Things I learned in 2019

1. The protests in Hong Kong would go longer than I would have expected China would let them. Have they learned something from Tiananmen?

2. Around the world, nationalism is becoming the M.O. of virtually every major power – nationalistic Russian Orthodox Christianity, nationalistic authoritarian control in China, “Hindus first” in India, nationalistic fervor in the United States.

3. 1 in 3 women around the world experience physical and/or sexual abuse in their lifetime.

4. Surveillance and censorship are seeping in everywhere, watching what people do and then editing actions afterward. By removing people’s ability to network and speak, we remove the ability for actions to scale for impact.

5. 5G isn’t that big a deal.

6. 1 in 7 people (mostly in Africa) do not have access to electricity, at all.

7. When parents value boys in one generation, their boys will value girls in the next generation.

8. The key to making smart, fast decisions under pressure is largely to make them when you have just enough information, and make them reversible.

9. “Everything is amazing, but nothing is ours.” Useful read on the perils of services and access vs ownership. I still use Spotify, Netflix, etc. but there is a fragility to this. This looks at worlds of scarcity (made out of things) vs. worlds of abundance (made out of dependencies).

10. “Dinner churches” are trading pews for tables: “Every week they invite the neighborhood to a four-course meal. While dining together, a team leads the group through Christian liturgical elements, including worship music, live visual art, and a short message. In the midst of the homey ambiance of the meal, people learn about God and grow closer to each other.”

11. “Maybe it’s not Youtube’s algorithm that radicalizes people”: an important examination of the role of online communities that gather around exposed content, and serve as amplifiers.

… “We believe that the novel and disturbing fact of people consuming white nationalist video media was not caused by the supply of this media ‘radicalizing’ an otherwise moderate audience,” they write. “Rather, the audience already existed, but they were constrained” by limited supply.

12. Most political tweets (in the USA) come from a minority of posters. If my timeline is getting overrun by politics, muting or unfollowing a few posters may be enough to significantly reduce the noise.

13. WhatsApp is used broadly by people on both sides of government and wars. The challenges of something used by billions of people around the world, including on various sides of every debate or argument, must be immense.

14. Many governments, in an effort to control communications or limit the ability of opposition to communicate, will attempt to wall themselves off from the public Internet.

15. In the USA, “nones” are projected to surpass “evangelicals” by 2030 –

  • Postcards from the Protestant decline in America: the life-cycle effect (coming back after you marry and have kids) is less dominant—possibly because many young people are not getting married or having children. (I had not thought about the correlation of those two facts before.) Link
  • “Religion, retention, and why we stay or go.” Ryan Burge, in a very important analysis in CT, explores which traditions are “leaky boats” and which ones do “a good job of keeping people in the fold.” This is a really fascinating piece: most evangelicals stay evangelicals; and a lot of losses from other churches are TO evangelical churches. Link
  • 538 also has some analysis, focusing more on the “from-Christian-to-not” journey prominent amongst many Millennials. One notable thing: Millennials are now more likely (than previously) to marry non-Christian spouses. In the past, a somewhat nominal male would marry a likely-more-orthodox female, and “come back into the fold.” If this trend changes, it would reinforce a spiral “out” of the church. Link

USA steadily becoming less Christian…? []

  • Pew: 65% Christian 2019, 77% in 2009; Nones: 26% in 2019, 17% 2009
  • I have three caveats.
  • One is timing: where will Millennials be when they are the age the Silents are now? This research only shows a snapshot of where generations are now and where they were 10 years ago. I’d be very interested in a look at where, for example, the Silents were when they were at a similar generational period as Millennials are now. It’s possible that many Millennials will come back later in life.
  • Second: what is meant by “Christian” vs. “None”? Other research shows Americans still broadly believe in God, etc. It’s possible what we’re seeing here isn’t a loss of faith but a disenchantment with the American religious structure.
  • Third: It is possible that this is a new “normal.” For much of America’s history, there has been a strong cultural pressure to identify as some form of Christian. Now, that cultural pressure has been significantly reduced. We may be seeing in Millennials what was truth all along.
  • I still believe there is a firm floor to the drop. Those who are declaring themselves “none” are likely those who were mostly cultural Christians all along.

Another interesting survey: although attendance is dropping, total giving is increasing in the USA –

USA: For a lot of American teens, religion is a regular part of the public school day –

  • … 33% see 2 to 5 religious expressions per day in school
  • … 26% pray “sometimes or often” before lunch
  • … 31% of boys and 46% of girls “sometimes or often” talk to their friends about religion
  • … 13% “often/sometimes” see students being teased/bullied because of their faith
  • … (also: 10% of Protestant evangelicals are home schooled)

16. Um: “As evangelicalism reconfigures the spiritual map in Latin America’s largest country, attracting tens of millions of adherents, winning political power and threatening Catholicism’s long-held dominance, its most extreme adherents — often affiliated with gangs — are increasingly targeting Brazil’s non-Christian religious minorities… The mounting violence has horrified mainstream evangelicals.” Link

17. Wars probably won’t be declared overtly over water, but the role of water in sparking wars seems inevitable. 

18. To no one’s surprise, it’s more likely deepfake videos will be made of women than men. But, this QZ article recounts some things are really key in looking at this trend. (1) the number of deepfakes seems to be doubling every year, growing exponentially; (2) there are services offering very cheap production of deep fakes; (3) when men are targeted (<5% of videos), it’s for non-pornographic (I assume political or scam) purposes. While the pornographic issues are horrendous, they are unsurprising in our culture; I am watching primarily for when non-Western governments use deepfakes against Westerners and especially against missionaries and/or Christians.

19. “The geography of poverty hotspots” –

  • “it is increasingly important to know where poverty is concentrated at a level that is more granular than a country.”
  • “a majority of developing countries will still have at least one region where extreme poverty is likely to persist in 2030”
  • “Using spatial data on nighttime luminosity from satellite images, we can generate more granular, detailed forecasts for subnational growth and poverty.”
  • (Interesting, because it illuminates poverty locations, but also because of the notable correlation between poverty and unreachedness.)

20. While there are plenty of arguments for strong encryption, the problem of rampant child pornography and abuse on the Internet is a strong argument against. There are no easy answers.

21. “As church growth slows” is an informative read exploring periods of high speed change as well as stagnation in church growth in China.

22. “There’s more to the inner workings of N Korea than just Kim Jong Un” – people need to understand N Korea isn’t dependent on just Kim: if he were gone, the system would perpetuate. To overturn N Korea’s current form of government requires that system to be removed, not just the leader.

23. “Explore or Exploit: The hidden decision that guides your life” is a useful medium-read that summarizes the explore/exploit issue. Movements run into the explore/exploit conundrum around the question of seeking a person of peace: do I spend more of my time in seeking PoPs, or do I spend more of my time with the people I already know? There are several algorithmic answers for this, but they are difficult computationally. This article explores some of the intuitive issues involved –

24. Facial recognition and the ethnics of AI.

25. “The 5 years that changed dating” – an Atlantic long read on the impact of dating apps. (Important trend to understand and grapple with because demographics—e.g. marriage, birth, death—are a key element of religious growth & change) –

26. 29 megaregions drive the global economy. These are potential nexus points for Gospel spread, as well as for engaging diasporas from unreached peoples.

27. Payne, J.D. “Rethinking Location.” In this piece, he lays an excellent basic theological/missiological foundation for why we engage places: because of the people in them, not because of the place itself. Link

28. Evangelicals who distrust Muslims likely don’t know Muslims.

29. Pew: A closer look at how religious restrictions have risen around the world –

30. Fame: a new kind of prosperity gospel that leads us away from the “uncool places” to the “hip” ones.

31. Humans aren’t designed to be happy. Stop trying.

32. The four tools of discipline: (1) delayed gratification, (2) accept responsibility, (3) dedication to reality, (4) balancing. This, too, runs somewhat counter to the whole ‘happiness’ idea.

33. This is why your startup will fail: because you pick the idea you have to work fast on, rather than maximizing the amount of time you have so you can build slow. “…It will take a long time to build the right thing.” I theorize movements, with their “go slow to go fast” thinking, are right in line with this.

34. Visualizing a century of global fertility and the sea change in it: fertility drives demographics, which drive lots of strategies – including mission – []

35. “African, Korean missionaries look to reconvert America, Europe” –

36. The extremists of Islam lead Muslims to Christianity. []