Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Religion & the state of Laïcité

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article on the rise of evangelical Protestantism among French Gyspies, and how that differentiates them from eastern European Roma in their anti-social tendencies:

The Gypsy Evangelicals in Chaumont, France counter any stereotype. They park some 6,000 white trailers in neat rows on the grassy runway of a World War I air base. It is a “city” brought from “the north, the south, the east, and the west,” as signs replete with biblical language affirm, anchored by a tent that holds 6,000 and atop of which flutter the flags of France, Belgium, the US, the EU, Germany, and the UK.

The gathering joins these Evangelicals, whose numbers and faith have swelled to some 145,000 of the 425,000 Gypsies in France. Their tight organization, work and family ethic, regard for civil law, and stress on education has made them the “go-to” Gypsy group for French authorities, and a point of pride in a larger Gypsy community that has long suffered a stigma of criminality, drugs, and brawls. Beyond that, they help stabilize and keep a vanishing Gypsy identity intact, analysts say, as economic and legal pressures in post-industrial Europe are atomizing a nomadic life.

Much of what is described reminded me of religion as depicted in Eliza Griswold’s The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, especially the section on Nigeria. In societies and cultures where “post-materialist” values have not become embedded background conditions religion serves as a critical social glue. Additionally, in a striking parallel with the French Gypsies non-Muslims in Africa and non-Muslims Southeast Asia have both taken to Christianity in large part because it is viewed as a way to align a community with an international order, and, preserve their ethnic identity in the face of assimilative pressures from the more established ethno-religious majority (e.g., Hausa, Malays, etc.).

Certainly the impact of evangelical Christianity on Gypsy culture seems analogous to the effect of Christianity and Islam among Third World migrants in Europe as a whole. Without religious foundations or assimilation into the broader secular national order these subcultures often become the seeds of broader social anomie without the strict moral framework which religion provides. But in some ways this is a “lesser of two evils proposition,” with reformist Muslim communities in a culturally Christian Europe being the most striking reminders that though religion may sharpen within group élan, it can also foster division across groups. At the end of the day do Europeans really want Roma to maintain their independence and distinctiveness as a subculture, even if some of their anti-social tendencies are mitigated through Protestant evangelicalism?

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  • John · September 4, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Well, we’ve gone full circle. The best way for a group of people to rebel against European culture is to become Christian. It sounds like it is doing them a lot of good. Whoever posted that atheists cannot ever see positive effects of religion was exaggerating.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 4, 2010 at 3:43 am

    the only caveat is that in the french context protestantism, and especially evangelical protestantism, are radically untraditional religions. that’s bound to cause tension as it is (yes, i know about the huguenots, which is why i point to possible tensions!).

  • Y ddraig werdd · September 4, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    This is not happening just in France it’s happening also in Romania. It has nothing to do with rebelling against the European culture. John, you have a very romantic view of the Roma community. They are not wandering rebels, all the Roma in Eastern Europe are settled. They are a self isolating community with a very strong in-group culture. After the fall of communism almost all evangelical missionaries have concentrated in Romania on the poorest communities, which are mostly Roma. As this communities are basically ignored by the Romanian Orthodox Church and they receive donations from the church (most of the times based in the US), the first generation usually converts out of pragmatic reasons. By the second generation the new church is well integrated in the community and it becomes part of there world, it’s no longer “Gadjo”. As the Roma culture is very dysfunctional and it is the main problem with integration of course that by not drinking, not marrying the girls at 12 years, encouraging education (to read the Bible) and other measures like this the evangelical Gypsies become the model community. All other measures to modify there culture come from the outside and are now almost impossibility to enforce because of misguided romantic views held by the NGO and the EU agencies that deal with the Roma.
    I must also add that although there is a lot of discrimination based on skin color (South Asians have difficulties in Romania because they are viewed as Roma) once you have a job, speak Romanian, dress in non-traditional dress, you become Romanian (kind of like in South America). Especially in big cities like Bucharest there are almost no differences in skin color or culture between the very poor Romanians and urban Roma (who don’t belong to any clan and don’t usually speak Romany). But if you have anti-social tendencies you are viewed as a Roma.
    The most respected Roma community is the Gabori Clan which is very traditional (all the men have big hats the women don’t were pants,etc.) but has a reputation of honesty and of good work ethic. They mostly belong now to the Adventist Church.

  • Miguel Madeira · September 5, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Many Gypsies in Portugal are Evangelical also.



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