Were there no war, you could drive from Aleppo, Syria to Stockholm, Sweden in about the time it takes to get from San Francisco, CA to Charlotte, NC…about three days of hard driving with reasonable nights’ sleeps. It really is that close.
I mention Charlotte because Stockholm has a population about the size of Charlotte, and in fact the population of Sweden is similar in size to the state of North Carolina. Furthermore, Sweden’s economy…the economy of the entire nation…rates about the same size based on GDP (and per capita GDP) for 2015 as our relatively small state of North Carolina.
Yet in 2015 alone Sweden took in over 160,000 refugees. That number is approaching 2% of the national population…in just one year. I realize statistics bore people, and there is no quicker route to make a reader’s eyes glaze over. But we need perspective. Imagine living in a place where one in fifty people were refugees. Their small economy cannot bear the strain of such human tragedy.
Foreign Policy magazine (certainly no conservative echo chamber) in early 2016 told of the “Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth.” We have all seen the images of riots and heard the stories a rising crime rates. The problems are undeniable, no matter how much certain US media outlets want to say otherwise. Such problems aren’t limited to Sweden, either. Europe faces serious problems for years to come considering that the IMF estimates that migrant population for the period 2015-2017 to reach about 4 million. Essentially, by the end of 2017, one in 200 people in Europe will be migrants, predominately from war torn countries of the Middle East and Africa.
So, when President Trump pointed to the disturbing trend of unrest and crime among migrants in Europe, he was actually presenting us with real facts. When that many people are uprooted, particularly when many are unemployed young men desperate to find a life in a foreign culture, trouble is almost certain to follow.
Sadly, the fact is that in saying as much our president may never have uttered a truer lie.
How is that?
Simply put, the President said, “You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe it?” True enough. But he contextualized the comment with statements about the importance of defending our country. By saying as much he implied that apart from his refugee policy we are on the road to the same outcome. This simply isn’t true.
Before President Trump’s policy changes, we were set to take in 110,000 refugees from various countries this year. So, between 2015 and 2017 the US would have found herself resettling about 330,000 refugees…not the 4 million pouring across the borders of Europe. Indeed, these Refugees bound for the US could not pour across the borders. They were being brought here through a fairly successful process.
This president has clearly capitalized on economic frustrations and concerns over immigration. Our general failure to address real border and immigration problems combined with apathy and denial on the part of perceived elites in the government and media actually paved the way for Trump’s election (something broadly discussed enough to need no further argumentation here).
However, the President’s recent comments and actions pertaining to refugees combined with the constant barrage of anti-Muslim and xenophobic stories repeated again and again by his surrogates, complete with misleading headlines and a total lack of perspective, are stirring fear and sometimes hatred for people in genuine need of our help.
As Christians we ought to be troubled by any act on the part of our leaders to play on our fear in such a way as to scapegoat any group. The fact that those actions have lead our nation to close its doors on destitute people in serious need of our help…people with whom we could potentially share the love of God and freedom offered by the Truth of the Gospel…should grieve us. Furthermore, the fact that there are those proposing laws like the one proposed in my home state of South Carolina meant to stop churches and religious organizations from helping refugees should upset us as much as laws passed to stop us from praying for the unborn in front of abortion clinics. But they don’t.
Roughly 60% of Evangelical believers favor keeping Muslim refugees out of the country. If we pay attention to the articles they post and argument they make, it becomes clear that their stand is largely fear based. It is a fear that is fed by the lack of perspective mentioned above…on an ignorance encouraged by the current administration. There seems to be a prevailing idea that we are on the road to becoming a Muslim country. It is a fear with no basis in facts.
So, I would like to offer some alternative facts…some facts about the religious trends in our nation that show just how unfounded the fear of Islamicization in America is at present.
I am currently teaching a class on American Religion. (If you want the overall premise of the class in a short read, you can get some sense from this Richard John Neuhaus article in First Things.) What caught me by surprise was the interest students have in the growth trend of the unaffiliated or “Nones.” These are people who consider themselves disconnected from any religious group or church. I knew this was a growing group, but it is actually the fastest growing ‘religious’ group in the US. And my students to a large degree could identify.
Now, there are many theories as to why this is happening, and I have my own which I can share at some other time. But what is most intriguing is that a majority of the unaffiliated still consider themselves spiritual in some sense. Interestingly, some still claim to be a religious person. Yet more significant is the growing number who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious (SBNR).” Almost 40% of those who claim no religion in particular (but don’t identify as Atheists) label themselves SBNR, and over a third of those self-identifying as Atheist or Agnostic also identify as spiritual.
Why does this matter and what does it have to do with Islamicization and immigration?
Simply put, most immigrants into the US are Christians. And, in fact, the main reason Christianity hasn’t seen a greater decline is due to immigrants. On the other hand, Muslims make up about 1% of the US population. Pew projects they will grow to 2%…by 2050. That growth is based on births and immigration (of which Muslims are a small percentage considering how many Muslims there are in the world). Muslims make some converts, but they lose just as many in the US. So, it is quite possible that by supporting reduction of refugees and trying to crack down on immigration in general we hurt ourselves.
Because while we have opened ourselves up to be painted as anti-immigrant and hard-hearted, our ‘Christian’ kids are converting in droves to Spiritual but not Religious. They see religion as unnecessary, as just one more PAC. We’ve trained them to think in those terms, and so it is likely that they will not depart from it any time soon.
Of course the draw of SBNR is that like good postmodern American they have the absolute ‘freedom’ to make themselves and their own spirituality. No pesky creeds or even meddling God is necessary. No political baggage to cause problems with their friends either.
The goal of such spirituality is a feeling of peace, awe, and connectedness with the universe. However, as they grow up, more an more of these SBNR people will find themselves in need of a spiritual method. The beauty of a trip to the mountains, the excitement of a newfound lover, the peaceful emptiness found in a great mix of spacemusic inadvertently imbibed at the local dance club will not be enough. But they won’t return to the churches they left…because most of them were never there.
No, just like so many things in the lives of millennials, they will find…indeed they are finding…that the method has already been provided. When accidental spirituality ceases to be enough, this generation is turning to Buddhism. It is only natural for them. They’ve been initiated into yoga. And now mindfulness exercises are making their way into American classrooms because Buddhism is a philosophy or a psychology, not a religion.
They have been groomed for it. It is, after all, a soundbite generation. The probability of them actually understanding and living Buddhism with all its rigors is unlikely. But the possibility of them becoming Buddhist in a popular sense is quite probable. After all, Buddhism makes NO CLAIMS about God, and the Buddha has some very post-modern American soundbites:
“Doubt everything. Find your own light.”
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.”
“With our thoughts we make the world.”
“Be kind to all creatures. This is the true religion.”
“To keep the body in good health is a duty.”
“You…deserve your love as much as anybody in the entire universe.”
Need I go on?
America will not be Muslim in 30 or even 50 years. That is not a danger were we to take every Muslim migrant in Sweden. But if we in the church do not wake up to what is happening in the next generation, we could be a Buddhist nation by 2030.
NOTE: If you would like more information about refugees, please listen to Matthew Soerens of World Relief who recently spoke at my home church.