01: A sense of spirituality is almost universal among children, but subsequent feelings of embarrassment over such matters may be the main reason why people appear to lose their faith as they grow older, according to a recent British study.
David Hay discusses his recent research on children’s’ spirituality with Science & Spirit magazine (July-August), noting that he was particularly struck by the way that children are less constricted by social taboos in their talk of spirituality. Hay found that even among children raised in religious homes there was a “reticence and disappointment with the religious institution.”
The children studied — who were ages six and ten from the English cities of Birmingham and Nottingham — tended to have a limited religious vocabulary and used language from fairy tales, science fiction (such as “May the force be with you”) or just ordinary life to express their relationship with God or something larger than themselves.
One of the overarching themes of these children’s’ conversations about spirituality is an “intense awareness of relatedness–either to God, to other people, to the environment and indeed to the self.” Hays says that the apparent secularization in “European rationalist” society may be because expressing spirituality and its relation to the world becomes more difficult as children grow up. He adds that “…although most people know they have a spirituality, they are extremely shy of expressing it because of their embarrassment with religion.
I’m sure this is happening in children as they grow older. One of the most disquieting things we found in the research project was that the power of the religious taboo was already present by the age of ten. Even the children who spoke freely of their religious experience admitted that they would make fun of any other child who talked about such things in public.
(Science & Spirit, P.O. Box 1145, Concord, NH 03302-1145)
02: American Korean ethnic churches are showing “widespread membership instability,” including a tendency of members to “church hop,” even while they register high levels of Christian commitment, according to recent research.
Shin Kim of the University of Chicago presented a paper at the Association for the Sociology of Religion meetings in Washington, D.C. in August which found “strong commitment and little loyalty” among many Korean immigrants. She notes that general Korean church attendance is high — 78 percent report attending services every week — with members highly involved.
Kim analyzed surveys of ethnic Presbyterians (Presbyterian churches have the highest Korean membership) and found that almost half of the Koreans respondents have been members of their congregations for six years or less, and close to one-third for less than three years, even though close to half of Koreans have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years. Nearly 40 percent of Koreans indicate that they are “not sure” or “it is unlikely” that they will stay with their current congregation. There was a much lower response rate to that question among Hispanics and African-American Presbyterians.
Such transient attitudes may be due to the fact that Korean members, more than blacks and Hispanics, cited problems with the pastor as a key factor in leaving. The pastor-congregant relationship is very important in Korean churches, and it’s not unusual for members (including lay leaders) to quit when the pastor moves on to another church.
In fact, the high rate of participation and giving by Koreans to their congregations may make dissatisfaction and church hopping more likely, as members feel they deserve benefits for their efforts and seek alternatives when they don’t find them. The large supply of clergy in Korean churches also tends to create more alternatives and ease the movement away from a particular congregation. Kim finds that the movement is away from small struggling churches toward larger congregations with a variety of ministries and services.
03: Religious belonging has a greater effect on problem gambling than religious belief, according to a study in the Review of Religious Research (June).
John Hoffmann of Brigham Young University analyzes surveys on gambling and social behavior and finds mixed results for the religious factor on problem gambling. Although personal faith and participation in a religious community make one less likely to engage in gambling as a whole, the results were different when it comes to gambling addiction. Individual faith in God had no discernible effect on gambling problems, while attendance at religious services have a notable effect on such behavior.
Hoffmann speculates that attendance at services has been found to attenuate other mental health problems (such as depression), since it encourages social integration to help people cope with such problems, while “personal religious importance is not influential without further social reinforcement.”
(Review for Religious Research, 3520 Wilshire Dr., Holiday, FL 34691-1239)
04: Small congregations may be better at cultivating lay ministry than larger churches, according to a recent survey of churches in 32 countries.
The August issue of the evangelical digest Current Thoughts & Trends cites a survey of 1,000 churches around the world by Christian Schwarz of the German-based Institute of Church Development. The survey found that smaller churches are “generally healthier” than larger churches with respect to the percentage of individuals in the congregation who use their spiritual gifts to help the church grow.
Thirty one percent in churches with an attendance of under 100 say they use their spiritual gifts compared to 17 percent in churches over 1,000. Small congregations were also found to excel at building loving relationships, empowering leadership, creating more functional structures, forming “holistic” small groups and encouraging “need-oriented evangelism.” The only area where large churches excelled was in offering inspiring worship services.
05: Governments in French-speaking nations as well as Germany have enacted the most stringent restrictions and penalties against new religious movements and other minority faiths in Europe, according to sociologist James Richardson.
At the Association for the Sociology of Religion meetings in Washington, Richardson noted that the governments of Belgium and France have issued increasingly critical reports on new religious movements that are now finding their way into restrictive legislation [See the article in the October `98 RW on these reports and European governments’ changing attitudes toward minority religions]. Official harassment includes frequent tax auditing that target minority faiths, which can mean anything from Scientologists to large evangelical groups.
Public lists of these “suspect” groups (and their contributors) are now being issued that can lead to job discrimination and a lack of access to public buildings and denial of building permits. Members of these groups have been denied banking and child custody privileges. Richardson adds that the government reports have so far found few concrete cases of financial abuse by these groups, but these reports tend to shift the focus and claim that they are nevertheless guilty of “mental manipulation” and brainwashing. He adds that the French-speaking governments’ hostility to NRMs may be traced to the Solar Temple suicide-murders that shook this region several years ago.
06: Pentecostals and charismatics comprise 27 percent of all Christians, according to researcher David Barrett.
Those believing in and practicing such spiritual gifts as healing and speaking in tongues continue to be the fastest-growing segment of Christianity. Religion Today.com (Aug. 14) reports that approximately 900,000 people worldwide considered themselves Pentecostal or charismatic in 1900, but that figure reached 523.7 million in 2000, according to Barrett, author of a new edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia.
The largest concentrations are in Latin America (141 million), Asia (134 million), and Africa (126 million).