01: Political platforms in both parties are increasingly moving to the extremes on religious issues such as abortion because Americans are neither too religious nor too secular.
That is the provocative finding of Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser. In a recent working paper (found at:http://post.economics.Harvard.edu/faculty/glaeser/papers.html), Glaeser writes that conventional wisdom might suggest that on such divisive issues as abortion, candidates would converge toward the center to capture voters to the right and left of their respective opponents (i.e., a right-wing politician would want to take a stand on a religious issue that is only just barely to the right of his opponent’s position, thus capturing the entire religious vote).
This does not happen because politicians realize they have to take extreme positions in order to motivate people to vote and to donate money to their campaigns. To get this message out to voters, politicians target groups (i.e. churches and unions) which are small enough to be homogeneous (and not include one’s opponents) but big enough to be influential.
Thus in areas (such as the state of South Carolina) where most people go to church, membership in these groups does not predict voting behavior, while more mixed areas, such as California, church attendance does predict Republican voting behavior. Glaeser concludes that on a larger scale, the “degree of polarization around religious issues is greatest in places that are in the middle” of the spectrum in religious beliefs and practices, such as the U.S.
02: Seventy Four percent of U.S. doctors believe miracles have happened in the past and 73 percent believe they can occur today.
These are the results of a study carried by HCD Research (http://www.hcdi.net) and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (http://www.jtsa.edu). The data suggests that “American physicians are surprisingly religious,” the press release of HCD Research reports (Dec. 20). Indeed, it appears that nearly 40 percent of the doctors surveyed believe that miracle biblical stories should be understood literally.
There are strong variations from one religious group to another: 60 percent of Protestant doctors consider the biblical miracle stories as literally true. Orthodox Jewish physicians tend to hold views closer to those of their Christian peers. According to Alan Mittleman of the Finkelstein Institute, this shows that doctors, despite their higher average educational level, are not necessarily more secular than their patients.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
03: Religious diversity in the U.S. appears to be hazardous to the health of marriages, reports a recent study by sociologists at Auburn University.
The social science magazine Society (January/February) reports that the researchers compared divorce statistics from the 1990 U.S. Census Bureau against data from the Glenmary Research Center measuring the extent of religious homogeneity in 621 counties from each of the 50 states. They found that it is the religious makeup of a community, “not simply the religiosity of a couple [that] exerts a significant independent effect” on the likelihood of marital success.
Divorce was found to be lower among those living in more religiously homogenous environments. This finding remained true even after controlling for 11 other factors that other studies have correlated with divorce. Among the 12 independent variables interacting in divorce rates (the two strongest being living in an urban environment and in a country with a high rate of population change), religious concentrations ranked seventh.
The scholars conclude that “cultural homogeneity” contributes to people being more closely bound together and thus may be instrumental in reducing the divorce rate.
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04: Although they publicly uphold traditional family values, evangelical churches are more likely to include nontraditional family ministries in their congregations than mainline and Catholic churches, according to a recent study.
The study, in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December), finds that among all churches there are not many ministries to single and divorced people. Only five percent of Catholic, black and mainline Protestants have non-traditional family ministries in their congregations, while nine percent of conservative Protestant attendees have such ministries in their churches. Researchers W. Bradford Wilcox, Mark Chaves, and David Franz were surprised to find that despite their pro-family involvement and discourse, evangelicals are not any more likely than most churches to offer traditional family programming.
Although mainline Protestant discourse (taking more liberal positions on gay rights and divorce, for instance) suggests they are more likely to offer non-traditional ministries, they were less likely to offer such programming. Black Protestants were far less likely to offer traditional family programming, and Catholic churches are less likely to offer non-traditional family programming than conservative Protestant churches.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148)
05: Close to half of all Americans believe Muslims pose a national threat and support restricting Muslims civil rights and monitoring their places of worship, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by Cornell University professor James Shanahan, confirmed past studies showing growing rates of suspicion about Islam among Americans, although the 44 percent reported favoring civil rights restrictions for Muslims is unusually high. The poll of 715 people also revealed that 27 percent wanted Muslim citizens to register their location with the government and 26 percent believe mosques should be “closely monitored” by federal law enforcement agencies.
Republicans and those describing themselves as highly religious were strongly in favor of curtailing Muslims’ civil liberties compared to Democrats or people who were less religious. The highly religious were also more likely to view Islam as encouraging violence (65 percent) and describe Islamic countries as fanatical (61 percent), reports the website Islam Online.
06: Confirming anecdotal evidence that American converts to Eastern Orthodoxy are more conservative than cradle members of the faith is a new survey of Orthodox seminarians.
The survey of seminarians at three Eastern Orthodox seminaries (one Greek Orthodox seminary and two schools of the non-ethnic Orthodox Church in America) found that converts took more conservative positions on such issues as the authority of bishops, opposition to ecumenical worship and religiously mixed marriage.
Sociologist Alexey D. Krindatch, who conducted the survey, also found that converts generally come from more wealthy families and are more likely to have higher levels of education than seminarians born into the faith, according to the Christian Century (December 28). Cradle Orthodox seminarians were also more pessimistic than converts that the Orthodox churches will remain “strangers” to American society.
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
07: The Salvation Army has returned to its long-time first ranking among the nation’s 400 most successful fund-raising organizations, according to an annual listing by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The Salvation Army had dropped to second place last year. Contributions to the nation’s top fundraising groups increased by 2.3 percent in 2003. This increase was viewed as a sign of recovery from 2002, when organizations on the chronicle’s list saw a drop in contributions of 1.2 percent. Of the 17 organizations selected as “religious groups,” 10 of them were in the top 200, including Campus Crusade for Christ (23), Lutheran Social Services (5), and the Christian Broadcasting Network (98).
08: In England and Wales, 151,000 people belonged to religious groups which do not fall into any of the main religions. The largest of these are Spiritualists (32,000) and Pagans (31,000), followed by Jain (15,000), Wicca (7,000), Rastafarian (5,000), Bahà’ì (5,000) and Zoroastrian (4,000).
Those are some of the results of the 2001 census, which continue to be published with increasing details by the National Statistics (http://www.statistics.gov.uk). A look at results per area pointed to the South-East “as the capital of fringe faiths and sects, with London and the South-West not far behind”, writes religion correspondent Jonathan Petre in The Telegraph (December 14). Among Spiritualists and Wiccans, two-thirds are women.
The statistics also show that people from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, while Christians and people with no religion are more evenly dispersed. Only 58 percent of the population of London describe themselves as Christian, while the total percentage of self-described Christians for Great Britain is 71.8 percent (people with no religion 15.1 percent, religion not stated 7.8 percent).
Younger people increasingly describe themselves as having no religion: 23 percent of those between the ages of 16 to 34 claim to have no religion, compared with only 5 percent of people aged 65 and over.
Demographics also play a role in an emerging new balance between religious traditions. The Muslim population is the youngest: 34 percent of Muslims in Great Britain are under 16 years of age. They are followed by Sikhs (25 percent) and Hindus (21 percent). On the other hand, unemployment rates are higher among Muslims than those for people of any other religion.
In 2003-2004, 14 percent of Muslims were unemployed, but only 4 percent of Christians. Moreover, Muslims have the largest households: an average of 3.8 people. They have also the lowest qualifications among all religious groups: in 2003-2004, 31 percent of Muslims of working age had no qualifications. In summary, disaffiliation (people with no religion are the second largest group) and diversification (increasing presence of non Christian religions) seem to be the two major trends currently ongoing in religious Britain.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer