Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review - God is Back

God Is Back. How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, Penguin Press, 2009, 404 pp.

Reviewed by Lawrence G. Downing

A group of well off and educated men and women on their way up in the world meet in one of Shanghai’s gated communities. Wang, the host for the day, is described as a prosperous management consultant. The others include a pair of biologists, a Chinese- American doctor from Los Angeles, a prominent academic, a manager from a state-owned business, two ballet dances and several successful entrepreneurs. A laptop sits on the coffee table and BMWs are parked in the lot outside. These people gather in Wang’s living room to worship God and to share their understanding of God. With this story John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist and Adrian Wooldridge, its Washington bureau chief, introduce the reader to a journey that will travel the world and explore events pertinent to our world today. Their findings about religion in the world challenge stereotypes and their observations illicit further thought. Their description of how diverse religious groups and their adherents influence business, society, and politics provides fodder for further discussion and opens a door of opportunity to church leaders everywhere.

The author’s data led them to conclude that those who posited that modernity and religion are incompatible are wrong and they present America as a prime example! The secularists were, however, right about one thing: religion can be a dangerous force in politics, especially on the international level. Consider the world’s potential hotspots. In most of them burn the fires of religion. The Middle East is a poster child. A closer look at other outwardly stable regimes, such as China, reveals that there is a religious revival lurking under the surface. We can only guess the effect when that sub-rosa force erupts.

The authors take secular and religious leaders to the woodshed for their lack of knowledge about the power religion has in much of the world. Political and military leaders ignored the influence religion has in Iraq and Afghanistan. Government leaders are quick to dismiss the religious factor when consideration is given to world events. The British authors ask why it is that America is unable to draw global lessons from our unique success in dealing with our religious plurality. At the same time, they applaud the occasions when religious leaders, such as Rev. Roy Magee, a Protestant, and Fr. Alex Reid, a Catholic who together, by their moral persuasion, brought the hard-line terrorists in their congregations to meet at the negotiating table. Peacemaker, say the authors, is a role religion is too often denied or too often has been reluctant to employ.

Based on their examination of global religion and how religion plays out in our diverse societies, the authors worry about the new religious wars and how religion will evidence itself in the public square. How, they ask, can we make room for religion without sacrificing the fundamental principles associated with liberal pluralism? They propose that the American system is the most viable answer. America, they believe, does a better job than any other country in combining religious vitality with both religious diversity and religious toleration.

The breaking news from the Middle East, Africa, South America and Europe are evidence that the authors have selected a topic that has contemporary importance. Their observations on how religion and religious leaders affect the world ring true. Their conclusions are affirmed on a day-to-day basis. God indeed is back! In a big, big way.

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