01: The attempt to prove the healing efficacy of prayer is proving increasingly controversial among medical and scientific researchers, reports the New York Times (Oct. 10).
Findings in 2001 by a Columbia University fertility expert, showing that women undergoing fertility treatment who had been prayed for by Christian groups were twice as likely to have a successful pregnancy as those who had not, has drawn a recent flurry of criticism for being unscientific. Since 2000, at least 10 studies of intercessory prayer have been carried out by researchers, with two large trials of the effects of prayer on coronary health currently under review at prominent medical journals.
The debate about the value of such research cuts across the usual categories of skeptics and believers. Even those defending the studies concede that such research is difficult to conduct. No one knows what constitutes a “dose” of prayer, with some studies testing a few prayers a day by individual healers and others using entire congregations–from evangelical to New Age — praying together.
Another problem is that the studies measure so many variables that some are likely to come up by chance. The defenders often view prayer in non-traditional ways that would bother the prayer participants themselves, viewing it as a vehicle for “subtle energies” and “mind-to-mind communications.” Meanwhile, mainstream clergy and theologians are claiming that the studies cheapen religion and promote an infantile theology.
02: Americans have a mixed and somewhat contradictory view of Muslims and Islam, according to a recent marketing survey.
The survey, conducted by Genesis Research Associates, found that one in four Americans agree with at least one anti-Muslim statement, such as “Muslims value life less than other people,” or “Muslims teach their children to hate unbelievers.” Fifty one percent agreed — either somewhat or strongly — that Islam encourages the oppression of women.
But the poll also found that 64 percent agreed with the statement, “The people who use Islam to justify violence are misinterpreting its teachings.” The poll showed a correlation between those having exposure to Islam and Muslims and holding more favorable views of the religion.
03: Christian ministers in Canada may find encouragement in the latest book by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald W. Bibby, Restless Churches.
The book, a sequel to his 2002 book Restless Gods, finds increasing rates of church attendance among people in the age range of 18-34 across Canada. Those observations are supported by pollster Allan Greg, reports The Christian Post (Oct. 13). The poll finds that 26 to 30 percent of English-speaking Canadians go to church regularly, a sharp increase from the 1992 low of 18 percent. In fact, there seems to be a growth in attendance for all Protestant bodies in Canada, except the Anglicans in Quebec.
Indeed, Quebec offers a more complex picture. While weekly attendance is low, there are many more people still going to church on an occasional basis. Despite significant loss of support for institutional religion, 80 percent of the people in Quebec are still believers, Alan Hustak reports about Bibby’s findings in The Gazette (Oct. 12).
While there is a continuing loss of religious affiliation, Bibby warns that the statistical curve is not necessarily predictive of the future: mainstream Christian Churches have a long history and “recuperative powers.” The general trend in Canada shows that there may well be hopes of rejuvenation. Regarding Quebec, identification with Roman Catholicism still remains strong with many people: “If a renaissance occurs [in Quebec], it will be a Catholic renaissance”, Bibby told The Gazette.
According to Bibby, there is no evidence that Canadians are massively abandoning mainstream churches for evangelical congregations: “The vast majority of Canadians stick with the choices of their parents and grandparents.” — (The Gazette, http:// www.canada.com/Montreal/montrealgazette/index.html; The Christian Post, http:// www.christianpost.com)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer