01: Confidence in institutional religion is at an all-time low, according to a new Gallup poll. Today, confidence in American religion has dropped to 44 percent, compared to the 1973 high of 66 percent.
Through 1985, organized religion ranked first in Gallup’s “confidence in institutions measure,” outranking the military and the Supreme Court. The Huffington Post (July 13) cites the study as showing that in the mid-to-late 1980s, organized religion started dropping below 60 percent, which was thought to be related to the televangelist scandals of that era.
Organized religion now ranks fourth among 16 institutions. The poll finds that Protestants show more confidence in organized religion than Catholics (56 versus 46 percent, respectively); the Catholic disenchantment relative to Protestants started in 1981 and became more pronounced by 2002.
02: In behaving generously toward others, non-believers tend to rely on feelings of compassion to a greater extent than believers, according to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley. In a series of experiments that involved testing how people react toward suffering (such as in an experiment asking people to decide how to spend a certain sum of money they were given), it was those who were less religious who reported high feelings of compassion and who were inclined to help the misfortunate.
The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science and cited in the Christian Century (June 27), did not find that non-religious people showed more pro-social behavior than believers. Rather, it is only that the former tended to rely on an emotional response as a motive to help, while religious people may base their generosity on additional motives, such as religious teaching and communal expectations.
03: A majority of Americans would vote for an atheist as president, a recent Gallup poll confirmed. It is the second time in the past year that Gallup found this pattern, this time reporting 54 percent of Americans claiming that they would vote a “well-qualified” atheist into the Oval Office. This was the highest percentage since Gallup began asking the question in 1958; back then only 18 percent said they would vote for a non-believer. However, the survey showed that atheists still come in behind every other group polled for, including gays and lesbians (68 percent) and Muslims (58 percent).
04: The Jewish composition of New York City has shifted from secular to more religious Jews—a change that could have repercussions in American Judaism. Forward.com (June 22) cites the survey, which was conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, as showing that New York Jews are poorer, less educated and more religious than they were 10 years ago. They are also more conservative, with more than half of them living in Orthodox or Russian-speaking homes, “both of which lean heavily conservative,” writes Josh Nathan-Kazis.
These changes reflect the demographic reality of a shrinking base of Jewish residents in Manhattan and a burgeoning one in Brooklyn, where 40 percent of Jews identify as Orthodox. These trends are likely to accelerate, since six out of 10 Jewish children in the New York area live in Jewish homes.Along with the sharp growth of the Orthodox, the study also shows a steep drop in affiliation among non-Orthodox Jews: 583,000 people identified as Reform or Conservative Jews, which was 80,000 fewer people than a decade ago. Besides the Orthodox, the second fastest-growing category was identified as “other.” Steven Cohen, one of the authors of the study, said that “other” means those who identify as Jewish, but say they are not members of any denomination; the large number of children from intermarriages may be part of this group.
Since New York is the most influential center of Jewish activity in the United States, the shift may change the level of support for Israel among American Jews. Both the growth of Hasidic Orthodox groups, which are less attached to Israel, and the drop in affiliation in denominations that garnered the most support for Israel may signal this downturn.
05: A study of Islam among immigrants in the Netherlands shows that second-generation Muslims have not secularized as expected by some scholars. The study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (June), looked at mosque attendance by Turkish- and Moroccan-Dutch between 1998 and 2006. The researchers, Mieke Maliepaard, Macels Lubbers and Merove Gijsberts, found that while there was a decline in mosque attendance, this pattern halted in 2004, after which the frequency of attendance stabilized. Attendance levels have actually revived among members of the second generation.
“Mosques, rather than being places mainly first-generation (Turkish-Dutch) men visit, increasingly attract higher educated, second-generation (Moroccan-Dutch) men.” This pattern conflicts with the views of secularization theorists, who maintain that there will be religious decline among Muslim immigrants in host immigrant societies. While mosque attendance is not increasing among the Muslim population as a whole, the “lack of generational and educational differences in later years indicated that a downward trend among the Muslim population in the future is doubtful.”
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