01: There are more megachurches than originally thought, according to a new survey. Megachurches–those congregations exceeding 2,000 in attendance–were thought by researchers to number only about 850.
However, a new survey by Scott Thumma of Hartford Seminary and Leadership Network, now estimates that there are at least 1,200 and perhaps as many as 1,500 to 1,600 such congregations. An article quotes Thumma as noting that critics have claimed that megachurches were a baby boomer phenomenon that would soon fizzle out. But Thumma and his colleagues say they are increasing exponentially in the last 20 years, with these congregations now found in every state, reports the Christian Century (May 31).
02: A study of literature distributed to U.S. mosques finds an overall pattern of extremist teachings and rhetoric in such material. The study, conducted by the human rights organization Freedom House, found that Saudi Arabia has supplied American mosques with texts and other literature, especially during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Atlantic Monthly (June) reports that among the themes prominent in this literature are: Muslims should not befriend Jews and Christians; Muslims should treat their time in the U.S. as they would a trip behind enemy lines; to revile Sufism, Shia and non-Wahhabi forms of Islam; to rob and inflict violence on Muslims who engage in homosexual acts; and to kill Muslims who convert to other faiths.
Anti-Semitic slurs, such as those from theProtocols of the Elders of Zion, are also present in these texts. Although the Saudi government says it is updating its books and study materials, the study adds that titles in question remain “widespread and plentiful” in Muslim education programs in the U.S.
03: Hate crimes against Muslims are reported to have increased by 50 percent, according to a study released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The Washington-based Islamic advocacy group reported more than 1,500 cases of harassment and anti-Muslim violence in the U.S., including 141 hate crimes last year, compared with 1,019 cases and 93 hate crimes in 2003.
04: There is “far less a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think,” writes political scientist Robert Pape in the New York Times (May 18).
Pape compiled a data base of every suicide attack from around the world–315 in all–between 1980 and 2003 and found that actions coming from secular groups or sponsorship outnumbered those with a religious connection. The leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a secular Marxist group whose Hindu background plays little role in their terrorism, committing 76 incidents. That is far more than Hamas (54) or Islamic Jihad (27).
Even among Muslims, secular groups such as the Kurdistan Worker‘s Party and the Al Aksa Martyr‘s Brigade account for more than one-third of suicide attacks. Pape concludes that almost all suicide attacks have a common “secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military force from territories that terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and seeking aid from abroad, but is rarely the root cause.”