Gi­ant leaps in faith: 1918, 1968 and maybe 2018

Porterville Recorder - - RELIGION - Terry Mattingly is the ed­i­tor of Getreli­gion. org and Se­nior Fel­low for Me­dia and Re­li­gion at The King’s Col­lege in New York City.

One of the most fa­mous tales of World War I be­gan when a fan­tasy fic­tion writer wrote a story in 1914 about Bri­tish soldiers cry­ing for help while fac­ing over­whelm­ing Ger­man forces near Mons, in France.

Their prayers sum­moned heav­enly hosts of archers at­tack­ing the “hea­then horde.”

Soon, vet­er­ans started claim­ing that they saw these “an­gels” with their own eyes. Im­ages of the An­gels of Mons be­gan ap­pear­ing — as fact — in posters, paint­ings and pop­u­lar songs.

It’s hard to imag­ine a world in which na­tions led by ra­tio­nal, sci­en­tific elites could em­brace these claims, said his­to­rian Philip Jenk­ins, in re­cent lec­tures at King Uni­ver­sity in Bris­tol, Ten­nessee. That world is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine be­cause it was swept away a cen­tury ago by waves of change that few saw com­ing.

“What hap­pened in the vic­tory? ‘Oh, an­gels ap­peared. The dead arose to fight for us,’” said Jenk­ins, a dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor at Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity and au­thor of 27 books. “When the Ger­mans launched their great of­fen­sive in 1918, of course, what else could it be called? It’s Op­er­a­tion Michael, af­ter the lead­ing ar­changel — who by this point has be­come some­thing like a Ger­man war god.

“If you look at the pro­pa­ganda of the time, the as­sump­tion is that Christ is ab­so­lutely with US -- who­ever WE are, the Ger­mans, the Amer­i­cans, what­ever.”

While it’s com­mon to be­lieve that re­li­gion evolves slowly over time, in a lin­ear man­ner, the ev­i­dence sug­gests that his­tory lurches through pe­ri­ods of “ex­treme, rapid, revo­lu­tion­ary change, when ev­ery­thing is shaken and thrown up into the air,” said Jenk­ins. Ev­ery 50 years or so, new pat­terns and cul­tural norms seem to ap­pear that never could have been pre­dicted.

World War I is a clas­sic ex­am­ple. For in­stance:

Bri­tish troops de­feated a Turk­ish army at Megiddo, the site of the bib­li­cal bat­tle of Ar­maged­don. Soon, the Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion sought the creation of a Jewish home­land.

Bol­she­viks crushed Tsarist Rus­sia, mar­tyring mil­lions of Ortho­dox Chris­tians. Turks be­gan rad­i­cal per­se­cu­tions of East­ern Chris­tians, chang­ing the Mid­dle East.

The war sev­ered mis­sion­ary bonds with emerg­ing na­tions, un­leash­ing the ex­plo­sive growth of uniquely Asian and African forms of Chris­tian­ity -- a boom be­gin­ning in 1915 that con­tin­ues to­day.

Sec­u­lar France sent Catholic clergy to the front lines, shap­ing scholar-priests who later chal­lenged the re­la­tion­ship be­tween faith, war and the state. Did Vat­i­can II be­gin at the Bat­tle of Ver­dun? Then again, an Ital­ian priest who car­ried stretch­ers to mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals would later be­come St. Pope John XXIII.

Yes, it’s tempt­ing to pon­der what is hap­pen­ing in 2018.

Rad­i­cal forms of Is­lam are grow­ing, but so is sec­u­lar­ism in many Is­lamic cul­tures, said Jenk­ins. Birthrates are col­laps­ing in Europe, but also in parts of In­dia and Asia.

Mean­while, who can pre­dict the next bolt of tech­nol­ogy that could change ev­ery­thing again?

Think about 1968, noted Jenk­ins. In the ‘60s, it was easy to spot emerg­ing youth cul­tures and the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion. There were as­sas­si­na­tions and ri­ots and early signs of rad­i­cal­ized Is­lam. Main­line, es­tab­lish­ment churches be­gan their rapid de­cline, while Pen­te­costal Chris­tian­ity ex­ploded world­wide.

Then there was a lec­ture in San Fran­cisco on Dec. 9, 1968. That was when Dou­glas En­gel­bart demon­strated a “X-Y Po­si­tion In­di­ca­tor for a Dis­play Sys­tem” -- he called it a “mouse” -- along with other dig­i­tal in­no­va­tions that would con­nect with the up­com­ing ARPANET project, a gi­ant step to­ward the in­ter­net.

“Think of the re­li­gious im­pli­ca­tions of I.T., per­sonal com­put­ing and of so­cial me­dia,” ar­gued Jenk­ins. “Think what that means in terms of con­scious­ness, of how we de­velop and ex­change ideas, how we in­ter­act and re­mem­ber . ... Should we not count all this as among the most sig­nif­i­cant re­li­gious de­vel­op­ments of the mod­ern age?”

It was, he ar­gued, yet an­other time when the “fu­ture sud­denly be­came vis­i­ble.”

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