01: While the computer and the Internet does not seem to have taken the place of real life congregations, the possibility of “virtual faith” is popular among youth, according to a Barna Poll.
A survey of American teenagers by the Barna Research Group (as reported in the group’s April 20th news release) finds that one out of six teens (16 percent) said that within the next five years they expect to use the Internet as a substitute for their current “church-based religious experience.” Interestingly enough, this view was most common among youth who currently attend church regularly.
African-American teens were four times more likely than white teens to say they expect to rely on such computer-generated religious services (31 percent vs. eight percent, respectively). While Barna expected the younger generation to use the computer more for secular and religious purposes, less expected was that non-white adults are 60 percent more likely to use the Internet for faith matters than white adults.
(Barna Research Group, 2487 Ivory Way, Oxnard, CA 93030-6290)
02: American youth are more conservative than they are often portrayed and show about the same rate of belief in God as the adult population, according to a new poll.
The New York Times-CBS News poll of 1,048 teens, shows 94 percent claiming a belief in God. Strong majorities say they never drink alcohol and never smoke cigarettes or marijuana. Almost half say sex before marriage is “always wrong,” and 58 percent of boys and 47 percent of girls say homosexuality is “always wrong.” Fifty percent of teenagers said you could trust the government to do what is right always or most of the time; only 26 percent of adults agreed with that statement in a January poll, reports the New York Times (April 30).
03: A recent survey shows that 57 percent of American Jews believe anti-Semitism is a greater threat than intermarriage to Jewish life in America today.
The survey, conducted by the American Jewish Committee, found that 38 percent of respondents cite intermarriage as the greatest threat. It was found that two-thirds of respondents believe that remembrance of the Holocaust is “extremely important” or “very important” to their Jewish identity. The study also showed that American Orthodox Jews may be somewhat more liberal than their Israeli counterparts.
On whether non-Orthodox Jews (such as Reform and Conservative) should serve alongside Orthodox on religious councils in Israel, 41 percent of Orthodox agreed.
(American Jewish Committee, 165 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022)
04: There has been a dramatic growth and revival of tribal religions around the world, according to the 1998 statistical report on global missions by David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson.
The report, published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (January), notes that it was once assumed that tribal religionists in the developing world would lose their faiths, especially in their encounter with the religions brought to such lands by colonialists.
Up to 1997, Barrett and Johnson have shown that contrary to such views, tribal religionists — such as polytheists, animists, and shamanists — maintained their total of 100 million strong throughout the entire twentieth century. They add that “This year comes a startling new discovery: analysis of these new censuses results in a global total of 244 million tribal religionists today. located among 5,600 distinct ethnic groups.”
The reason for this spurt in numbers has to do with the reassertion of traditional faiths in the aftermath of the fall of communism and among the generation that has emerged since the independence of former European colonies, Barrett and Johnson write that “millions of people who were once classified as adherents of their countries’ majority religions or anti-religions — chiefly Hinduism and Islam, as well as Marxist atheism — have thrown off these labels and are asserting that instead they are followers of their own traditional local religions . . . It thus appears that in the last decade the total number of local tribal religionists in the world has risen to 240 percent of what it was in A.D. 1900.”
From a Christian missionary perspective, the writers add that this is not all bad news. The history of missions has demonstrated that tribal believers have always been far more responsive to Christianity than the “resistant great world religions.”
(International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 490 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511)