01: A basic belief in God appears to be present among children regardless of whether they receive religious education or are exposed to religious faith in their environments, according to a study by psychologist Olivera Petrovitch.
The Oxford University psychologist studied both Japanese and British children on their views of the origins of natural objects from both a scientific level (for instance, how did this particular dog become a dog?) and a metaphysical level (how did the first dog ever come into being). In an interview with the magazine Science & Spirit (September/October), Petrovitch says that on forced choice questions, consisting of three possible explanations for primary origin, both the Japanese and British children predominantly selected the word “God,” instead of either an agnostic response (such as “nobody knows”) or an incorrect response (such as “people”).
That the Japanese children’s responses lined up with those of the British children surprised Petrovitch and her colleagues. “My Japanese research assistants kept telling me, `We Japanese don’t think about God as creator–it’s just not part of Japanese philosophy.” She thinks the findings are an “example of a natural inference that [children] form on the basis of their own experience.” While the children may acquire a concept of God as Jesus or similar concepts through religious education, no children made such “anthropomorphic” connections to their notion of a creator.
Rather, their images of God as creator corresponded to abstract notions such as gas, air, or a person without a body. Petrovitch adds that adults and children were not very different in their responses to explaining the origins of objects, although adults show greater cultural influences in their speculations about the creator (she notes that she has not yet studied Japanese adult reposes).
(Science & Spirit, 171 Rumford St., Ste. B, Concord, NH 03301-9944)
02: Recent research shows the intermarriage rate between Catholics and non-Catholics is growing sharply.
A recent article by Purdue University sociologist James Davidson in Commonweal magazine (Sept. 10) explores what this trend may mean to Catholics. Today’s intermarriage rate “is at least twice what it was in the pre-Vatican era,” according to Davidson Research has found at least five forces at work.
First, today’s younger adult Catholics lack the attachment to the organized church that older generations possessed; theirs is the well-documented; reference for individual pursuits, ‘shopping for faith’, and the like. Secondly, the number of church-approved marriages is in decline; going from 382,861 in l970 to 293,434 in l995.
Next, this downturn is not the result of any decline in the total population for Americans generally, and Catholics, specifically. In contrast to 20 years ago, there are many more Americans and many more Catholics. Davidson shows that a 23 percent decline in church sanctioned weddings occurred between l975 and l995. Fourth, interfaith marriages are occurring far more outside the church than within. Non-Catholic spouses are choosing civil ceremonies in record numbers.
Davidson concludes with suggestions for reversing this trend. These include reexamination by church officials of marriage preparation policies to make the church relevant to their particular marriage. Also new programs for single, young-adults are called for, emphasizing the sacramental character of marriage, the benefits of marrying within the faith, and the value of being married within the church. Also, attention should be given to the “increased likelihood of divorce.” Finally, priests and other leaders should start building strong mentoring programs for engaged and newly married couples.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)
— By Erling Jorstad
03: A new nationwide survey by the Barna Research Group finds more unchurched Americans compared to last year.
The study finds that almost one-third of the nation’s adults (31 percent) can be considered unchurched. Barna classified respondents “unchurched” if they had not attended Christian services during the past six months other than a special event, such as a wedding, funeral or holiday service. The 31 percent figure rose from 27 percent measured in a similar survey 18 months earlier.
The Minnesota Christian Chronicle (Sept. 9) notes that there was substantial change in the rate of unchurched in different American regions. The most notable increase was in the South–up from 19 percent to 26 percent. Smaller increases were found in the Northeast (from 34 percent to 39 percent) and the West (34 percent to 38 percent), with the Midwest remaining stable.
(Minnesota Christian Chronicle, 7317 Cahill Rd., Suite 203, Minneapolis, MN 55439)
04: Religious schools are more drug-free than public schools, according to a recent study.
A study by the National Center on Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that three-fourths of teenagers in religious schools regarded their school as drug-free. Only 40 percent of public schools student surveyed considered their school drug-free.
The Long Island Catholic (Sept. 8) reports that center president Joseph Califano says that teenagers in religious schools are at about half the risk of abusing tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs as teens in schools where these substances are more prevalent. The study surveyed 2,000 students between 12 and 17 and 1,000 parents with children in that age range.