Thy Kingdom is the Third World1
Tempted by Satan to number Israel, King David ordered a census of his people. This angered Jehovah and He offered him three alternatives to choose from : either three years of famine, or three months of destruction at the hand of his enemies, or the three days of the Lord. Counting on the great mercies of Jehovah, David chose to fall into His hand rather than into the hand of man. Consequently, the Lord “sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell seventy thousand men” (I Chron. 21).
In preparing this Survey,1 Dr. Barrett has committed “David’s sin”, as a census was once considered in more orthodox Christian circles. But he is not without rival biblical support for his immense labour. “Even the hairs of your head are numbered,” assures the Bible (Mtt. 10.30), proving Jesus’s individual concern. On another occasion, God had ordered Moses to “take the count of the booty that was taken, both of man and of beast” (Num. 31.26). Thus biblically fortified, Dr. Berrett has taken his counting in real earnest and, indeed, has done it with a vengeance. Every single Christian of any sort appears as a single digit in some “760 distinct absolute numbers 570 percentages, and in around 450 further derived figures (averages)”. And so does the unbeliever for he is only the other side of the coin.
The Encyclopaedia is comprehensive and covers a wide span both in time and space. It begins with the death of Jesus and, covering the next 19 centuries, arrives at our own time and, without stopping here, makes projections till the years 2,000 A.D. It is also truly ecumenical. It gives global data of Christianity in 8 continents, 24 major regions, 223 countries. It give the number of Christians by their skin colour (7), race (17), ethnolinguistic family (71). It tells us how Christianity is spreading among 8,990 peoples speaking 7,010 languages and 17,000 dialects. Since the beginning of Christianity, every soul, dead and living, has been accounted for. And if the Church is an earthly pre-figuration of celestial realities and, if to be baptized is also to be saved, then the Encyclopaedia also provides a statistical picture of the Last Day of Judgement, of the souls that will be finally saved and finally damned.
Besides figures, the Encyclopaedia contains other useful features. It gives a Who’s Who of the Christian world, names of the more important 15,000 Christian organisations, a bibliography of 1,845 major works, a Chronology of World Evangelization (AD 27-1983), A Survey Dictionary of World Christianity, 1,500 maps, and 31 global tables. It is compiled by 500 experts in 190 countries; it contains 2.5 million words.
But can God’s work really be surveyed in this fashion? Yes, seems to be the answer if the work consists in catechizing and baptizing. Like a good shepherd, the Church has been in the habit of counting its sheep, its new acquisitions, its functionaries, its martyrs and its saints. In the complicated world of today, enumeration has become even more important. Only recently, the Pope spoke of the need for “accurate and well-studied statistics”. Dr. Barrett discusses the “theology of Christian enumeration” and tells us how it is useful for missionary “logistics”. Jesus, after he had died and risen again, told his Apostles to go forth “and make disciples of all nations.” This divine “mandate” and “Great Commission” calls for surveys like the present. These “help the followers of Christ to see to what extent they have been faithful to that commission, to perceive the magnitude of their task.”
Dr. Barrett is a quantifier and statician par excellence, but he is not an impartial historian or a disinterested philosopher. He unquestioningly accepts the Christian world-view and interpretative framework and gives them a statistical veneer. For example, the Christian establishment propagates the view that Apostle Thomas landed in India in 52 AD; it has no scholarly support but Dr. Barrett unhesitatingly accepts it and lends it an exactitude that belongs to numbers. Similarly, he tells us that the population of the two Americas was 14 millions at the time of their discovery. The new scholarship was not unavailable to him when he was compiling his Encyclopaedia, but he accepted the Christian-European view which wants to believe that they occupied a relatively vacant land and the occupation involved little genocide.
Quantification falsifies in another way. It covers up many sins. It exhibits the process but hides the product. Can we adequately describe European Imperialism in terms of its present wealth, figures of imports, exports and investments? Similarly, can we describe the process of Christianization in terms of its converts? Describing the beginnings of Christianity in China, the Encyclopaedia’s Chronology mentions 1306 A.D. as the year when “John of Montecorvino builds 2 churches in Cambaluc”; but it forgets to mention that Christianity started its career with the purchase of 40 Chinese slaves who formed the first native catechists and priests. Similarly, the Chronology mentions 1498 as the year of Vasco da Gama’s voyage to the East, but it fails to mention that when he landed in India his flagship displayed a Cross and carried twenty canons.
But here and there we do get much tragic information though having no such sense of tragedy to Christian ears. 1518 is called the year of “Cortes and Spanish Conquistadores” in Mexico. In 1523, Cortes is ordered by the Spanish Monarch “to enforce mass conversion of Mexican Indians.” As a result, “Franciscans baptize one million Amerindians in 12 years since conquest, often at the rate of 7,000 a day per missionary”.
Whatever be Dr. Barrett’s failings as a broader thinker and historian, there is however no doubt that he is a zealous missionary. He looks at everything from a missionary viewpoint. Christianity, for example, is now split into 20,800 denominations as he tells us. A conventional view will see in this fact signs of disunity, but our author points out the positive side. To him, this proliferation gives Christianity many faces and confuses the enemy. It makes it “far more difficult for hostile regimes to comprehend the phenomenon of Christianity in order to control it, suppress it, or eradicate it,” to put it in his language.
He brings the same unconventional angle to bear on Christian ‘Pilgrimage’. Seven per cent of the Christians are on the move as religious tourists which also takes many of them even to “communist and anti-Christian lands”. To Dr. Barrett, these travellers are more than pilgrims. They display Christian power and have an intimidating and overawing role. They represent ” a major form of witness,” and, to potential hostile regimes, “a disconcertingly effective demonstration of the latent power of Christianity should they attempt to interfere with it,” as Barrett puts it.
Dr. Barrett tell us that the professed goal of all Christian confession and communion is “world evangelization”. To achieve that end, Christians have evolved many specialized institutions. These institutions train theologians, print books, run Radio and TV stations. There are 3,000,000 full-time Christian functionaries; 4,500 major Seminaries train the elite. Of these personnel, 250,000 are Foreign Missionaries trained in 410 world-wide “Foreign Missionary Training Centres”. There are 3,100 Foreign Missionary Societies supporting their effort.
Christian Establishments are very diligent in promoting scholarship in theological subjects, linguistics and other fields. Different Christian denominations own and control 1,300 universities. Besides, there are Departments of Religious Studies at 1,500 universities which are significant for the study of Christianity, where they teach theology, divinity, missiology and Church history. The Christian denominations run 930 Research Centres; they bring out 3,000 scholarly journals in addition to another 20,000 magazines and newspapers of a less academic type, of which 4,500 are Roma Catholic. Christians have an early history of “apologetics”. During medieval times, in their mutual debates, they found scholarship a mighty weapon. The realization also soon dawned on them that it can also be used with great effect for cultural aggression. Christianity has been destroying other cultures with one hand, and has been “recreating” and “rediscovering” them with the other. During the process, the victims learn to look at themselves through Christian eyes. All this is the silent work Christian scholarship.
Bible printing and distribution has also been an important Christian activity. In 1980, the global distribution of the full Bible was 36,800,00 copies, and of only the New Testament during the same year 57,500,000 copies. By this year, the United Bible Societies’ members had distributed 432 million scripture selections - one for each ten persons in the world.
In the last decade, another media has also become very important - Radio and Television. The churches now own 1,450 Radio and TV station. In 1975 alone, they received 4,230,360 letters from the listeners of their programmes. Students of Christianity in India probably know that one organisation, Vishwa Vani, alone beams daily about six and a half hours of Radio programme in eleven languages of India. “Radio Converts” is now a new category on the list of mission’s organisations that keep accounts of all the souls saved.
All this labour, systematic and sustained, compels admiration. But what supports it from behind? What is its seed-power, its psychic support? A great lack of larger charity towards one’s neighbour whose Gods are regarded as false, who is considered damned on his own, and who has to be saved by someone other than himself.
The Encyclopaedia provides a good deal of this kind of important information but omits altogether church finance, something eminently suitable for statistical presentation. It gives no information about the budgets of different churches, their properties, investments, the salaries of their priests and missionaries, the Government subsidies and tie-ups, something which would have provided important social and economic data. Some years ago, Time Magazine wrote that the Vatican owned one-fifth of the industrial corporate wealth of Italy.
The poor countries of the Third World which have been politically dominated till recently continue to be the special targets of missionary activities. Conversion is massive in Africa. Between 1970 and 1985, Christianity has won here 1,470,000 converts annually, or about 4,000 daily. In South Asia which includes countries like India and Sri Lanka, the annual gain, during the same period, is 447,000 converts or about 1,200 daily. In East Asia, the annual crop is 360,000, or about 1,000 a day. Strangely enough, it is gaining converts even in the USSR - 174,182 annually, or about 450 daily.2
But these gains are offset by losses in the rich countries of the West, the very heartland of Christianity. In Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, it is losing annually 1,950,000 members, or about 5,350 daily. In terms of active, professing church-going members, the loss is even greater - 7,600 a day for Europe and North America alone.
We are told that the centre of gravity of Christianity is shifting from Europe and America to the Third World. This is a euphemism for saying that many of the countries of the Third World have been successfully colonized, that the people of these countries have forgotten their indigenous roots. They have even begun to be recruited to the missionary corps and they are taken out to countries other than their own in the Third World region for proselytizing work. They cost less and they serve as good stool-pigeons. Such recruits already number 32,500. In India, for example, out of a total of 5,979 foreign missionaries, 39 came from the Communist world, and 267 came from Third World countries like Burma, Brazil, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, etc. In the last three hundred years, Imperialism used its victims themselves to subdue each other. Christianity is doing the same.
We have heard of “underground communism” and “crypto-communists”, but the survey also makes us aware of a similar category of “underground church” and “crypto-Christians”. These cryptos are affiliated members of the Church but this fact is kept a secret from their Government and even from their neighbours. Globally they constitute 4.9% of the total Christian population (1980). One would have thought that they existed probably only in the hostile Communist and Muslim countries, but the Survey reveals that they exist very much in India too where Christian conversion is open and enjoys legal and social protection. In 1980, about one-third (7,637,000) of the Christian population (3.9% of the total Indian population) was crypto-Christian. And the ratio is rising every year. During 1970-80, the average annual Christian converts were 175,000; of these more than half (88,000) conversions were secret. Partly the motive may have been to take advantage of the benefits meant for the Hindu depressed classes, but it may also be a policy matter of the Christian establishment. Such a large chunk sailing under false colours and probably working in different Government departments, civil, police and army, makes them subject to secret and continued blackmail of the missionaries. In any case, it is bad for their morale and morals, and bad for national security. And as for the organisers of this clandestine operation, it is not unworthy of a semi-secret society.
The UNO’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the principle of religious liberty and toleration. Dr. Barrett accepts this principle but his understanding of it is exclusively Christian. He interprets it ecumenically. To him, it only means that the Christians should show “genuine religious toleration to, all least, all other expressions of faith in Christ.” But so far as other, non-Christian religions are concerned, religious toleration “does not imply that Christians should deny their convictions about Christ and his Church, or abandon proclamation, evangelism or conversion”. The Christians retain their right to believe other “religions false and inadequate” and to “attempt to win (their adherents) to faith in Jesus Christ”.
Dr. Barrett’s understanding of religious liberty is thoroughly Christio-centric. Therefore, to him a country is not libertarian just because it gives liberty to all religions. Such a country ranks only fifth in the order of liberty. On the other hand, a country where the “state propagates Christianity” is at the very top; the second in rank are countries where there is “massive state subsidies to churches”. There are 74 such countries where the state provides massive or limited subsidies to churches. No wonder with this kind of definition, countries like Venezuela, Guam, Gibralter, Greece, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Philippines, etc. - no examples of political or religious liberty - stand at the top.
Hindus and Buddhists are found in significant numbers in 84 countries each, but they are losing in number in most of them. The loss is the greatest in their own homes. Between 1970 and 1980, Hindus and Jains together lost in India 324,500 members; this loss was offset to some extent by some gains in North America, Europe and to a degree in Latin America. Thanks to the take-over of China by Communism, Buddhists have registered a massive, global loss of 910,000 a year. Different tribal religions, close to Hinduism and Buddhism in the spirit of tolerance, too have been losing phenomenally - 2,200,000 annually, and the spiritual and cultural life of many countries has been badly damaged. Africa, for example, is now 45% Christian, and 41% Muslim, and only 12% tribal religionist. And as Dr. Barrett says, all these mass conversions under way “are accruing primarily to missionary religions aggressively engaged in proselytizing”.
Followers of Taoism, a great philosophy with many points of affinity with higher Hinduism and Buddhism, have been doing so badly that they have not even deserved a separate mention. Confucianism too is a declining phenomenon according to Dr. Barrett’s tables.
All this may be depressing to us in the East but these tables of converts may mean very little in the deeper analysis. These tables at best present a political-ideological map, not a religious-spiritual picture. The Hindu-Buddhist influence is of a different kind. It works as a leaven; it provides Yoga, meditation, and a culture of inferiority. It tends to change people from within, without changing their outer labels. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people in the world, particularly in the West, are already Hindu-Buddhist-Taoist without being so labelled. Even the agnostio-atheist movement in the West and in the Communist countries is Hindu-Buddhist in this deeper, spiritual sense, in so far as this movement follows intellectual honesty and wants to take nothing for granted and rejects unproven dogmas and pretentious claims and wants to build on “facts”, though in this case facts belong to an inner realm.
But of course Hinduism and Buddhism should become more conscious of their role. There is no doubt that their present discomfiture is a passing phase. Similarly, Taoism and Confucianism too will regain their old place in the life of China once she overcomes her crisis of identity. The spirit of the East is rising again, not to fall prey to dubious religions and semi-religious ideologies but to make its just contribution to the good of the world.