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Christianity’s crippled future

By YAHYA SSEREMBA

Article Summary
As Christianity lost loyalty in its millennial stronghold of Europe, it salvaged itself by gaining new ground in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas. But these new territories of Christendom seem to be equally defenceless in the face of the cancer that ate up the religion in Europe.

Pentecostalism, which came with the 20th Century purporting to revive Christianity, has turned out to be too superstitious, too simplistic to make up for the mounting losses of the world’s largest religion.  The vitality of Christianity is everywhere except in the future. 

About the Author
YAHYA SSEREMBA is the founder and editor of Uganda’s unafraid news website, www.campusjournal.ug

The steadiness with which Christianity moved from a suppressed Jewish sect to a ceaseless universal influence is one of the greatest wonders of all time. The Fourth Century shattered even the slightest doubt that this faith had come to prevail when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, which controlled vast territories in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Despite the mistreatment that the preachers and teachers suffered at the hands of the pagans, Christianity managed to register this early triumph partly because it faced no genuine rival. The various versions of paganism, given their theoretical and ideological hollowness, were no match for the persuasively powerful and comparatively coherent teachings of the Abrahamic religion. Judaism, another Abrahamic faith that would possibly pose a real challenge to Christianity, had no interest in spreading beyond the children of Israel.  

The Christian fire continued spreading without the disruption of firefighters until the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) emerged in the Seventh Century and founded a civilization that not only stopped the advance of Christianity, but greatly reversed its previous advances. Islam made it clear right from the start that it had not come to become number two. The Qur’an declared that Allah had sent His Messenger “with guidance and the religion of truth to make it victorious over all (other) religions even though the polytheists hate (it).”(Q61:9)

The rise of Islam
After crushing the traditional Arab religion of idolatry, Islam turned its focus on Christianity. The Qur’an started by refuting Christianity’s basic doctrines; dismissing the Trinity as polytheism, the Crucifixion as conjecture, and asserting that “the Messiah, son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger” who has never laid claim to being son of God, let alone God. (Q5:72–75). 

In its melodious style and articulate expression, the Qur’an convinced many that most of the teachings of Christianity were fabrications that Jesus would disown when he returns. This view, of course, is not limited to Islam. Thomas Jefferson, America’s Founding Father and third president, described Saint Paul, the author of much of the New Testament and the chief architect of the spread of Christianity, as “the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” It was in Islam, however, that such reprehension of Christianity found the most consistent and most pervasive expression. 

As if this public information programme had not inflicted untold damage on Christianity, Islam mounted a military campaign that deprived Christendom of her territories in the Middle East and North Africa. The Arabs pursued Christians up to Europe, ruling over Spain for centuries.

Whereas the Christians later reconquered Spain, Islam intensified its military conquests until the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople, or modern day Istanbul, fell to the Muslims in 1453.  In almost all the territories captured by Islam, Christians gradually became a tiny minority.  These territories, excluding Spain, remain predominantly Muslim to date.

This Muslim military expansion has been misrepresented by both the antagonists and proponents of Islam. Critics, driven by genuine ignorance or by a deliberate attempt to misinform, claim that these military expeditions sought to convert people at the point of the sword. Some Muslim activists, on the other hand, swear their strongest oaths by Allah that these military invasions were solely for defensive purposes. None of these two claims is true.

The allegation of forced conversion doesn’t deserve much attention, for it’s clearly contradicted by Islam both in theory and in practice. On top of the Quran (2:256) categorically stating, “There is no compulsion in religion” because “the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path,” the Prophet Muhammad, having established and assumed the leadership of the first Islamic State of Medina in which the Jews constituted a significant minority, proclaimed the Constitution of Medina of 622 C.E., which stated in Article 17, “No Jew will be wronged for being a Jew.”

Article 30 added, “The Jews…will be treated as one community with the Believers. The Jews have their religion…” In this Constitution, described by some as history’s first ever written constitution, I found no clause suggesting that non-Muslims would be treated as second-class citizens. In fact, Article 16 stated exactly the contrary, “Those Jews…will be helped and will be treated with equality.”

This respect for religious diversity remained a reality throughout the history of the Caliphate. Bernard Lewis, a Jewish-American historian whose criticism of Islam is one of the bitterest, finds Islam’s protection of religious freedom too obvious to dispute. In What Went Wrong?, Lewis observes that Islamic “governments and societies achieved a freedom of thought and expression that led persecuted Jews and even dissident Christians to flee Christendom for refuge in [the land of] Islam.”

But whereas Islam didn’t set out to force people to accept it, it equally didn’t invade other nations merely for self defense, as some Muslim activists claim. Surely Jihad – and I strictly mean war; not terrorism, nor even “Jihad of the soul” – was once for defensive purposes. As the Islamic state attained the preparedness to assume greater tasks, verses of the Qur’an were revealed asking the Muslims to bring the whole of mankind under their leadership through means that didn’t exclude military.

Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Q9:29)

This verse, like several other related verses, is supported by many authentic ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) in which Muslims are instructed to bring mankind under their political leadership. This submission to Muslim leadership is signified by paying the Jizya, a tax levied on non-Muslim able-bodied adult males living under a Muslim government.

According to Islam, there is no contradiction between freedom of worship and submitting to Muslim rule. Islam deprives non-Muslim nations of their political independence, but not their religious independence. Islam does not accept operating under a political establishment other than itself. The monotheistic religion is certain that non-Muslim political power is by nature hostile to it and would not allow it sufficient liberty to spread freely without interfering. It therefore seeks to capture power and eradicate all the influences that would prevent it from addressing mankind without constraints. Sayyid Qutb says it better in Milestones:

This Islam has a right to remove all those obstacles which are in its path so that it may address human reason and intuition with no interference and opposition from political systems… Islam is not a heritage of any particular race or country; this is Allah's religion and it is for the whole world. It has the right to destroy all obstacles in the form of institutions and traditions which limit man's freedom of choice. It does not attack individuals nor does it force them to accept its beliefs; it attacks institutions and traditions to release human beings from their poisonous influences, which distort human nature and which curtail human freedom.

This is what drove Islam’s conquest of much of the world, including vast parts of Christendom. In repeated attempts to regain these territories, the Christians launched murderous military campaigns known as the Crusades of the Medieval Age. Islam crushed them one after the other. By the 17th Century, Islam had pushed and confined Christianity to a single corner of the world, and that is the west.

As the declining Muslim empire ceased posing a military threat to Christendom, and as the Christian West mastered modern technology that would drive its consequent dominance of the world, Christianity started fading from within its own boarders. Having endured enough of the oppression of the church, the people of Europe decided to strip Christianity of its political powers.

The rise of Caesar and the 'fall of God'
For centuries Christianity inflicted untold suffering on the Europeans for merely professing unofficial versions of Christianity. Its treatment of the Jews and Muslims was too awful for words. In its fight against heresy, the Catholic Church mounted the Inquisition that left uncountable dissidents throughout Europe burnt to death.

The recurrent religious wars, including the Thirty Years War that pitted Protestants against Catholics in 1618, greatly ravaged Europe and discredited Christianity as a divisive and destructive force whose wings should be amputated. It is this stubborn behavior of Christianity that breathed unprecedented impetus in the idea of separation of church and state and entrenched secularism across Europe.

Secularism deprived Christianity of the state machinery to enforce its values.  It was no longer lawful to kill or even harass heretics. It became acceptable to challenge and even dismiss Biblical teachings as tales of the past that made no sense in the modern world. Religion was reduced to a personal affair that couldn’t dictate to the public sphere. It was reminded of its own teachings of rendering “unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." (Mathew 22:21). In this case, political power went to Caesar to whom “God’s religion” consequently had to submit. Caesar, in simple terms, became the 'master of God'.

The Age of Enlightenment that came with the 18th Century further strengthened freedom at the expense of Christianity. Enlightenment encouraged people to reason and to stop following unquestioningly, setting Europe on a path that ended in her current post-Christian era.

Today Christianity is increasingly faring miserably in Europe, with church attendance dropping to less than 10 percent in Sweden and the Netherlands. Many Europeans, of course, still have Christian names, but they possibly believe Christianity is misplaced in their world. Pope Benedict XVI was not mistaken when he lamented in 2005, "There's no longer evidence for a need of God, even less of Christ." The pontiff was simply restating what French theologian Gabriel Vahanian meant in 1961 when he observed that God, in the eyes of Europeans, is dead.

It should be clear though that the sharp decline of Christianity in Europe, Canada and Australia is by no means the end of the faith. In recent centuries Christianity has extended its reach to the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of East Asia. In these areas Christianity is no small player, and in some of them it certainly has a future. Whether this future is bright is the question.

The future is hardly brilliant because what undermined Christianity in Europe is by no means unique to that continent. With Caesar 'ruling over' God, Christianity in Africa will hardly enjoy an upper hand over its equally ambitious archrival, Islam. It will be recalled that Christianity managed to spread only in parts of Africa where Islam had no significant presence, especially in southern, eastern and parts of western Africa. Decades of Christian colonial rule in North Africa left little or no trace of Christianity in the region. Where Islam is Christianity hardly takes root. 

In colonial Africa, like in pre-modern Europe, Christianity enjoyed political leverage. Whereas a bit of this leverage is still seen in parts of Black Africa, for instance in Uganda where the First Family openly fosters Pentecostalism, the escalating entrenchment of secularism suggests Christianity may no longer be spoon-fed.

Besides the spread of secularism is the ongoing modernization of Sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Europe has demonstrated that modernization and affluence greatly undermine Christianity. As Christians attain middle class status, they tend to view the teachings of their religion as obsolete and unfashionable. They start to associate little with religious practice.

This declining adherence to Christian teachings, in the eyes of some Christians, especially the Pentecostals, does not matter. Pentecostalism says that salvation has nothing to do with observing religious practices or avoiding sins; it is solely dependent on accepting Jesus as the “Savoir.” For a born-again Christian to go on a sinning spree is immaterial because the “Son of God” long paid the price by his blood.

Surprisingly, such ridicule of religion is gaining ground in the rise of Pentecostalism. Born slightly over one century ago in the U.S., the born-again movement has gone all over the strongholds of Christianity causing sleepless nights for traditional churches. The rapid spread of this fundamentalist sect created an impression that Christianity was reviving. It wasn’t.

The revival that never was
Whereas Pentecostalism attracted many of the active and passive followers of traditional churches, it did so by appealing to the superstitious traits of the people of primitive communities. The people in Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, still believe in mysterious supernatural powers, whether claimed by a traditional sorcerer or a religious diviner. When the “men of God” resorted to the tricks of the magician to earn a living, the church flooded with primitive beings expecting to be healed of HIV and to get U.S. Visas.

As society overcomes immaturity and as people start realizing the illusion of superstition, the Pentecostal Church will quickly join the traditional churches in mourning the loss of worshippers.

Even the term “worshippers” seems to be inappropriate for these people. They have turned their places of worship into discotheques. A born-again gathering hardly differs from a concert organized by Chameleon, Uganda’s leading pop idol. These amusements attract many young people, deluding Pentecostalism that it has many followers. A religion thriving on tricks and amusements can only be a passing phenomenon.

All doubt should by now be dispelled that Pentecostalism is too hollow to revive a faith as great as Christianity. For now, there appears to be no miracle that can disrupt Christianity’s downward spiral. Gone is the heyday of this religion.
 

Comments   

 
0 #1 aloys 2012-06-14 07:26
this is a very good contribution.. i will read and reread it..
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0 #2 James Kakama 2012-06-14 10:53
Yahya, this is the truth even though many especially in this part of the world ay not love it
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0 #3 Ben 2012-06-14 14:20
The article has a lot of errors! Christendom deviated from what Jesus preached, Islam tells of what God did not say, especially when it says that Ishmael, not Jacob is the successor of Abraham, the that Mohamed is the promised messiah!.
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0 #4 Mirembe 2012-06-14 14:46
Yahya, i do not understand what your motive is but whichever way, please understand that true born-again people are praying for you too to enjoy what we are enjoying. You people are missing out. The newness, the peace, the joy and contentment that knowing Jesus brings is incomprehensibl e. Jesus is ONLY for those who are foolish enough to believe that life can be exceedingly enjoyable and fulfilling in all aspects, it for those who are worn out and tired with life. When you are too brilliant and scholarly and stuck-up, Jesus is not for you!
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+1 #5 Lukyamuzi J 2012-06-14 14:48
Yahya, u seem to be one of the most confused adherents of religion. when u talk of pentecostalism u give the impression that Islam is one religion with no division. What u call the downward spiral of christianity stems from the freedoms that abound in Chrstian countries and trsut me give the same freedoms to the muslims and you will be surprised. Its reason as to why many Islamic afficionados when they go to the west are tempted and engage in wine,women and song.
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+1 #6 Samuel 2012-06-14 16:43
I agree with the historical facts but you forget to acknowledge that many christian missionaries have been murdered in muslim countries just for preaching. On the other hand, mosques abound in christian countries! Again, separate the state from religion and see what will befall Islam. Chrristianity is a religion in which your choice of faith is that of heart rather than your fear of hurt!
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+1 #7 Frank Odongkara 2012-06-14 22:49
This is the longest most useless article ever. I do not see a difference between Islam and Christianity; it's all bullshit! It's not just Christianity collapsing but Islam and all the world's religions. I ask you, what shall befall Islam once it's separated from the state? Those Scandinavian and Western Europe countries you mentioned have taken to secularism and are no doubt the most developed and peaceful countries in the world today. Religion is mental chains!
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+1 #8 Paul Mugerwa 2012-06-15 04:12
Islam's future is more threaten that Christianity. The reason being that since its establishment by the sward of course, the followers never enjoyed freedom to reason and they closed their minds for fear of death fatwas. The Koran is full of satanic verses and logically contradicting teachings and some of them Yahya has cited in his presentation.

Christianity does not fear the public square like Islam; Christianity is willing to compete in the market place of ideas whereas Islam is afraid to do so for fear of exposing their abject intellectual bankruptcy. God is love and he knows very well the principle of love because he authored it - You cannot love someone by force or force him to love you or even hire a hit-man if he does not love you. Love flows freely wherever it wills.
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0 #9 Rutakoba Joab 2012-06-15 06:24
You man, who called u to forge this nonsense? Before u do or write any thing, u should think about the validity of your activity in this vanity!!! Do not call on the lord to punish u before the right time. Otherwise repent!! u are provoking God's anger i will pray for u to get Godly wisdom. He will deliver u from this ulcer.
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+1 #10 Paul Mugerwa 2012-06-15 17:24
Let the Islamic countries separate religion and state, level the field and allow other religions to come in, only then shall we know for sure that Islam is popular.

For people like Frank Odongkara, have to first learn how their minds function. Somebody has to keep reminding them that their intellect is oriented towards the truth, and if effectively engaged, may make them change their position or mentality.
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0 #11 jos 2012-07-10 08:27
Thank you for revealing your dis-contention with Christianity, but you should know that it has always managed to revive it self to answer the questions at all times.
simply put, its revival allows its followers to present their case to God at a particular time, unlike Islam where you have to recite the same words for different problems.
And you shd be care full and informed before you write, because the prophet himself told the moslems to follow Jesus as he will raise us from the dead. And Jesus is the back borne of Christianity
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0 #12 Musah 2012-07-25 08:07
Mugerwa , unfortunately Islam cannot be separated from state. Islam, unlike other religions, is a complete way of life. Its not about going to the mosques on fridays like most religions are.
However, I appreciate your wishful thinking.
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0 #13 Ika Jose 2016-06-16 08:57
I think you people have something wrong most especially Poul Muwanga. Being a Muslim does not prevent him from researching about other beliefs and I believe yourselves are realising the reality in his article thus come to protest here in this manner!! Wamma go on to burst other secrets if you have
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