01: The new attention focused on exorcism by churches, as well as the re-release of the film The Exorcist, may well convince people that they have been involved in or have witnessed these rituals, according to a study reported in the Skeptical Inquirer (January/February).
The research, conducted by University of Washington psychologist Elizabeth Loftus and Giuliana Mazzoni of Seton Hall University, finds that almost one-fifth of those who previously said that demonic possession was not very plausible and that as children they had not witnessed a possession later claimed possession was more plausible and that they may have observed one. These changes in memory and belief took place after the subjects read several short articles that described demon possession and suggested that the phenomenon was more common than many presume.
The study, conducted among 200 students in Italy, first asked respondents to rate the plausibility of several events, with almost all responding that possession was highly implausible. A segment of the respondents was given the reading material on possession which promoted the idea that possession is common in Italy and that children have witnessed such events. While the control group — those that had not read this material — had shown no change in views, 18 percent of the “manipulated” group now believed that events involving possession had probably happened to them. Loftus concludes that if these few articles caused such a change in memory and beliefs, current films and other media on the growth of exorcism may have a more powerful effect.
(Skeptical Inquirer, Box 703, Amherst, NY 14226-0703)
02: Congregations that are multicultural in makeup are actually rare and tend to be Catholic, according to recent research by sociologist Michael Emerson.
Visions (September/October), a newsletter on religion and demography, reports that the study finds that about eight percent of U.S. congregations are “multicultural” (meaning that less that 80 percent of their members are from a single racial group). Whites were least likely to attend such heterogeneous churches (11 percent said they did) and Asians (particularly Filipinos and Japanese) were the most likely (44 percent) to worship in such congregations.
Emerson says the geographical nature of Catholic parishes keeps different members worshipping together while Protestant membership is more choice-based and non-geographical. Contrary to common assumptions, Protestants with greater multiracial makeups were no more likely to be Pentecostal or charismatic. Congregants of multiracial congregations tended to have previous multi-racial experience or connections (such as attending mixed schools). Emerson concludes that though these mixed congregations are thought to be unstable, they appeared to have no more internal conflict than single race parishes.
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377)
03: A new survey of pastors in Episcopal and Lutheran churches suggests that divisions over politics among laypeople do not necessarily stop clergy from delivering political sermons from the pulpit.
There has long been a split in mainline churches between clergy who are usually more liberal and laity who gravitate toward a conservative view of issues. The survey, conducted by Christopher Gilbert of Gustavus Adolphus College and Paul Djupe of Dennison University, finds that mainline pastors may be more politically oriented than they are thought to be. Church members interested in politics say their pastor is more political than the pastor thinks he or she is.
Christian News (Dec. 4) reports that the clergy are more likely to tackle controversial topics, such as gay rights and abortion, when their parishioners disagree with them, though church members who disagree tend to ignore those messages. When the congregations are a minority in their community, the pastors are the most likely to speak out on politics publicly. The survey was conducted among 60 congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American and the Episcopal Church.
(Christian News, 3277 Boeuf Lutheran Rd., New Haven, MO 63068-2218)
04: An overwhelming majority of clergy say the Internet has helped congregational life, according to a survey sponsored by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Dec. 28) reports that the project surveyed 471 rabbis and ministers and found that 83 percent of respondents agree that the Internet has helped them in their ministries. Most say they use the Internet as a vast library for retrieving educational material and information. In particular, the survey found that congregation members and clergy stayed in greater contact with each other via e-mail.
05: Evangelical groups are among the most efficient charities, according to a survey by Smart Money magazine.
ReligionToday.com (Dec. 29) reports that in a survey of the nation’s 100 largest charities, which is based on three years of financial data that considered how much money was allocated to programs, fund raising, and savings, the most efficient charities in the “Religion” category were Samaritan’s Purse, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Focus on the Family, and Campus Crusade for Christ.
The most efficient in the “Relief” category were International Rescue Committee, U.S. Fund for Unicef, Catholic Relief Services, CARE USA, and Christian Children’s Fund.
06: While national church attendance is declining in England, there are new pockets of growth where vigorous evangelism has taken place, reports The Economist magazine (Dec. 23).
Across all denominations in England, adult church attendance has dropped from 10.2 percent of the population in 1980 to 7.7 percent today. In greater London, however, Anglican church attendance declined by 30 percent during the 1980s, but increased by three percent between 1989 and 1998. The evangelical wing of the Church of England boosted its attendance figures by as much as 18 percent. Other dioceses such as Wakefield show similar growth.
Robert Jackson, a former economist and now vicar, credits the new growth to evangelical outreach, particularly the Alpha course, an introductory seminar on Christian basics. Course managers estimate that 7,000 people are brought into the church in London every year through Alpha. Although coming out of the low church, evangelical wing of Anglicanism, the course has led other Anglicans to adapt it to their own needs and beliefs. That may be part of the reason the high church Anglo-Catholics managed to raise their numbers by 22 percent from 1989-98.
07: Almost 20 percent of those who left the Roman Catholic priesthood in the last 30 years have returned to the active ministry, according to the National Catholic Register (Nov. 26-Dec. 3).
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy reports that 9,551 priests who left the ministry between 1968 and 1992 worldwide eventually returned to priestly life. All together, 53,151 diocesan and religious order priests left the priesthood during this period. The Register notes that the rate of returns has increased under the papacy of Pope John Paul II.
When John Paul became pope in 1978, an average of 313 men a year were returning. In the 22 years since, the average has climbed to 396 per year. Marriage is the main impediment holding some back from returning, according to spiritual director Benedict Groeschel. Married former priests without children whose marriages were later ruled invalid by the church and who were given permission by the Vatican have been among the returnees.
The article notes that the total number of priests in the church — 263,521 as of 1997 — is almost back to the 1968 total of 269,607, though most of the growth has taken place in the Third World.
(National Catholic Register, 33 Rosotto Dr., Hamden, CT 06514)