01: A recent study suggesting that high levels of religiosity, such as in the U.S., may be correlated with high rates of social problems has become a lightning rod of controversy.
The study, appearing in theJournal of Religion and Society (http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html) and conducted by Gregory Paul, analyzed data from 18 nations and inferred that because the U.S. has a high level of religiosity and at the same time a high rate of such dysfunctions as murder, abortions, suicide, and sexual promiscuity, religious belief may play a role in such problems.
Paul’s study comes in for sharp criticism in the conservative Christian Touchstone magazine (December). The writers fault Paul’s study for declining to use standard sociological tools of regression and multivariate analysis supposedly because the “causal factors for rates of societal function are complex” and because the societies studied were similar enough to study without using control variables.
But researchers Scott Gilbreath and Michael Lindsey note that it is common for studies of results across countries to employ multivariate analysis, especially since there are so many socioeconomic variations across the 18 countries that have an impact on social conditions. Gilbreath, a Canadian statistician, adds that Paul states no clear explanation why such countries as Greece, Italy, Finland, Belgium and all of Eastern Europe and Russia were excluded.
The time frame of the observations appears to fluctuate between the 1990s to the early 2000s, but Paul does not list which year pertains to each data observation, which can mean that he uses different reference years for different countries. Pollster George Gallup Jr. concludes that a “mountain of survey data” from his organizations and survey organizations “shows that when educational background and other variables are held constant, persons who are ‘highly spiritually committed’ are far less likely to engage in antisocial behavior than those less committed. They have lower rates of crime, excessive alcohol use, and drug addiction than other groups.”
(Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641)
02: Giving to overseas missions among Protestants has declined significantly over the last century, according to a new study. The organization Empty Tomb, a Christian research organization, surveyed 28 denominations and found that for every dollar donated to a congregation, two cents were spent on overseas missions in 2003 — a decrease from seven cents in the 1920s.
03: French-speaking Catholics in Belgium have developed new ways of relating to the Church, with an approach reflecting trends toward individualization.
This is one of the conclusions of a recent survey conducted in Belgium. These are the first results of a “religious barometer” sponsored by Catholic newspapers, with the help of the survey institute, Sonecom, and anthropologist Olivier Servais. The daily newspaper La Libre Belgique (Dec. 14) reports that while three-fourths of French-speaking Belgians have received religious training at a young age, only 48 percent of them still belong to the Roman Catholic Church. However, a surprising 33 percent of the Catholics describe themselves as “practicing.” But this does not mean weekly attendance at religious services: on average, they attend Mass about once a month.
A clear majority of French-speaking Belgian Catholics no longer identify strongly with a local congregation. But two out of five report that they sometimes stop at a church in order to light a candle. According to Olivier Servais, both hardline Catholicism and hardline atheism have declined. There is a reluctance to embrace dogmatic beliefs, but at the same time an aspiration to build a network of relations and solidarity on one’s own terms.
This is a challenge for priests, whose numbers are in decline and who have little time to invest in developing such personal relations with believers. The survey also confirms the rise of Muslim and Evangelical groups. Olivier Servais claims that Evangelical “ethnic” churches (e.g. from Africa or from Brazil) have now begun to attract a growing number of people of Belgian descent.
(La Libre Belgique, http://www.lalibre.be)
— By Jean-François Mayer