01: The idea that personal contact with gays and lesbians will reduce opposition to homosexuality may be valid for many Americans considering the rapid changes in public attitudes regarding gay marriage, but it does not seem to apply to evangelical Christians, according to a study in the Review of Religious Research (June). What is called the “social contact theory” states that a subgroup’s interaction with a minority group will change the former’s view of the latter. That theory may have to be revised in light of research on evangelicals presented by Ashley A. Baker and Sarah R. Brauner Otto. The researchers analyzed data from a cross-sectional survey of Houston residents, spanning from 2001-2013.
They find that self-identified evangelicals with gay and/or lesbian friends are only one-fifth as likely as non-evangelicals to believe that homosexuality is morally acceptable. While having gay and lesbian friends was associated with acceptance of the view that homosexuality is primarily genetic in origin, this was not the case for evangelicals. Baker and Otto argue that religion and social contact will influence beliefs about gays and lesbians, but they acknowledge that it could be the case that one’s beliefs about homosexuality would likely influence the amount of social contact one has with gays and lesbians, leading to these contrasting attitudes.
(Review of Religious Research, http://link.springer.com/journal/13644)
02: New research by Alain Bouchard (Laval University) does not only confirm the downward trend of Catholic identity in Quebec, but brings to attention more specific information regarding the development of what he calls “individuo-globalism” and the dissolution of the social role of religion. It has been known for a long time that the influence of the Catholic Church had undergone a massive fall in Quebec since the 1960s, but Bouchard, speaking at the CESNUR conference in Tallinn, Estonia, which RW attended, marshaled new figures to confirm this trend. His presentation was based on a comparison between the answers of nearly 600 students in 1988 and more than 2,000 students in 2014 at the same college in Quebec City. Self-identification with Catholicism has diminished by half—from 85 percent of the respondents in 1988 to 43 percent in 2014; while 47 percent say that they identify with no religion (9 percent in 1988) and 50 percent with no political party (question not asked in 1988).
Only a minority adopted the statement “I believe in God”—from 63 percent in 1988 to 21 percent in 2014; 40 percent stated that “Jesus Christ is God” in 1988, compared with only 8 percent today. But only a quarter claim not to believe at all, and another quarter say they “don’t know” what God is or tend to associate God with energy or nature. Regarding life after death, 20 percent believe that there is nothing, one-third say they do not know, and one-quarter claim that life continues but we cannot know what will happen. Weekly attendance at religious services is down to 3 percent and daily prayer to 5 percent, but this does not necessarily translate into a rise of alternative beliefs. There is also a clear decrease in the belief of reincarnation, in the possibility of entering into contact with dead people, in divination practices, astrology and parapsychological phenomena. The attitude toward the role of science is significantly more positive on average than it used to be in 1988, and only 13 percent feel that religion plays a positive role in the world. Regarding moral issues, support for homosexual marriage is massive (85 percent).
03: The younger generations in Finland are moving away from the Scandinavian pattern of “believing in belonging,” where church membership and rites-of-passage are retained even if the rate of attendance and adherence to doctrine is low, writes Kati Niemala in the journal Social Compass (June). Niemala analyzed a 10-year follow up study of young people who were confirmed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in 2002 in the area of Tampere (349 young people in 2006 and 225 in 2011). She finds that by the age of 20, 7 percent had left the church, and five years later a total of 22 percent had left. The general attitude toward church membership among the young adults had become significantly more negative and decisive after the age of 20.
Niemala also finds that as the younger adults reached 25, 42 percent felt that the church was remote from their lives, while only 27 percent experienced God and faith as more remote. Niemala concludes that Generation Y or the Millennial Generation has a weaker attachment to the church than previous generations. Rather than staying as members with low rates of belief (the Nordic pattern), the younger generation strive for “authenticity” and are more apt to leave the institution if it does not line up with their beliefs and worldviews.
(Social Compass, http://scp.sagepub.com/)
04: If it is possible to speak about the Islamic State (IS) as having a “brand,” then the group’s social media presence based around such themes as brutality, mercy, victimhood, belonging, and utopianism has made it stand out among other extremist Islamic groups, according to the newsletter Terrorism Monitor (June 12), published by the Jamestown Foundation. In analyzing an archive of over 1,700 official propaganda campaigns produced and disseminated by the IS since 2014, the narratives of brutality and mercy are regularly featured in tandem. The brutality of the beheadings and other violence is designed to create outrage from enemies but also demonstrate supremacy and power to followers. Yet the campaigns also show the IS showing mercy to enemies repenting, suggesting that the group will forgive one’s past affiliation provided that it is wholly rejected.
The narrative of victimhood, as seen in videos depicting the aftermath of coalition airstrikes, provides justification for its own violence. But it is belonging that is one of the IS’s most powerful themes. Videos and photos depict the central value of brotherhood and camaraderie, which is appealing both to potential foreign recruits and current fighters. Writer Charlie Winter notes that the Islamic State “turbo charges the concept of ummah (Islamic community) and takes it beyond Al Queda’s elite vanguard narrative by democratizing the ability to engage with the struggle.” Finally, the utopian narrative goes beyond creating a haven of security to inaugurating the end times under the caliphate as of August 8, 2014, warning that the Day of Judgment is at hand. The IS attempts to showcase its momentum on social media by regularly depicting new groups incorporating themselves under the caliphate.
(Terrorism Monitor, 111 16th St. NW, Suite 320, Washington, DC 20036)