Christianity's Resurgence: Focus on Africa – Part 2
In this series on Africa, I acknowledge that Christianity is declining in the modern world, specifically in the US and Western Europe. However, I also recognize that Christianity is growing in Africa. Depending on whose statistics you use, Christianity in Africa will either offset the decline or, better still, represent a solid growth in real numbers. I prefer to think the latter as that suggests more people are turning to the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Part 1, I mentioned that North African countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea are mostly Muslim. Now, think of those countries that fall in Sub-Saharan Africa. That would be those countries south of the great Saharan desert. The map below was drawn in 1920, but it does provide a visual of how large the Sahara Desert is. Parts of the Sahara pass through southern Libya and southern Egypt. Given the political landscape of the 21st Century, there are some 50-plus countries in the Sub-Saharan tract. The Muslim/Christian population is divided along a horizontal band across the Continent. Picture a wide band stretching from Senegal on the west coast to Somalia on the east coast, with the northern countries being predominately Muslim and the southern countries predominately Christian. To identify Senegal, look at the African map and find the west-most point of the Continent. To identify Somalia, again, look at the African map and see the Horn of Africa, the east-most point. Some other countries along this line would include Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Most of these countries have a mix of both Muslims and Christians. But a survey of all African countries indicates a total population breakdown of 48 percent to 45 percent favoring Christianity.
Why the Resurgence in Christianity?
In Part 1, I discussed each religion's impact on its adherents. But there is one reason I think Christianity has outgrown and surpassed its Muslim counterpart. That reason is education. Two studies, one by Pew Research and released in 2016 and another by Brown University this year, indicate that Christians in Africa receive a superior product to Muslims.
The Pew Research Study, 2016
In their study entitled "Religion and Education Around the World," Pew Research showed that 65 percent of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa had no formal education compared to 30 percent of the Christians in those countries. One of the factors behind the educational gap originated in the colonial era. Colonial governments barred Christian missionaries from working in Muslim conclaves. In those areas where Christian missionaries did work, Muslim families would not send their children to those schools, fearing their conversion. Those younger generations, fluent in the study of the Qur'an, were at a disadvantage in commercial and governmental opportunities, and that gap has remained untouched through the present time.
Muslim traditions about women have kept them from participating in educational attainment. Early marriage and the lack of formal employment opportunities have also hindered women. Acute poverty in Muslim-majority countries has contributed to the lack of school enrollment. When you break down the specifics for men, Muslim men with no schooling compared to Christian men 57 percent to 22 percent. Another finding showed that Muslims that were a minority in a Christian-majority country had better education results. The Muslims in those countries attended public schools and learned reading, writing, and arithmetic skills like their Christian counterparts.
The Brown University Study, 2023
The Brown University study, entitled "Religion and educational mobility in Africa," published in the journal Nature, found that over the last three generations, Christian children have surpassed their parents' level of education at a much higher rate than Muslim and Traditionalist children in Africa. While in some countries, the education gap stabilized, in other countries, the education gap ballooned.
Two factors seemed to stand out in promoting this gap. The first factor was the older generations' literacy rate. If a child lives in an area where literacy and education are downplayed, the chances are that a child will mirror the education of his forebears. The second factor is the educational opportunities provided in each residential area. Even when Muslims live in communities where they are a minority but with good schools, they fare better in education.
Different cultures view education differently. In the West, schooling is commonly assumed to drive development and liberation, resulting in positive economic and social returns. In poverty-stricken areas, close-knit social communities provide the kind of financial security that education does in the West. Islam is a social religion that focuses on the good of the tribe or the group. Christianity focuses on the hard work and morality of the individual. Thus, education is part of that hard work ethic.
Christianity is Productivity
What we are witnessing is the Ottoman Empire paradox all over again. The Ottoman Empire witnessed the beginning of the Reformation in the 16th Century. To keep their citizens under control, they prohibited the use of the printing press up until the 19th Century. Instead of the printing press, Muslim-dominant countries deny their citizens the benefits of a secular education. Human capital has the unique ability to research and utilize written information and make better decisions based on better information. By the mid-19th Century, the literacy rate in the Ottoman Empire was 2-3 percent compared to ten times as much in Western Europe. Human capital growth occurs exponentially, which explains why productivity in dominant Islamic countries still falls behind Western countries.
Another difference between Muslims and Christians is the inherent value of education. Education is the precursor to working smarter, not harder. Biblical scholars suggest that work is a noble endeavor when sought out for the proper purposes. We, as Christians, should not seek work to get rich. We should seek work to find our calling. For example, in Genesis 41:46, Joseph was an administrator for a Pharaoh, David, a musician (1st Samuel 16:21-23), and Huram, a worker in bronze (1st Kings 7:13-14). This line of thought shows that the Protestant work ethic is grounded in Christianity. This work ethic has become a Christian cultural value. Influencers like Shakespeare and Ben Franklin, among others, have embedded it into our everyday beliefs. In Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2, Shakespeare writes, "It is written: labor in your vocation." Franklin writes in his almanac, "It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man." Christianity is a religion where the individual seeks his calling with the help of God.
What Happens Now?
We watch Christianity outgrow the Muslim north, maybe not in population, as Muslims believe in large families as a security blanket but in prosperity, liberal democratic institutions, and individual rights. In other words, we will see a disparity in the quality of life as it improves for the Christians in the South.
In Western countries, Christian churches deal with progressive issues such as homosexuality, gender identity, rewriting the Gospels to water down Jesus' message, and issues that make Christianity meaningless. In Africa, we are seeing a purer, cleaner Christianity arise. Some of that outcome is because of the competition for membership from our Muslim brothers. Competition of any sort makes you try harder. Competition, in this case, will make Christianity try harder to fill the needs of its constituents. We will likely see some of that purer Christianity come back to the US and Western Europe as rebranded churches. Some of that has already happened.
As Christianity in the West declines, Christianity in Africa grows. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how far Christianity's resurgence can go.
Credit to Wikimedia Commons for the 2019 orthographic map of Africa and the 1920 Sudan United Mission map.