01: Figures from the new World Almanac suggest that the churches are losing “market share” in the last decade.
The secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry (Winter) looks at the 1992 and 2002 editions of the World Almanac and finds that overall, U.S. church membership rose 7.16 percent during a decade in which the U.S. population grew 13.9 percent. The almanac groups together churches by their size: the largest ones totaled 119,877,631 members in the 1992 edition and 128,617,363 members in the 2002 almanac.
The percent change is 7.3. The mid-sized denominations (10,699.019 in 1992 and 10,591,675) lost one percent of members. The smallest denominations claimed a total of 11,084,219 members in 1992 and 15,491,406 in 2002, showing a genuine gain of 39.7 percent. (Free Inquiry, Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226)
02: Active and inactive Catholics are divided on matters of public policy but the differences are not very wide and even surprising, according to a recent poll.
Through sponsoring polls, Deal Hudson, editor of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis, has sought to distinguish active Catholics (those going to Mass on a regular basis) from inactive Catholics, claiming that the former is a well-defined constituency that is largely favorable to the Republican platform (Hudson is also an advisor to President Bush on Catholic issues). In the March issue of Crisis Hudson presents a new poll where he again seeks to show the differences between active and inactive Catholics on political and moral issues.
The poll shows that active Catholics are more likely to be opposed to laws that would grant married status to homosexual couples (75 percent versus 66 percent). Fifty five percent of active Catholics favor enacting legal restrictions on abortion, compared to 35 percent of inactive Catholics.
On cloning, 55 percent of inactives would allow the procedure for medical research, while 58 percent of actives would outlaw cloning in all cases. The fact that only bare majorities of active Catholics support church teachings is not a reason for celebration, Hudson writes. More serious is that a fairly large percentage of active Catholics (29 percent) now doubt the moral teachings of the church after the sex abuse crisis, with only a slim majority (52 percent) supporting the manner in which the bishops handled these cases.
Equally noteworthy is that the active Catholics thought to be favorable to George Bush were less favorable to a war in Iraq (52 percent) than inactive Catholics (60 percent).
(Crisis, 1814 and 1/2 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; the survey is available at: http://www.crisismagazine.com).
03: A recent survey confirms considerable anecdotal information that Catholics are no longer as loyal to their designated parish as they once were.
The winter issue of the CARA Report, a newsletter on Catholic research, presents a study showing that 25 percent of Mass attenders say they usually attend a parish other than the one closest to their home This figure includes 21 percent of parishioners registered at their parish (something similar to membership) and 39 percent of those not registered. In contrast, the 1983 Notre Dame Study of Parish life found that only 15 percent of registered parishioners attended a church that was not closest to their home.
Catholics under 30 were the most likely to attend a parish that is not the closest to their home. Whether or not they attended a parish further from home, 19 percent said they had “shopped” for the parish they currently attend, usually on the basis of good preaching. It should be noted that only those Catholics saying they attended Mass at least a few times a year were included in the survey.
(CARA Report, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057)
04: A growing number of American Jews are gravitating toward the Republican Party and conservative political views, according to a poll conducted by the Forward, a Jewish newspaper.
The survey, which was conducted in November and December of 2002 finds that the younger generation of Jews is more willing than the older generations to consider migrating to the right. The National Catholic Reporter (Feb. 14) cites the most striking finding of the survey: almost half of the Jews who voted for Al Gore in the 2000 election said they were uncertain whether they would vote the same today.
Only 37 percent said they would choose Gore over Bush for 2004 (the survey was taken when Gore was still a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination) compared with 71 percent who voted for Gore in 2000. The candidacy of Sen, Joseph Lieberman (announced after the survey was completed) would likely affect the Jewish vote for Bush, since 57 percent said in 2004 they would vote for Lieberman, 14 percent for Bush and 29 percent uncertain.
(National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)
05: A new study suggests stress reduction is one of the most significant ways religion aids health.
There have been numerous studies done on the positive correlations between prayer and other religious and spiritual practices and health, but there is still little understanding how these positive effects actually occur or if they are definitely linked to religious beliefs and practices. Spirituality & Health magazine (April) reports that the study exposed 103 young adults and 75 seniors to different types of stresses, such as interpersonal, and intellectual (in working on arithmetic problems) and then monitored their blood pressure levels.
The researchers from the University of Utah and Utah State University found that people who had internalized their religious beliefs (as measured by a standard psychological scale) tended to have smaller increases in blood pressure under stress than the others, especially among the elderly subjects. The researchers theorize that religious beliefs may help people “cool” their responses to stress which in turn could form a pathway to better health.
(Spirituality & Health, 74 Trinity Place, New York, NY 10006)
06: A new census report from Switzerland shows a sharp increase of residents claiming no religious affiliation while immigrant religious groups have grown.
The 2000 census report, recently published by the Federal Statistics Office, shows that more than 11 percent of Switzerland’s population of 7.3 million belong to no religious group. In 1970, this category accounted for only about one percent of the population. National Catholic Register (Feb. 23) reports that 41.8 percent of the population claimed a Catholic affiliation while in 1990 — the last time the census was issued — 46 percent claimed this affiliation.
The most growth has been among immigrant groups–Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam. Switzerland is one of the few European countries to include questions of religion on its census. In 2000 more residents refused to give their religious affiliation than previously.
07: A new Australian survey finds a growing anti-Muslim sentiment among the population.
Muslims have now surpassed Asians as the ethnic/religious group considered most unable to fit into Australian society, according to the survey of 5056 people in Queensland and New South Wales. The survey found that 54 percent of respondents — the majority being women — said they would be concerned if a relative married a Muslim. The study, conducted by Kevin Dunn, links anti-Muslim attitudes to racism, as almost half of respondents also believed that Australia was weakened by people of different ethnic origins.
The study was carried out in the months after Sept. 11, though recent events, such as the terrorist bombing in nearby Bali, are not likely to have changed people’s attitudes.