Labor Day Week End – 3 September 2017
A few readers have asked me to briefly expand on my “Silk Road” and global change thoughts from last week. You can call today’s essay something for post Labor Day reflection……I am an historical theologian, not a political scientist. Nevertheless, I do try to stay alert to the ever changing world around us, because that is our Reality — the only place where we encounter God, the Spirit of Christ, and our ongoing Christian challenge.
A New Silk Road?
What I found fascinating in Peter Frankopan’s book was: (1) his survey of past civilizations and the trade routes that brought them to power, and (2) his projections about a new global trade route and the contemporary shift in economic and political power from the West to the East.
Asian and other non-European countries are indeed ascending to central places in the global order and are refashioning its structure. A key development here is China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR). It is unprecedented in its size and scope. China’s OBOR project promises investments of around $1 trillion, covering countries that account for 60 percent of the world’s population and one-third of global GDP. This dramatic change occurs at a time when Western global leadership is stymied by ineffective political and international leadership on both sides of the Atlantic.
OBOR, today, increases Beijing’s influence in states all along major trade routes, from East Asia, through the Indian Ocean and Central Asia, then the Middle East and on to Africa and Europe. It means, indeed, a galactic shift for international trade and global political influence.
Beijing is calling this 21st century initiative “Silk Road.” The project’s geography brings up thoughts of a grandiose past when European powers were not dominant and the New World was yet to be colonized. The Silk Road imagery portrays an interlinked Eurasian landmass that, frankly, does not include the United States.
My observations are not anti-American but realistic. We need to reflect about who we are and where we are going as we look deeper into the significance of this major global shift. How do we live on this globe in peaceful collaboration with differing understandings of nationalism and strong political ideologies? How do we promote and support human identity and human rights? How do we collaborate in safeguarding the environment as we confront increasingly dramatic and destructive climate change?
As our world changes, there are urgent ethical issues that we cannot ignore. There are major religious trends, as well, that cannot be ignored.
Five religions trends projected by the Pew Research Center pin point for me major global religious change and influence.
(1) Muslims today are the world’s fastest growing religious group because they have high fertility rates and the world’s youngest population.
(2) The share of the world’s population that is Christian is expected to remain steady (at about 31%), but the regional distribution of Christians is forecast to change significantly: 38% living in Subsaharan Africa by 2050, an increase from the 24% who lived there in 2010. The percentage of the world’s Christians living in Europe – which fell from 66% in 1910 to 26% in 2010 – will continue to decline, to roughly 16% in 2050.
(3) In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, with corresponding rises of religious “nones” as well as Muslims, Hindus and others. At mid-century, Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion in the US. Muslims are projected to be more numerous than people who identify as religiously Jewish.
(4) Indonesia is currently home to the world’s largest Muslim population, but that is expected to change. By 2050, the Pew Center projects India to be the country with the largest number of Muslims – more than 310 million – even though Hindus will continue to make up a solid majority of India’s population (77%), while Muslims remain a minority (18%). Indonesia will have the third-largest number of Muslims, with Pakistan ranking second.
(5) The farther into the future we look, the more uncertainty exists, which is why the Pew projections stop at 2050. But if they are extended into the second half of this century, the projections forecast Muslims and Christians to be roughly equal in number around 2070, with Muslims the slightly larger group after that year.