March 1, 2006


Heavens, Asia's going Christian (Michael Vatikiotis, 3/01/06, Asia Times)

Singapore is one of the fastest-growing Christian communities in Asia, along with Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. In fact, Asia is projected to become one of the largest Christian populations in the world, on pace to eclipse Europe in the next 30 years. The US State Department estimates there could already be as many as 100 million Christians in China, even though the official tally of believers is below 50 million.

The US-led "war on terror" has focused worldwide concern on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a precursor to violent militancy. Moderate or secular behavior among Asia's Muslims is considered the long-term antidote to religious fervor. But in the wider context encompassing Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, the trend in Asia is anything but moderate or secular. Across the region, charismatic sects are springing up and drawing young people to religious faith. And new Asian converts to Christianity are arguably outpacing the spread of Islam.

The new believers are often Asia's upwardly mobile, although the dirt-poor and desperate still flock to Christianity's promise of eternal salvation. Far from embracing materialist and consumer values and completely abandoning religion, middle-class Chinese residents of Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong all regularly flock to Pentecostal or charismatic churches.

The houses of worship offer relief from the stress of modern existence to the accompaniment of pop music - and some throw in fresh coffee and broadband Internet for good measure. They are active in social welfare, and sometimes in politics - the Pentecostal Church of Taiwan has advocated independence from China for the island, which Beijing still claims is a renegade province. In Hong Kong, the church backs the movement for democracy. [...]

Anger over the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper has been deeply felt in Asia's Muslim communities - but the anger was directed at irreverent Europeans, not local Christians.

In much of Asia, strong traditions of pluralism and accommodation have allowed Islam and Christianity to blossom side by side.

Irreverent Europe is the enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 1, 2006 12:00 AM
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