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PART II REFLECTIONS FROM THE FRONT LINE This page intentionally left blank 77 4 RADICAL ENCOUNTERS Climate Change and Religious Conflict in Africa Eliza Griswold Ours is an age of unprecedented radical change, and people search for something that doesn’t change, that is eternal. And of all such things, God is the ultimate. And there is a specific factor in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and that is the perceived failure of Western regimes. That is leading to a whole series of religious counterrevolutions. That’s what’s happening in Iraq and Syria. It’s what happened in Iran. To some extent it is happening in India with Hindu nationalism. —Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks1 Not so long ago, most people thought that theologians were largely irrelevant to our contemporary culture. Most of us in the West believed that the world, led by the United States and Europe, had grown beyond a need for God. Belief was naive, a stage in development, the thinking went. “Third Worlders” would soon abandon their churches and mosques and temples in favor of the more sophisticated understanding of human existence that accompanied technological advancement. This was the “God is Dead” camp—­ a group that believed that devotion was irrelevant and that believers were, to put it in its starkest terms, dangerously stupid. Of course, from the start, some of us understood that this kind of thinking was entirely wrong. In terms of demographics alone, the majority of humans on the planet believed strongly in God. And, due to the very secular factor of birthrates, the numbers of believers were 78 Eliza Griswold growing such that the center of Global Christianity was no longer Europe or the United States but Nigeria. We didn’t take such believers seriously enough, as we knew little about who they were and less about the practices that patterned their devotion. At its root, this chauvinism was born of a misunderstanding about development. Many Western thinkers viewed what we call now call the Global South through a prism of single-­ track development. Everyone was moving from third to first world. This, in itself, was naive. Africa and South Asia weren’t chugging along happily behind the United States and the United Kingdom on the same inexorable march toward development . In terms of technology, vast regions were outpacing the West—­ leapfrogging us—­ moving from no electricity to solar panels, jumping from no phone lines to smart phones, and skipping dial-­ up completely. To assume that we in the West were somehow further along technologically and ideologically—­ that belief in God was a symptom of poverty and poor education—­ was thickheaded. It was a mistake. Unfortunately, it has taken paroxysms of violence from North Africa to the Middle East to South Asia waged in the name of God to sharpen our understanding that, for the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants, belief isn’t dead. Instead, it is the single determining factor that patterns peoples’ lives—­ more than race, ethnicity, and nationality combined. Throughout the Global South, in countries where national boundaries exist only as arbitrary lines drawn on the maps of colonial administrators , religion (I will argue here) has become the primary form of identity. When these identities are constructed along brittle ideological lines which posit that one religion must have primacy over another—­ as determined by divine revelation—­ then these identities often become violent. In Not in God’s Name, Rabbi Sacks offers us an intellectual invitation to think beyond the front pages of our newspapers and the squawk of a few loud talking heads on our televisions in order to engage Westerners in rereading these ideological fault lines through not only the scriptures but also Freudian logic. If each Abrahamic sibling is born with a self-­ schema founded on the need to outdo the previous one, then the conflict between them is inherent in divine revelation. What is one to do? As usual, Rabbi Sacks is inviting us into a new frame of thinking that allows us to shake off the limitations of our own ideas and apply a new story to the logical and ideological challenges before us. In this essay, I will offer three other close observations I have gathered on the ground after fifteen years of work in places where the hardening of religious identity has led to violence. In political elections, droughts, RADICAL ENCOUNTERS 79 floods, and even fights over cacao (the principle ingredient in chocolate), I’ve asked believers of all stripes...


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