The global economy graphed

world-economy-gdp-voroni-a7d4.0

The map above divides up global GDP between countries and how those national economies break down by sector.

My main observation are that:

  1. Wow, the American segment of that graph is big!
  2. While Asia may be rising but it has not yet risen. A similar observation can be made about Europe’s decline. Medium sized European countries like France, Britain and Italy still make up a sizeable share of the World Economy. Germany’s economy is almost twice the size of India’s. Indonesia has a population fifteen times larger than the Netherlands but their economies are about the same size. Hence, while things like the Eurozone crisis might seem like purely regional affairs they matter for the World as whole.
  3. There are 54 countries in Africa. Not one of them has an economy larger than Austria. Indeed, the entirety of Africa’s economy can be found in the small South African section and in the modest ‘rest of the world’ one.

Hat tip: Vox

How the world’s population is going to change

So this graph from the Economist showing how the distribution of the global population is projected to change is pretty interesting.

The stand out facts for me are:

1) Africa is expanding, whilst Europe will relatively speaking decline. In 1950, there were no African countries among the ten most populated countries in the world. By 2050, there are expected to be three. Conversely, there were four European countries – five if you count Russia – but by 2050 there won’t be any.

2) Speaking of which. Russia looks set to drop out of the top ten. Which means its claim to great power status is likely to become progressively more tenuous.

3) A nuance (or possibly more) that needs to be added to the narrative of ‘the Chinese century’ is that at some point India will replace it as the world’s most populous nation.

In defence of speaking in tongues

Our look at Pentecostalism would not be complete without examining one of its most distinctive features: speaking in tongues

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Writing in the New York Times, the anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann offers a defence of the practice based on her experiences studying it in Accra, Ghana:

What dawned on me in Accra is that speaking in tongues might actually be a more effective way to pray than speaking in ordinary language — if by prayer one means the mental technique of detaching from the everyday world, and from everyday thought, to experience God.

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of Christian prayer practice, beyond rote recitation. “Apophatic” prayer, which looks a lot like meditation and mindfulness, asks one to still the mind and disengage from thought. The classic example is the 14th century “Cloud of Unknowing,” a monastic text whose anonymous author advised: “Thought cannot comprehend God. And so, I prefer to abandon all I can know, choosing rather to love him who I cannot know.”

In “kataphatic” prayer, one fills one’s imagination with thoughts from Scripture. The classic example is the 16th-century spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who called worshipers to see “with the eye of the imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, considering how long it is and how wide, and whether it is level or goes through valleys and over hills.” American evangelicals seeking daydreamlike encounters with God are praying in this tradition.

The apophatic method is probably more effective in shifting attention from the everyday, but harder to achieve. That seems to be what the fifth-century monk Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite meant when he described kataphatic prayer as a steppingstone for those who could not pray in other ways. Many of us know people who have tried to meditate and failed, defeated by thoughts that refused to stay put — what skilled practitioners call “monkey mind.” In an experiment, I assigned participants for one month to meditation, to imagination-rich prayer or to lectures on the gospels. Many who meditated didn’t like it; those who did reported deep spiritual experiences, like the expert meditators studied by the neurologist James H. Austin (“Zen and the Brain”) and other scientists.

As a technique, tongues capture the attention but focus it on something meaningless (but understood by the speaker to be divine). So it is like meditation — but without the monkey mind. And the practice changes people. They report that as their prayer continues, they feel increasingly more involved. They feel lighter, freer and better. The scientific data suggest that tongue speakers enter a different mental state. The neuroscientist Andrew B. Newberg and his colleagues took M.R.I. scans of tongue speakers singing worship songs, and then speaking in tongues. When they did the latter, they experienced less blood flow to the frontal cerebral cortex. That is, their brain behaved as if they were less in a normal decision-making state — consistent with the claim that praying in tongues is not under conscious control..

Speaking in tongues still carries a stigmatizing whiff. In his book “Thinking in Tongues,” the philosopher James K. A. Smith describes the “strange brew of academic alarm and snobbery” that flickered across a colleague’s face when he admitted to being a Pentecostal (and, therefore, praying in tongues). It seems time to move on from such prejudice.