01: Americans “hold a dim view” of the influence of Muslims and Buddhists on American society, according to a poll by the Barna Research Group (Feb. 5 news release).
In evaluating the impact of seven major belief systems, only two — Christianity and Judaism — were viewed as having a favorable influence on American society. (88 percent for Christianity and 58 percent for Judaism). Barely 4 in 10 Americans viewed Muslims as having a positive impact on society; five in 10 saw the effect of Islam on Americans as negative.
Fifty-one percent saw the religious influence of Buddhism as more negative than positive (45 percent). More than one-third of all respondents (38 percent) were undecided about the cultural influence of Muslims (35 percent) and Buddhists (35 percent).
The non-Christian groups were viewed more favorably by unchurched than churched Americans, although even non-Christians viewed Christian influence more positively. George Barna says that for most Americans, the “acceptance of diversity in religion, as in politics and race, is not a widely embraced notion.”
On ecumenical and interfaith cooperation, 79 percent of the respondents believe that Protestants and Catholics should put aside their differences to address the social and spiritual needs of the country. Slightly more than nine out of every ten Catholics and Lutherans were supportive of more extensive cooperation. Such support was more tempered among other mainline Protestants (83 percent) and less enthusiastic among evangelicals (69 percent).
(Barna Research Group, 647 West Broadway, Glendale, CA 91204)
02: The majority of Protestants and Catholics believe that government rather than religious organizations should be more responsible for helping the poor, according to a Gallup Poll cited in CARA Report (Winter).
Fifty-nine percent of Catholics, 55 percent of all Americans, and 53 percent of Protestants said that government should be more responsible for helping those in poverty. Twenty-eight percent each of Catholics and all Americans, and 29 percent of Protestants, said religious organizations should be more responsible.
03: Seventh Day Adventism is growing rapidly among American Hispanics, a trend which may give Adventism a more conservative identity in the future, according to a recent in-depth study of members of the denomination.
Between 1980 and 1990, Hispanic Adventists have grown at a rate of 127 percent (from 28,400 to 64,502); if current growth rates are maintained, Hispanic membership will reach 150,367 by the year 2,000. The survey (said to be the most extensive study of Hispanics in American denominations), called AVANCE, surveyed over 3,000 Hispanic Adventists and found a high degree of upward mobility among such members, especially because of their support of Adventist parochial schools; “Adventists are more likely than other Latinos to be found in the higher income brackets,” writes Andrews University researcher Edwin Hernandez in Spectrum (December), an independent Adventist quarterly.
Among the other findings of the survey were: strong family values and attachments were found, while at the same time there was a high percentage of abuse reports (34 percent reporting physical abuse and 20 percent sexual abuse); the Hispanic Adventists are highly orthodox and conservative, opposing such American initiatives as women in the ministry (as either elders or pastors); Hispanic Adventists are more likely to vote for liberal political candidates, although they reveal strong pro-life views; there is a growing gap between the first generation believers (most Hispanic Adventists converted to the faith after they immigrated to the U.S.) and more assimilated and liberal second generation members — a conflict evident in the struggle to introduce English to immigrant congregations.
Hernandez concludes that the “browning of Adventism will, for an extended period, mean a traditionalizing of North American Adventism.”
(Spectrum, P.O. Box 5330, Takoma Park, MD 20913)
04: Catholic parishioners have changed most in recent years in their attitudes on married clergy, and women priests, according to a survey in the Jesuit magazine America (Feb. 17).
The Parish Evaluation Project, which has tracked Catholic parishioners’ opinions for 20 years, finds that in recent surveys there has been a 13 percent increase in Catholics (to 61 percent) who favor allowing priests to marry over the last three years. In 1992, 29 percent favored women priests. Today, 42 percent favor allowing women to become ordained. “Rome’s call for a halt to the discussion of this issue seems to have fanned the flame for change even more,” writes Thomas Swetser, co-director of the Des Plaines, Ill.-based Parish Evaluation Project.
On the teaching authority of the pope, parishioners were asked to react to the statement: Catholics should follow the teachings of the pope and not take it upon themselves to decide differently. In 1992, 30 percent agreed. Since then it has dropped to 25 percent. On parish life, one positive change was in parishioners attitudes toward homilies (or sermons). In 1992, 66 percent of the parishioners favored most of the homilies they heard at Mass. Now, over three-fourths (76 percent) favor them. Attitudes toward birth control, pre-marital sex and abortion have been relatively stable since the 1970s.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019)
05: French-speaking, active Catholics were a significant force in bringing down the recent separatist initiative in Quebec, according to a recent survey.
A survey by the Angus Reid Group found that French-speaking, active Catholics — who comprise 13 percent of Quebec residents — were likely to vote “no” on the proposal for separatism. The National Catholic Register (February 4) quotes Angus Reid, chairman of the polling organization, and Andrew Grenville, vice-president of the organization, as writing that “Francophone committed Catholics were second only to non-Catholic Anglophones and allophones (those whose mother tongue is neither English nor French) in their support of the “no” side.
They added that “committed Francophone Catholics tended to vote `no’ because they are more accepting of people’s differences and because they view separatism as a threat to community.”
(National Catholic Register, P.O. Box 260380, Encino, CA 91426-0380)
06: Forty four percent of Great Britain’s Jewish men under age 40 are married to or living with non-Jewish partners, according to a recent study cited in the Long Island Catholic newspaper (Feb. 21).
The study, conducted by the newly established Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London, is not good news for the maintenance of Jewish identity,” says institute director Antony Lerman.
(Long Island Catholic, P.O. Box 700, Hempstead, NY 11550)
07: During the last decade, there have been 10,000 British converts to Islam, according to a recent study.
The National & International Religion Report (Feb. 19) notes that the study, conducted by the Centre for Islamic Studies at the University of Wales, found that single women are being drawn to the faith because of a desire for security, moral standards and stable family life.
(National & International Religion Report, P.O. Box 21505, Roanoke, VA 24018-0560)
08: The self-image of Brazilians is undergoing a change from being pessimistic, “lazy” people to optimistic hard workers thanks largely to the growing influence of Protestantism in the country, according to a nationwide survey.
The survey, conducted by the Brazilian research organization Vox Populi, polled 2000 people in 25 states to examine how Brazilians viewed themselves. The responses indicate a major change, as previous surveys showed that Brazilians were ashamed of their country and that laziness was one of the most accepted patterns of behavior, reports Ecumenical News International bulletin (January 30). Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that Brazilians were changing from a lazy country to a serious, hard-working nation, while 31 percent did not notice any difference.
Veja magazine, where the results of the survey were published, says that a “key component in the new Brazilian spirit is the growth of Protestant churches. In these churches people receive sermons about organization, savings and the importance of personal efforts to improve life.” Ricardo Brinmaum, one of the analysts of the survey, says that the Protestant and other self-help “gurus” now popular in Brazil “affirm that to be rich is good.
It is not surprising that Protestant churches are full of [the] faithful, while the Catholic priests who praise poverty have lost followers.”
(Ecumenical News International, P.O. Box 2100, 150, Route de Ferney CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland)
09: Last month RW presented research on the loss of confidence in the political role of Poland’s Catholic church, but such a decline of faith is also evident in personal and social morality, according to a study by Polish sociologists.
In the last four years, the social approval of co-habitation, homosexuality and sexual relationships before and/or without marriage has risen by 10 percent, with about 15-20 percent of the population being close to the Catholic church’s position on these issues, writes sociologist Irena Borowik in the Journal of Contemporary Religion (January).
This increase in social approval also applies to the acceptance of contraceptives; only six percent of young people disapprove of such a practice. “What is important is that the students of Catholic schools do not differ from other youth in this respect,” Borowik adds.
When questioned about the morality of contraception, divorce, and abortion, 80 percent said that a person should decide these matters for themselves rather than strictly in obedience to the church. Borowik cautions that such attitudes may not yet mean that Polish society is withdrawing from the church, but they do express a “process of growing privatization of religion in Poland.”
(Journal of Contemporary Religion, Centre for New Religions, King’s College, Strand, London WC2R 2LS UK)