In This Issue
- On/File: August 2003
- Findings & Footnotes: August 2003
- Pakistan’s religious schools modernizing?
- Yezidis closer to gaining autonomy in post-Hussein Iraq
- Current Research: August 2003
- Not just Bibles in hotel rooms anymore
- Religious themes make appearance in new superhero movies
- Judaica finds place in Christian bookstores
- Gender, sexuality teachings sparking Catholic revival?
- Mormon racial beliefs persisting despite lifting of ban
01: Rev. Rick Warren made a name for himself through his burgeoning megachurch Saddle Back Community Church in California, and his writings and seminars on church growth.
But the Southern Baptist pastor is now broadening his appeal to American evangelicals. His latest book, “The Purpose-Driven Life,” is a bestseller, with 4.5 million copies sold so far. By 2004, about 2 million people will have joined in one of Warren’s “40 Days of Purpose,” evangelism campaigns, in which readers commit to read one of his book’s 40 chapters a day and participate in a committed program of worship, study, fellowship and service. In contrast to the popular evangelical self-help manuals, Warren’s work is filled with practical lists and exhortations.
His campaign will reach nearly one million people through more than 2,600 churches in October.
(Source: USA Today, July 21)
01: “Not your mother’s broomstick,” is the motto of newWitch (http://www.newwitch.com), a magazine “dedicated to, featuring, and partially written by young or beginning Witches, Wiccans, Neo-Pagans, and other earth-based, ethnic, pre-Christian, shamanic, and magical practitioners.”
The quarterly was launched in September 2002; and has a circulation of 10,000 copies. It is a product of BBI Media, which also publishes SageWoman, PanGaia and The Blessed Bee family newsletter. What makes newWitch special is not only that it wants to “kill stereotypes” (admittedly a quite common aspiration among Pagans), but that it deliberately targets a new generation of Pagans, aged between 18 and 34.
In an interview with the Canadian daily La Presse (July 30), newWitch‘s editor Anne Newkirk Niven explains that young Witches are much more attracted by wider cultural trends than the previous Pagan generations: they no longer perceive themselves as “counter-culture.” In the current issue, one can discover an article on “Invoking Buffy: Using Pop Icons In Your Magickal Practice”. The author explains: “I believe that popular culture is an extremely effective magickal medium.”
— By Jean-François Mayer
For some time now, there has been a strong pressure on Pakistan’s religious schools (madrassas) to change their ways, since they have been widely seen as having contributed to the development of radical forms of Islam.
In a major turnaround, madrassas run by Maulala Fazalur Rehman’s Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam group will be modernizing their syllabus to remove the Taliban taint they have carried for almost a decade, reports the Indo-Asian News Service (Aug. 1; http://www.eians.com).
This is particularly significant since “Rehman is considered the brain behind the Taliban, which had emerged in the mid-1990s from the madrassas run by the Jamiat.” The move is reported to follow rounds of meetings between officials of the Education Ministry and representatives of the schools. The course duration should be expanded by two years (to six years) and the syllabus should include some modern subjects, including information technology, English, mathematics or social studies.
It is also planned to train the teachers in order to update their knowledge. The moves may affect the curriculum of some 2 millions students.
— By Jean-François Mayer
The Yezidis, an ancient religion based in the Kurdish region of Iraq, are entering a period of greater freedom after years of repression and loss of their tribal lands.
The Sydney Morning Herald (July 26) reports that many Yezidis were swept up in Saddam Hussein’s anti-Kurdish crackdown of the 1980s. More recently, the tribal religion lost more than 60 villages when Sunni Muslim Arabs transplanted from the south took them over. But most of the Arabs fled shortly after the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, leading the group’s hereditary ruler, Emir Tasseen Sayid Ali Bak, to believe that the region and its capital Shekhen will now be incorporated into the nearby Kurdish autonomous zone.
Part of the reason for the Yezidis repression has been the misunderstanding that they are devil worshippers. Actually, they believe that God created seven angels to serve him, but that when tested only one remained loyal. There are thousands of Yezidis in Turkey, Syria, Georgia, Russia, Germany and Australia.
01: A new nationwide survey of 2,002 adults, conducted by Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, shows that there has been a significant rise in negative perceptions about Islam.
Fully 44 percent now believe that Islam is more likely than other religions “to encourage violence among its believers.” As recently as March 2002, just 25 percent expressed this view. A separate study by the Pew Research Center in June 2003 found a similar change in the number of Americans who see Muslims as anti-American: 49 percent believe that a significant portion of Muslims around the world hold anti-American views, up from 36 percent in March 2002.
In the new survey, most Americans continue to rate Muslim-Americans favorably, though the percentage is inching downward. A declining number of Americans say their own religion has a lot in common with Islam 22 percent now, compared with 27 percent in 2002 and 31 percent shortly after the terrorist attacks in the fall of 2001. White evangelical Christians and political conservatives hold more negative views of Muslims and are more likely than other Americans to say that Islam encourages violence among its followers.
02: A national study of Arab American women finds that Christian and Muslim affiliation are less influential in holding liberal gender attitudes than are the levels of religiosity and ethnicity maintained at home.
The study, one of the largest of its kind, conducted by Jen`nan Ghazal Read, and published in the journal Sociology of Religion (Summer) surveyed 501 Arab Christian and Arab Muslim women. She found that Muslim women are more traditional in gender roles and views than their non-Muslim counterparts.
The differences are due to the fact that Muslims are more likely to be recent immigrants, have an Arab spouse, participate in ethnic groups, and hold to an inerrant religious text. Once these “differences are considered, the influence of Muslim affiliation on gender traditionalism disappears,” Read writes.
But similar high patterns of religiosity (measured by attendance at a mosque or church, personal devotion and adherence to scriptural inerrency) had a similar effect on gender attitudes for both Arab Christian and Muslim women. Read concludes that “ethnic and religious affiliation may be less predictive of gender beliefs than degree of attachment to these communities.”
(Sociology of Religion, 3520 Wiltshire Drive, Holiday, FL 34691) .
03: There is not as large a percentage of Hispanics switching to Protestantism as has been claimed, but there is a more recent and growing category of Hispanics claiming no religion.
Those are some of the findings of a study conducted by the Program for the Analysis of Religion Among Latinos (PARAL). The study, which is largely based on the American Religious Identification Survey, is said to be one of the largest among Hispanics, with 3,000 respondents. In Americamagazine (July 7-14), PARAL director Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo writes that the Protestant share of the Hispanic adult population has held steady (26 percent in 1990 and 25 percent in 2001, with even Pentecostals growing only from about three to four percent).
The Catholic share of the American Hispanic population did drop from 66 percent to 57 percent, but that is mainly because the percentage of the Hispanic “no religion” group grew from six percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2001. Because the overall number of Hispanics (and thus Hispanic Catholics and Protestants) grew by 54 percent in this period, the growing no religion category went unnoticed (the trend is largest in the farming areas of the Midwest, where there are few ministries for these new immigrants) . The unchurched growth may partly be explained by the new Catholic policy of not allowing baptisms and first communion for children whose parents who do not have a “contractual form of association with a parish.”
This is a break from the practice of older immigrant groups, who maintained a “cultural Catholicism” even though they had loose ties to the parish. This new restriction of the sacraments may be one reason why many Hispanics identify with “no religion” even though they clearly still believe in God, miracles and attend Mass on festivals and important times in their lives.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803)
04: A survey by Yoga Journal found that the number of yoga practitioners in the US has tripled from 5 million in 1998 to 15 million. The June 23 Apologia Report also cites the survey as showing that “Most Americans are now accessing yoga through their regular gyms and fitness centers.”
05: Most American voters said the publicized beliefs and faiths of both President George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman will not influence them to vote for either man, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University.
The poll, cited in Baptists Today magazine (July), finds that 69 percent of Americans said they are not likely to vote for Bush because of his religion and 85 percent said the same about Lieberman. Only 18 percent said they would use such criteria in voting for Bush and just six percent said the same for Lieberman. Meanwhile, 11 percent said Bush’s faith could be a negative factor in their voting, and six percent said Lieberman’s faith may make them less likely to cast a vote for him.
Yet the survey also found broad agreement on the influential role of religion in public life (67 percent), with 43 percent (61 percent of churchgoers) saying faith should have a larger role.
06: American youth fascination with the supernatural as reflected in the entertainment media has been shaped by evangelicalism, according to a recent study.
In an interview with Christianity Today (July 11), Lynn Schofield Clark says that shows and films such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Matrix borrow evangelical imagery, symbols and stories in their wide appeal to youth. She adds that such media does not so much draw inspiration from the evangelical message but rather uses such symbols to portray the teen culture’s search for spirituality.
In her research of unchurched young people, she found that in their beliefs and experiences with the supernatural, “they often used the language common to evangelicals — language such as angels and demons, and how bad behavior is punished. They said we should be on our best behavior because that’s something that is honorable to God.” Yet rebellion against evangelical norms are also influential in teen culture. “So as evangelicals bash things like witchcraft, it becomes more intriguing for young people who might be drawn to those things — simply out of a desire to rebel.”
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60187)
07: While the European-American gap in religious beliefs and practices remains strong, such differences don’t have much to do with recent tensions between Europe and the U.S., according to pollster Andrew Kohut.
Media reports and pundits have alleged that Europe’s secularism is driving the continent’s current anti-Americanism, particularly as it is directed at the religious rhetoric of U.S. President George W. Bush. But in presenting recent survey research at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Kohut, of the Pew Research Center, says that it is European’s discomfort with America’s unrivaled power much more than a clash between religious and secular values that is behind much of the unrest.
The European-American differences between religion, individualism and other value clashes “that we see in our surveys are now as large and almost identical to what we found in a 17-nation European survey in 1991.” The religious and values differences between Europeans and Americans — as seen in European criticism of Bush’s use of religious imagery and terms (axis of evil) “accentuates rather than creates, the divides in policy and perceptions of the U.S. role in the world,” Kohut concludes.
08: According to the latest statistics released by the Roman Catholic Church, there are 108 millions baptized Catholics in Asia — 10.1 percent of the total number of Catholics in the world, reports the French Catholic news service Eglises d’Asie (July 16).
But the percentage of seminarians is significantly higher, and this may have an influence on the future of the Church: there are 27,265 Catholic seminarians in Asia, — 24.9 percent of the total number of Catholic seminarians around the world. There has been already a regular increase in the number of Asian priests since John Paul II was elected: while the number of priests has declined in some other parts of the world, such as Europe, the number of Asian priests has gone from 27,700 in 1978 to 44,446 in 2001.
Asian bishops make already nearly 15 percent of the Catholic bishops. There is only one exception to the clergy increase in Asia, observes Eglises d’Asie: there are very few permanent deacons on the Asian continent (115 only, in comparison with 19,000 on the American continent).
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor and founder of Religioscope (http://www/religioscope.com)
The American hotel tradition of placing a Bible in guests’ rooms is changing as these establishments broaden their menu of religious reading material to please the new diversity of guests.
USA Today (July 10) reports that the Bibles placed in hotel rooms for over a century by the Gideon International ministry has become “an unwitting brand standard” that is being challenged by the desire of some hotels to offer their guests options that range from the Bhagavad-Gita to the Book of Mormon. In deference to the Marriot’s founders, these hotels now supplement the Bible with the Book of Mormon.
The Society for the Promotion of Buddhism has placed gratis copies of the Teaching of the Buddha in more than 2,300 hotels across the U.S. as part of a program that also includes 53 other countries. Washington, D.C.’s Madison Hotel will reopen with each guestroom having a windowsill decal pointing toward Mecca — an amenity mainly found in the Middle East.
Religious themes and motifs are evident in the new wave of superhero movies, “from last year’s Spider-Man to this year’s Daredevil and, most recently, X2, the sequel to the 2000 film X-Men,” reports the National Catholic Register (July 13-19).
The movie X2 features a super-strengthened “mutant” character who prays the rosary, views his suffering as a test from Jesus and refers to faith as an alternative to anger. The hero in Daredevil confides the truth about his double identity to a priest and goes to confession. In Spider-Man, the hero’s aunt is seen praying the Lord’s Prayer.Steven Greydanus writes that these “elements of real-world religion in this new wave of superhero films are in a way in keeping with the spirit of the heroes’ Marvel Comics origins.”
Unlike DC Comic superheroes, such as Batman and Superman, where Characters live in imaginary cities, such as Gotham, Marvel characters have traditionally been closer to our own world . . . and real religion has long been a part of their world.”
For instance, in the X-Men comic books, the popular character Nightcrawler was imagined from the outset as a believing Catholic. Gredanus adds that while cruelty and violence exists in the films, these movies represent a change from the way “religion in action movies has often been relegated to psycho killers.”
(National Catholic Register, 432 Washington Ave., North Haven, CT 06473)
There is a growth in both visibility and presence of Judaica and Zionist books and related products in the evangelical Christian marketplace judging by the recent Christian Book Association (CBA) conference in Orlando, Fla.
The e-newsletter Religion Bookline (July 22) reports that one of the most heavily trafficked exhibits was the Tent of Meeting union display. Organized by Barry Rubin, president and CEO of Messianic Jewish Communications, the Tent housed nine different firms under a single, quasi-biblical canopy and was the first time CBA had ever had a combined display of Judaica merchants.
Rubin’s own stall had two plaques asking passersby: “Do You Have Your Messianic Jewish Section Opened Yet?” Asked how many visitors answered that question affirmatively, he said, “About half the people who have come by. It’s Christians looking for their Jewish roots. He added that the biggest sellers are “The Jewish Bible” and “The Jewish New Testament,” followed by books about the ritualizing of time, like haggadahs for Christians.” One San Diego Christian bookseller says that the interest in Judaica has increased every year during her tenure and is now a standard part of her inventory.
She added that about half of the chain of Berean stores now stock Judaica and Zionist materials. Responding to this trend and to the trend toward conservatism in general, New Leaf Press has just opened a new division, Balfour Books, which was making its debut in Orlando. The division will publish both Jewish and Christian authors. The newsletter adds that patriotism was also a big theme in Orlando. The Presidential Prayer Team, a national organization of almost three million citizens pledged to support the president with daily prayer, announced a new partnerships with several Christian book and music publishers. J. Countryman will publish two titles: “The Presidential Prayer Team Devotional” and “The Presidential Prayer Team Prayer Journal.”
Pope John Paul II’s teachings on gender difference and sexuality seems to be a main attraction for the small but growing movement of young adults drawn to conservative Catholicism.
In First Things magazine (August-September), Bronwen Catherine McShea reports that at Harvard and other Ivy League colleges, there is a phenomenon of young people converting or returning to traditional Catholic practice and beliefs. At Harvard, “student attendance has been significant at daily masses, regular Confession, and Rosary groups both at the College and at the Law School,” as well as growing prolife involvement.
McShea’s reporting of this trend is anecdotal [although surveys have shown some conservative beliefs and attitudes among a segment of younger Catholic clergy and laity], but her explanation of the motivations of many of these converts and returnees may be significant. “What I find particularly striking about many of my peers in this veritable young Catholic movement at Harvard–particularly the young women among them–is their fervent rejection of modern liberal conceptions of sexual difference, sexual relations and family life . . . They also support the Church’s stance that women cannot be ordained as priests, seeing in it a recognition that men and women [have] distinct natures, body and soul . . .”
The “beauty of orthodoxy” for these young people is revealed in Pope John Paul II’s teachings on contraception and gender difference, known as the “theology of the body.”
(First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010)
Twenty five years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints lifted its prohibition against blacks serving in the priesthood, the issue of race still haunts Mormonism.
In his new book All Abraham’s Children (University of Illinois Press, $36.95), sociologist Armand L. Mauss chronicles how the LDS church has long struggled between its early teachings and traditions which linked various racial lineages to righteousness and its universalistic thrust, viewing all people as God’s children. The main plot of the book is that the universalistic tendency won out in the church, largely through missionary encounters with diverse races, but remnants of the older church still exert some pull.
Mauss writes that the LDS church finds itself in the unique position of being among the least racist and anti-Semitic churches in the U.S (particularly after the 1978 ruling), judging by surveys of members’attitudes, while also harboring century old beliefs that create problems for black Mormons. Mauss notes that church officials have cultivated a good working relationship with black leaders and groups; the commitment of the church to genealogical work among blacks has been a particularly success.
But when the LDS church rescinded the prohibition against blacks in the priesthood, it didn’t condemn the teachings justifying this exclusion: that blacks are the cursed descendants of the Old Testament figure Cain. The remnants of this belief among many white Mormons has alienated many African-Americans from the church, according to Mauss..Although there are few hard statistics to cite, he writes that Mormon missionary work among blacks has not thrived and there is a significant black drop-out rate.
The independent Mormon magazine Sunstone devoted much of its March and April issues to matters surrounding the lifting of the priesthood prohibition, particularly looking at the way the older racial beliefs still live on in some quarters. Mormon books and pamphlets carrying these racial teachings are not difficult to find at most LDS bookstores.
For instance, Elder Bruce R. McConkies’ book “Mormon Doctrine” is a common source of church teachings for Latter Day Saints, but the current edition still includes information on blacks and the priesthood and the “mark of Cain” that is based on old understandings. Mauss concludes in his book that older racial beliefs may persist in the same way that sympathy for polygamy held strong among many Mormons long after the practice was discarded by the church.
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215)