01: Coalitions of “unlikely bedfellows” on issues such as poverty and the environment do not generate much support among religious Americans, according to a recent study.
There has been journalistic speculation that Americans can break free from rigid stereotypes of staunch antagonists locked in culture wars in order to join hands on common issues of concern. In Books & Culture (November/December), political scientists James Guth, Lyman Kellstedt, John Green and Corwin Smidt write that the most common religious coalitions are defined by the culture war divisions between traditionalists, centrists and modernists, especially on such issues as religion in public life, gay rights and abortion and even on President Bush’s foreign policy and faith-based initiatives.
On less polarizing issues, such as the environment, poverty and the death penalty, there has been some expectations that religious alliances might be less predictable. But on the war on poverty and the environment, the culture war alignments still hold, even though the divisions are not as nearly as deep as on such issues as abortion. Although environmentalism has wide public support, Mormons, evangelicals and Hispanic and black Protestants are either skeptical of tough policies or see them as a distraction from other issues.
On poverty, there is some room for voters in each religious category to work on this issue, but “traditionalists” and “modernists” are far apart in their support of specific programs. Only on the death penalty are there signs of a pluralist coalition, with support uniting conservative Protestants and secularists and the opposition drawing together black and mainline Protestants, more traditionalist Catholics and atheists and agnostics. The writers conclude that alliances often draw together the most committed activists (particularly clergy) committed to the culture wars and have lower rates of participation from less active but more moderate parishioners.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
02: While the center is holding firm, the “boundaries” of Catholic teachings, practices and beliefs are becoming more porous and vague, especially for the youngest “Millennial” generation, according to a new survey.
Every six years since 1987 a research team led by William D’Antonio and Dean Hoge survey Catholics on questions of identity. Although not finding drastic change, the 2005 survey, published in theNational Catholic Reporter (Sept. 30), notes continual slippage on the defining boundary markers of Catholic identity.
The creedal beliefs in the resurrection of Christ, the importance of the sacraments and helping the poor have remained strong for all the generations — pre-Vatican II, Vatican II (baby boomers), post-Vatican II (GenX) and Millennials — but the beliefs that Catholics feel are peripheral to the faith are increasing. It is the youngest generations where the tendency to see fewer requirements for being a good Catholic is most evident:
In 2005, the Millennial generation (18-26) was found to be even less church involved and more oriented to conscience and individualism (rather than seeing the church as mediator) than the older generations. Eighty-nine percent of the Millennial generation said it was okay to disobey the church on abortion compared to 45 percent of the oldest generation and 58 percent overall. But in general, Catholics today are slightly less concerned than they were in 1987 about obeying teachings on abortion and having their marriages approved by the church.
Yet another finding from the survey suggests that it is not necessarily poor Catholic education and illiteracy on church teachings that are driving dissent among the young. James Davidson finds that the pre-Vatican II generation most likely to say they can’t explain the Catholic faith to others. Those who said they have a hard time explaining the Catholic faith to others were no more likely to dissent from church teachings than those who expressed no such difficulty. On politics, the survey indicates that Millennials have swung over to the Democrats much more than older generations (58 percent of Millennials voted Democrat in 2004 compared to 34 percent of GenXers).
(National Catholic Reporter, http://www.ncronline.org)
03: The steady decline of mainline Protestantism may be running its course, according to a recent study. For some time there has been a debate among sociologists about the main factors for conservative religious growth and mainline decline, with one group citing largely internal reasons (strictness and greater commitment) and the other tracing the resurgence and decline to demographic factors.
In the Christian Century (October 4), sociologists Michael Hout, Andrew Greeley and Melisa Wilde stir things up again, arguing that it is lower fertility rates and the higher rate of contraception among mainline Protestants rather than theological and cultural factors that have caused decline. and conservative growth. The fact that conservatives have had larger families since the early days of the 20th century up to the baby boom explains 70 percent of the mainline decline. The remaining 30 percent of the decline comes from a “precipitous drop in conservative-to-mainline conversions,” the researchers add.
In testing other hypotheses for mainline decline, such as a higher apostasy rate for mainliners than conservatives and a greater flow of non-Protestants into the conservative camp, Hout, Greeley and Wilde find that neither of these differentials are high enough to explain the denominational shift. The researchers created a model that allowed them to calculate how the mainline decline would look like if nothing but the demographic rates had changed.
The model accurately predicted the sharp mainline decline, though it predicted that the loss would level off ten to 15 years sooner than it actually did. Hout, Greeley and Wilde predict that with similar birth rates now taking place among conservatives and liberals, and. with the falling switching rates from conservative to mainline churches no longer significant, the mainline decline may be at an end-point. But because the above demographic dynamics are still present among generations as young as the baby busters or GenX, “the Protestant population will continue to shift in the conservative direction for many years to come…”
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
04: By 2025, local churches will lose roughly half their “`market share’ when alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack,” according to an analysis by pollster George Barna.
Using survey data and other cultural indicators from the last two decades, Barna forecasts that a growing percentage of church dropouts “will be those who leave a local church in order to intentionally increase their focus on faith and relate to God through different means.” Describing these devout Christian dropouts as “revolutionaries,” Barna cites such alternative expressions as house churches, participation in marketplace ministries, use of the Internet to satisfy faith-related needs, and the “development of unique and intense connections with other people who are deeply committed to their pursuit of God.”
Barna adds that not all of such revolutionaries have stopped attending local churches altogether. Rather, they view their spiritual life as their own responsibility and even if they maintain some connection to a local church, they supplement that relationship with faith-related efforts that have nothing to do with their local church.
Barna writes that he “stumbled onto the Revolution,” when he found that a high level of spiritual activity is taking place alongside dissatisfaction with “what emerges from the average Christian church.” Barna finds that nine percent of adults participate in a house church; 22 percent are involve in “spiritual encounters” involved in the marketplace (their place of work or play); and 10 percent view the Internet as their foundational religious experience. Evangelicals, blacks and “downscale adults (below average educations and incomes) are the most likely to participate in these alternatives.
(Barna Research, http://www.barna.org)
05: Since the ban on headscarves and the wearing of other religious accessories in public schools in France last year, the number of infractions against the law has decreased dramatically. In the year after the ban was introduced in the 2004, there were 639 infractions against the ban, mostly by head scarf-wearing Muslim girls.
There were 240 infractions against the ban alone during the first day of school in 2004. A week after children returned to school this September, the French Ministry of Education reported that only one Sikh boy and 11 Muslim girls defied the ban. Most of the violations have come from just a few schools in predominantly Muslim communities.