Spotlight on Geopolitics

Competing for the faithful ? Just when I thought I have heard it all, the April 13, 2013 cover story of TIME magazine , « The Latino Reformation », proved me wrong.

According to Elisabeth Dias, the author of the lead article, Latinos in the US are turning neo-Protestant in droves because they “seek a break with the past, a quicker assimilation into the middle class and a closer relation with God “. No kidding ! Aren’t they pressured into joining by the utterly unfair and unequal nature of American society itself, perhaps ?

Poor immigrants from Central America need residence papers, jobs and shelter. However, unless they join a Baptist, Pentecostal or Adventist church, such basic needs could not be met without a lot of difficulty. Very many are so poor they can hardly read or write, even in Spanish, so the promise of this latest fast-track to the American “middle class” – which is an endangered species anyway – is an illusion …
Over the past 20 years, most Western policymaking circles and Arab jihadists have been living under the spell of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” theory. The spectre of a civilisational war between Christianity and Islam has obscured an even more ominous development: the global offensive of American-based neo-Protestant sects and/or religions (Baptists, Mormons, Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehova’s witnesses and others).
During the first decade after the fall of communism, the United States wished to use its unipolarity to become what T.R. Reid, in an article published in National Geographic , called the world’s “new Rome”. As ideological brainwash had proved less reliable in the past, neo-Protestant religions were called upon to fill the vacuum. Hence the unleashing of well-financed “missionaries of faith” throughout the Western world, with an even heavier push in former Soviet-bloc countries and in Latin America. ( In August 1997 I have exposed the foolishness of such imperial designs in an op-ed entitled “De Nobis Fabula Narratur” published in Curentul, Bucharest).
Meanwhile, the “rise of the rest” (i.e. the emergence of China, India, Brazil) and the final crisis of capitalism which started in 2007, have limited the geopolitical options of the US, to expanding in Latin America. Nowadays, the State Department is making explicit references to the potential revival of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Such ambitions, however, would necessitate the assistance of local neo-Protestant religious zealots recruted by American churches among poor and disgruntled Catholics from South America. The chances of success of these geopolitical designs are highly doubtful, though, especially after the election of Pope Francis at the head of the Catholic church.

Competing for the faithful of other Christian churches is morally wrong and could prove socially counterproductive in the long run . So is manipulating people’s faith for political ends, no matter how progressive the latter might be. Latinos do not convert to neo-Protestant religions, as TIME reports, “ because they want to know God personally, without a priest as a middleman “ ( this is a central neo-liberal belief) : they simply realise that their own priest is powerless to provide them with practical help in a society like the US. So much for the religious freedom enjoyed by immigrants trying to settle in the States…

Whilst an Australian resident, in 2000, my own family had to put up with concerted efforts aimed at getting us to join a neo-Protestant church against our repeated refusal. Perks such as jobs in the public sector and promises of “protection” from a powerful community were used as carrots. Upon our return to Romania in 2002, the pressures to join a neo-Protestant church there culminated with an offer to become a “pastor-promoter” (?!), which was relayed to me by relatives who had been recruted in Australia at the end of the 1990’s by the Baptist church. At no such times have I felt that my religious freedom was actually being respected.

Unlike post-Nazi Germany or Turkey after the military dictatorship, the United States is the world’s oldest democracy. Accordingly, it should ensure that church and state matters remain separate, as it has been the case until recently in its history. (So far, Turkey’s experiment with Islamic democracy is the only successful example of blending religion and politics.)

The US-sponsored introduction of religion into the political ideology of post-Hitler Germany and post-Franco Spain is, on closer inspection, a failure, according to Nobel-laureate writers like Heinrich Böll and Herta Müller. Thus, not only had the (German) Christian Democratic Union and the CSU parties become havens for former SS and SA members, but they have also nurtured a determined and growing neo-Nazi movement with consequences to this day.

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