01: Few Americans say their religious beliefs are shaping their views on the conflict over Iraq, and most churchgoers have not heard a clear position taken from the pulpit on the war, according to a new poll.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that just one-in-ten Americans cite their religious beliefs as the strongest factor in their thinking about the war. Even among those regularly attending religious services, fewer than one-in-five (17 percent) say their religious beliefs are the biggest influence.
While nearly six-in-ten (57 percent) of those regularly attending services said their clergy had spoken about the prospect of war, only a fifth (21 percent) say their priest or minister had taken a position on the issue from the pulpit. Yet thirty-two percent said that religious leaders have been speaking out too little on the issue, a view which is greatest among war opponents. When churchgoers did hear a pro- or anti-war message, 14 percent of Catholics said their priest expressed opposition to the war and none said they heard pro-war messages.
Among white mainline Protestants, seven percent heard anti-war messages against one percent pro-war messages. Fifteen percent of white evangelicals heard their clergy express support for the war and only three percent heard anti-war messages. African-Americans heard more anti-war than pro-war messages, by a margin of 38 percent to five percent.
02: Although religious behavior on the whole has changed little in the U.S., there has been significant shifts among specific ethnic and age groups, such as blacks, Generation X and older Americans, according to a Barna poll.
Barna Research Online (March 18 report) features research from a recent poll showing that a look beneath the surface of American religious life shows a growing move to more traditional Christian activity among the baby bust or GenX generation.
A poll of 1,000 respondents shows that Gen Xers are shedding their image as pessimistic non-joiners; there is a four percent increase in church attendance, a six percent growth in small group participation, and a seven percent increase in those saying they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith since 1998.
Older (“Builder” generation) Americans, meanwhile, show a pattern of dropping out of religious participation, due mainly to declining health and the erosion of commitment among the “less faith-driven Builders generation,” according to Barna. Church attendance declined by six percent since 1997, although there is no sign of “core beliefs” or private devotions (such as prayer and Bible reading) falling off among this generation. American blacks shows the sharpest declines, with a 10 percent drop in Bible reading from just three years ago.
Beliefs among blacks are also changing, with a belief in God as all-powerful and all-knowing dipping by nine points since 1996. There also was a nine percent drop in the percentage of blacks who strongly disagree with the statement that Satan does not exist and is only a symbol of evil. Barna also found that the U.S. South is slipping as the bastion of evangelical belief; there is a nine point decline in the proportion of Southerners who can be classified as a born again Christian and a six percent drop in church attendance since 1997.
03: Acceptance of religious diversity while maintaining a moral common ground describes a view the future of American society held by many, according to a new University of Virginia study.
A study called Difference and Democracy polled 1,724 Americans in late 2002 and early 2003 and found two visions for the future competing among respondents: one where Americans will be more religious than secular and where there will be more unity on moral issues rather than diversity. Insight (Spring), the newsletter of the University of Virginia’s Center on Religion and Democracy, reports that the alternative vision held by over half of those surveyed (53 percent) includes greater diversity for the American family, a greater mix of religions rather than a “Christians nation” and greater freedom for people to live out their cultural heritage and religious preferences.
Neither of the standard models for explaining society — the melting pot or the multicultural “salad bowl” — do a good job of distilling this tension between the two visions. Interestingly, almost as many senior citizens as young adults held to the latter “diversity” vision. And two-thirds of Americans from the liberal Northeast share the longing for a more religious rather than a more secular nation. For many Americans the future seems to be one where “cultural groups have their own trajectories and orbits, but in which there is enough moral `gravity’ at the center to keep things orderly, both preventing Americans from flying completely off in their own direction and from bumping haphazardly into each other . . .”
(Insight, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400816, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4816; http://www.virginia.edu/iasc)
04: A UCLA survey finds that while most Roman Catholic students, whether in Catholic colleges or nonsectarian ones, may start out holding conservative moral positions, by the time they are seniors they have moved significantly to the left.
The survey, cited in the March 6 New York Times finds that the proportion of students adopting more liberal attitudes on such issues as abortion, premarital sex, and gay rights, over the course of their college years is similar at Catholic and non-Catholic schools. As freshmen, 37.9 percent of the Catholic students at Catholic colleges and just under 49.5 percent of the Catholic students at non-sectarian schools said abortion should be legal; as seniors, 51.7 percent of those at Catholic schools and 59 percent of Catholics at non-sectarian colleges took that view.
Critics of the study say that only the more liberal, highly selective Catholic colleges were selected for the study. Most studies of change among students during their education show increasing liberalization, which may mean that cultural influences rather than the colleges themselves may be the reason for such liberalization.
05: Rather than “civilizational clashes” over support for democracy, the largest chasm between Islamic and Western countries is over gender and sexual issues, according to an analysis of recent World Values Surveys.
In analyzing the University of Michigan-based surveys conducted in 1995-96 and 2000-2002, researchers Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris find widespread support for democracy in Islamic, Western and other societies. For instance, in Albania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Turkey, 92 to 99 percent of the public endorsed democratic institutions (such as free elections, free press, and a disavowal of authoritarian rule) — a higher proportion than in the U.S. (89 percent). They write in Foreign Policy magazine (March/April) that even though citizens in some Muslim countries agreed that their leaders should be religious, this sentiment was also found in Latin America and even the U.S.
The real clash was found in how tolerant respondents were over issues of women’s equality and sexual liberalization. The researchers find that none of the societies in which less than 30 percent of the public rejected the statement that “men make better political leaders than women” are true democracies. It was also found that among authoritarian and quasi-democratic states, the rejection of homosexuality was deeply entrenched. Muslim societies were not uniquely low on the scale of tolerance and gender equality (many former Soviet states, such as Georgia and Armenia, were just as low).
But the Muslim-Western gap is getting wider–as younger Westerners become more egalitarian than their elders, the youth in Islamic societies have “remained almost as traditional as their parents and grandparents.”
(Foreign Policy, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036.)