Global South evangelism

Viewed from MexicoThe Global South. There’s an interesting term. I heard it bandied about on the radio yesterday. What a brilliant glimpse of the parochial drive to globalize, to convince us and all to be global citizens. “South” to whom, developed nations? The “southern” climes which struggle perpetually to develop are the tropical zones between the northern and southern hemispheres. They’re not south of Australia, for example, or Argentina. We live on a spinning marble, let’s remember. No one’s on top. Americans have accepted international where we used to say foreign. “Global South” is about as xenophobic as overseas, with condescension thrown in.

In Carlos Fentes’ The Old Gringo, a fictional account of Ambrose Bierce’s last days following the Zapata revolution in Mexico, the aging writer encounters Poncho Villa. Behind Villa’s men on a front porch hangs a map of North America, upside down. When Bierce points this out, the Mexican fighter explains that whether Mexico is viewed as above or below Los Estados Unidos is of course a matter of perspective.

The context in which I heard a Global South being discussed on NPR’s Fresh Air was on the matter of religion. The warmer countries are practicing a more durable form of Christianity apparently. They are an example, it was insinuated, of which traditional developed-nation Christians must take heed. That was the pitch.

The scare? The darkies will usurp our northern moral authority. “Will the next pope be from the Global South,” an incredulous Terry Gross asked? It’s not even a question was the reply. With their overwhelming preponderance of Catholics, the Global South will elect popes of color for as far as we can see. That was not even an answer, if you were paying attention, and clever. Otherwise how to explain a Catholic Church already vastly Latin American electing a German ex-Nazi to popehood?

I hope I’m not also contributing to the condescending tone by suggesting that the tropics offer mankind not much in the Christianity department. Spirituality yes, especially as it might be tied to nature and man’s quest to transcend his basic and collective nature, but self-reflection on printed texts? I think that’s been best left to the colder climes which necessitate industriousness and passing the time indoors reading.

I mean in no way to disparage religion as it’s practiced where it is needed. But to insinuate that a prayer spoken in a precarious environment should put our well-fed congregations to shame is manipulative and base.

Maybe of course we are being prepared for the global economy, the new downsized everybody. No health care, reduced social services, reduced community wealth. Iraqification. The New World Order is a Third World Order. Get ready for Global South uncertainty, anxiety, fragility, mortality and a faith with which to endure it.

The religious example with which NPR was trying to inspire its listeners was made clear by this incredible question: “Is the Global South mainly Evangelical?” The non-answer was again a misleading confirmation. “We should avoid trying to analyze the Global South in northern terms.” Exactly. Different parlance for different folks, my thesis entirely.

And Terry, over half of the world’s Christians are Catholic. The percentage is even higher in the tropics. Evangelicals garner but a fraction. Yours was what’s called a loaded question. So, are most NBA stars rapists? Very hard to say in white men terms probably.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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