01: A survey of 3,000 people in 40 communities across the U.S. finds that those who are active in religious life are more likely to know and trust other people, and socialize with friends and neighbors.
Americans are also more likely to trust people at their church or synagogue than at their workplace or in their neighborhood. Religon Today.com (March 23) reports that 71 percent of people said they trust people at their house or worship, compared to 52 percent who trust co-workers, and 31 percent who trust members of their own race, according to the poll called the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey.
Meanwhile, the German news service Idea (March 13) reports that although one in five Europeans have lost all trust in the churches, 44 percent hold them in high esteem. Interestingly, the more secular nations seem to have the highest levels of trust. The poll, conducted by the German edition of Readers Digest, finds that the churches enjoy the highest reputation in Finland, where 67 percent of the population said they have confidence in the churches. Second in the ranking comes Denmark (61 percent), followed by Poland (56 percent) and Portugal (54 percent).
In Germany, the percentage of trust in the churches has dropped by 15 percent in the last 10 years down to 36 percent. Belgians (26 percent) and Czechs (23 percent) have among the lowest trust rates in the churches. [It may seem contradictory that countries with low church attendance also demonstrate high trust in churches. Sociologists such as Grace Davie find that state churches, such as the ones in Scandinavia, are viewed as public utilities, making it possible to place high trust in them even if they are infrequently attended].
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02: A widely publicized Hartford Seminary study on American congregations is casting more doubt on the view that the claims of being in a post-denominational era are overblown.
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. congregations maintain strong ties to their religious denominations. The survey, of 14,301 congregations in 41 denominations, confirms that the growth of less hierarchical, more charismatic congregations, along with Islam, Baha’i, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is “rapidly putting a new face on American religion” and lessening the dominance of traditional churches. This slowdown includes the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox populations, where new parish development has been cut in half. New Catholic parishes represented 10 percent of all church planting 20 years ago and only five percent today.
Another unexpected finding was that the most growth in new congregations is in the West rather than the South, largely due to migration patterns. Evangelicals make up the largest proportion of new congregations — 58 percent. The study finds that many of the healthiest congregations — displaying both financial stability and growth–use alternative worship styles, such as electronic musical instruments rather than organs– that appeal to younger worshippers.
Such congregations are likely to be evangelical Protestant, with authority based “in the Holy Spirit,” rather than in creeds or reason, according to a report on the survey in the Washington Post (March 14). Another unusual finding was that congregations led by seminary-taught pastors and rabbis are “far more likely” to report a lack of purpose in their ministry, feel threatened by changes in worship, and are less inclined to deal with conflict openly. Those involved in seeker churches and religious marketing may be surprised at the finding that advertising and promotional campaigns more often energize current members and are less effective in attracting new members.
(More findings from the Hartford study are available at: http://www.hirr.hartsem.edu)
03: Ireland’s Catholics are not losing their faith as much as questioning church teachings that assert authority over their private lives, writes Andrew Greeley in America magazine (March 12).
Greeley and colleagues analyze the results from 1991 and 1998 surveys (from the International Social Survey Program) and find there has been no change in the Irish belief in God, heaven, miracles, nor has church attendance declined. Yet on church teachings on sexual and reproductive ethics and confidence in the church, there is noticeable slippage.
The belief that abortion is always wrong is at 40 percent, while confidence in the church organization has fallen from 46 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 1998. More unusual and unexplained is that the youngest cohort showed the highest confidence in their local priest (70 percent) and were the most likely to say that they feel “close” to Catholicism, that Mary is essential to their religious identity, and that faith affects their moral decisions large and small. “Such judgments are made by a generation that utterly rejects church authority and church sexual teaching and attends Mass much less frequently than its elders,” Greeley adds.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803)
04: A large study shows a significant gap between traditional church teachings on the family and sex and the beliefs of the younger generation of British church members.
The study, one of the largest surveys on young people’s religion and family values, with 33,000 respondents, was conducted by the Welsh National Center for Religious Education at the University of Wales. A press release from the university reports that overwhelming numbers of young Anglicans and Roman Catholics reject their churches’ teachings against sex outside marriage and against divorce. Only 15 percent of Catholics surveyed agreed with their church’s teachings against sex outside marriage while 18 percent of young Anglicans believe divorce is wrong.
In contrast, 49 percent of young British Muslims agree with their faith’s prohibition against premarital sex; and 42 percent consider divorce to be wrong. Meanwhile, 47 percent of young members of Christian “sects” (most likely meaning the evangelicals and charismatics) consider divorce wrong.
05: Politicians rather than clerics top a new listing of England’s most influential religious figures.
The list, compiled by a panel of eight “religious experts,” is headed by England’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, followed by Chancellor Gordon Brown and first lady Cherie Booth QC ( prominent Roman Catholic). Alt.Co.Uk (March 5), an online news service, notes that “Clerics from the upper echelons of the Church of England are beaten into low rankings by figures ranging from politicians to athletes, and pop stars to scientists.
According to the panel (including Sir Brian Mawhinney, Rabbi David Goldberg, and Muslim peer Baroness Uddin), the list reflects the country’s `multifaith’ character.” There were only two Anglican bishops on the list, while the Archbishop of Canterbury ranked sixth. The panel concluded that he could not be placed any higher, as he had “little or no impact outside of the church.”