In This Issue
- On/File: August 2004
- Findings & Footnotes: August 2004
- Catholic businessmen evangelizing in China
- Radicalized segment of Sunni Muslims emerges in Iraq
- Muslims in Canada engaging in politics, gaining influence
- Religious decline and revival in E. Europe, Russia — an interview
- Current Research: August 2004
- Baptist, Lutheran, AME, Catholic gatherings signal new directions
- Neo-paganism going global and mainstream?
01: Hillsong Church is becoming an “emerging religious powerhouse in Australia, ” both because of its influential music ministry and the new interest politicians have in such megachurches and their members.
The Sydney-based church, with close to 18,000 weekly attenders, is known by evangelicals for its music ministry and festival, with a recent CD of its worship music becoming the best-selling recording in the country. Politicians are also increasingly seeking to win the hearts and minds of such evangelicals due to their increasing influence and financial power.
Peter Costello, the government’s Treasurer and a candidate for Prime Minister, recently addressed the church, citing it as an example of the faith and values needed to restore the country.
(Source: Australian Broadcasting Corporation transcript, broadcast: 7/14/04)
01: The July/August issue of the magazine Touchstone is devoted to theIntelligent Design movement, which seeks to replace Darwinian science with a scientific model of origins that makes room for a creator, even if evolution did take place.
The magazine ran another special issue on this movement a few years ago when it was largely unknown except for those working in the religion and science fields. As several articles indicate, ID–or, as it is called by proponents, the “wedge”– is now drawing a strongly critical reaction or “backlash” in the scientific community but also finding increasing media and public attention and new momentum in classrooms (with new court decisions allowing alternative views on Darwinian evolution to be taught).
There seems to be a split between ID thinkers, with one group pressing for more scientific research and academic publication to verify ID concepts (even while bemoaning prejudice in the academy) while others focus on dismantling Darwinist influence to help win the culture wars.
(The issue costs $6 and is available from: Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641; http://www.touchstonemag.com)
02: The new book Religion And Patterns of Social Transformation, edited by Kinka Marinovic Jerolimov, Sinisa Zrinscak and Irena Borowik and published by the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb, Croatia, fills a much needed gap in providing information and analysis of religious change in Eastern European countries including Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, and eastern Germany. The book’s contributors, mostly sociologists from Central and Eastern Europe, discuss findings from the growing body of survey research in this region.
Many of the contributors draw on the currently contested secularization theory holding that increased (and belated) modernization and pluralism in these countries is adversely affecting religious belief and practice. But they also provide some distinctive twists to their theories: Sociologist Marjan Smrke of Slovenia writes that churches in Central and Eastern Europe use a strategy of “social mimicry,” portraying themselves as oppressed minorities to mask the fact that they are actually quite large and influential.
Other chapters cover new religions, the effect of generations in understanding belief and adherence, and the role of Eastern and Central European churches in the formation of the European Union.
For information on this book, write: Institute for Social Research, Amruseva 11, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia.
Among China’s new breed of businessmen, there are Roman Catholics doing their best to spread Christian beliefs among their employees or to support their Church in a variety of other ways, reports the French Catholic news agency and bulletin Eglises d’Asie (July 16).
Some have gone so far as to build a prayer hall in their factory and to invite priests to come to celebrate Masses: employees are encouraged to attend. Such activities are not advertised too widely, however, since the Chinese legal system does not allow religious activities outside of places officially registered for such purposes.
This missionary zeal by Catholic businessmen has shown results: in one factory in Wuan (Hebei province), 300 out of 700 employees have become Roman Catholic. There are also attempts by some factories to recruit primarily Roman Catholics in order to create an atmosphere in which newly-arrived people –who have left their homes looking for work –can keep and reinforce their faith. — By Jean-Francois Mayer
(Eglises d’Asie, 128 rue du Bac, 75341 Paris Cedex 07, France – Website:http://www.mepasie.org)
No longer restricted by a repressive regime, Sunni Muslims are turning to militant expressions of the faith, preaching jihad in key mosques and organizing politically to wield greater influence in the country, reports the Christian Science Monitor (July 28).
While still on the fringes of Sunni Islam in Iraq, the radical preachers are serving as a rallying point for those Iraqis whose faith has deepened since the U.S. invasion and the subsequent turmoil, writes Dan Murphy. The new Sunni preachers consider themselves as “salafy,” or those who want to return to a pure form of Islam practiced during the “golden age” of Mohammed’s time that would make Iraq an Islamic state. Most of the current insurgent activity, such as the fighting in Fallujah, is now conducted by Sunnis, who view Muslim deaths as martyrdom for a holy cause.
But many of these preachers are also seeking a firm political base. In such a group as the new Association of Muslim Scholars, these political-minded Sunnis have acted as important brokers between foreign officials, the interim government, and the “jihadis” thought to be behind the recent spate of kidnappings. Though fiercely anti-American, the association has come under fire from militants for supporting greater unity between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Critics, however, charge that even more moderate Sunni preachers are entertaining dreams of an Islamic society modeled along the lines of Saudi Arabia.
Canadian Muslims are becoming politically active and are showing that they can wield a good deal of influence in elections, reports the website IslamOnline (July 5).
The high turnout of Muslims in Canada’s general elections in early July had a part in the victory of the Liberal party. More than 80 percent of eligible Muslims cast their vote in the elections, with 71 percent supporting the Liberals, according to an exit poll conducted by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC). CIC played a leading role in involving Muslims in the elections (the first held since 9/11 and the war in Iraq), helping to organize candidate meetings and debates in major Muslim centers.
This was also the first election in which the leadership of the Muslim community actively promoted participation in the political process. A number of Muslim candidates ran for political office, including Wajid Khan, a businessman who won a seat for Liberals in suburban Toronto.
Since the fall of communism, the religious situation in Eastern and Central Europe and in Russia has become ever more complex and diversified. To shed some light on the changing patterns of religious belief and practice in these regions, RW recently spoke with Detlef Pollack, a well-known German sociologist who has conducted a good deal of research on religion in Eastern European. Pollack currently holds the Max Weber Chair at New York University and was interviewed by RW‘s editor in early July.
RW: How much do we know about religion in Eastern Europe and Russia through survey literature? Are the quantity and quality of surveys on religion in these regions coming closer to that of the U.S. and Europe?
Pollack: It’s catching up, without a doubt. The World Value Surveys and the European Value Surveys are being applied to more and more Eastern European countries. The same with the International Social Survey Program.
I have carried out my own survey in 2000, called Political Culture in Eastern Europe, which surveys 11 Eastern European countries and includes about 15 questions concerning religion. The Catholic Church has carried out its own survey, known as Awakening, which surveys 15 countries in the east and has been collected in five volumes in the last four or five years.
RW: Many observers report a religious revival in Russia and many parts of Eastern Europe. But you have written that the situation is far more complex and contradictory.
Pollack: We see a religious revival in Russia, an upsurge in Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, [but] in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and eastern Germany we see a decline in church attendance. In Romania and Poland, religious practice remains high with little decline. We also have to differentiate not only between the different countries but also between the different dimensions of religion.
Church attendance has not grown as much as belief in God. You also have to look at the different age groups and how syncretistic, non-traditional religions are accepted more among the young while traditional religions are accepted more among the elderly, as you might expect.
RW: You find that the number of believers has increased in Russia, yet the level of church involvement remains low. But in Eastern Orthodox societies, hasn’t there always been weak church attendance patterns, with many not regularly attending the weekly liturgy?
Pollack: This is one explanation. It may also be that the belief in God means something different and that it’s part of Russian identity. In the last three or four years, attendance has gone up.
In the first part of the 1990s, there was only an upswing in belief in God, while church attendance was stable. The percentage of church attendance has increased– from six to 10 percent. But the increase in belief in God is much higher– from 35 percent in 1990 to 61 percent in 1999.
RW: You see in parts of Eastern Europe a rise in individual religiosity and a disconnection from church involvement. Is this phenomenon similar to what has taken place in the West?
Pollack: It’s true that people today insist on being autonomous in accepting religious doctrine. In former times, religion was a given, but now individualism is going on inside and outside the church. But as a sociologist…it is not convincing that religion does not need institutional support.
RW: So you don’t think non-institutional spiritualities and movements, such as Eastern and new religious groups, will replace traditional religions for those influenced by such individualism?
Pollack: In more secular societies, such as eastern Germany and Estonia, people select and choose various teachings from both alternative religions and traditional churches, forming a syncretistic whole. In countries where religion is stronger, such as Poland and Lithuania, these non-Christian religious forms [have less effect] and create alternatives and a greater plurality of different religions.
RW: Today, atheism and secularism are strongest in the Czech Republic and eastern Germany. In the latter case, which you have studied the most, how did so many east Germans become disenchanted with the church, given its involvement in the protests against the government in the late 1980s?
Pollack: The church was siding with the people when the revolution took place. After the revolution many institutions in eastern Germany declined, except for the church. The [Protestant] church took on the image of a Western institution, which turned people off. Then people were also becoming more concerned with guaranteeing their material existence and fighting for jobs than with ideological and religious concerns.
People also had to pay church taxes and because of the extra burden, didn’t want to pay for religion. This is, however, changing now, More and more people are becoming interested in questions of the meaning of life. They are looking for answers and are interested in different psychotherapies, worldviews or even religions.
RW: Are there any signs of religious vitality in eastern Germany?
Pollack: In the southern part of eastern Germany, in Saxony and Thuringia, for instance, there are enclaves of stability in the folk church; many people still attend church services.
RW: One of the main findings of your research is that the more churches tie themselves to political influence and power, the more they tend to lose favor among the people.
Pollack: Yes, generalized and applied to Western Europe and even to the U.S., the higher degree of religiosity in the United States can be attributed to the sharp separation of church and state. The more politically involved a church is, the less socially attractive it is… In Poland, for instance, in the beginning of the early 1990s, the Catholic Church tried to influence the whole of society, including elections and legislation.
We can see that many of the Poles rejected these attempts to influence everyday life directly. The confidence in the church declined. But from the middle to the end of the 1990s, the confidence in the church increased again as the church became more restrained. Poles have remained strong believers, but they take a more differentiated attitude toward the church; they are skeptical of the church trying to [address] all of society.
01: A new survey finds that Protestants will soon lose their majority status in the U.S. Due to a steady decline of Americans affiliated with many Protestant churches between 1993 and 2002, the survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, finds that the share of Americans who said they were Protestant dropping from 63 percent to 52 percent, after years of remaining generally stable.
At the same time, the number of people who said they had no religion rose from 9 percent to nearly 14 percent, and many are former Protestants, the survey’s authors said. The study was based on three decades of religious identification questions in the General Social Survey, which the opinion center conducts to measure public trends.
Among the reasons given for the sharp drop is that some former Protestants are now identifying themselves only as “Christian,” a choice on the survey. The Roman Catholic population has remained relatively stable over the period, while those saying they belonged to other religions — including Islam, Orthodox Christianity or Eastern faiths — increased from 3 percent to 7 percent between 1993 and 2002. The share of people who said they were Jewish remained stable at just under two percent.
02: Contrary to many projections and reports, Western missionaries still outnumber those from the non-Western world, according to theInternational Bulletin of Missionary Research (July).
Various missions publications and strategists have asserted that the growing ranks of non-Western missionaries will soon exceed Western missionaries. Michael Jaffarian writes that there are actually four times as many Western missionaries as there are missionaries from the Third World. Many of the exaggerated forecasts have tended to count both domestic (or “nationals” staying in their countries to serve) and foreign missionaries from the Third World while only counting foreign missionaries from the West.
Even the projections of Third World missionary dominance are based on the faulty notion that this missionary force would maintain a constant growth rate, with no slowing of pace. But Jaffarian notes that although the Third World mission force is still much smaller than the Western missions movement, it is growing at a much faster rate.
(International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 490 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511)
Summer is the time for conventions both political and religious, but so far it is the denominational gatherings which reveal long-range trends that may outlast the season.
As expected, at their June convention, Southern Baptists voted to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the international pan-Baptist organization over its alleged theological liberalism and theological pluralism. The SBC battle waged between conservatives and moderates, with the former gaining control of the denomination, is now being extended on to an international stage. One reason for the SBC withdrawal from the BWA is that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group that broke away from the Southern Baptists over questions of biblical inerrancy and the role of women, was accepted as a member of the international organization.
The conservative ecumenical magazine Touchstone (June) portrays the development in the framework of the “realignment” taking place within Anglicanism. Thus, the SBC’s pullout will not necessarily lead to the isolation of the American denomination. In fact, there will be “renewed efforts at global cooperation” with “confessional Baptists across the world [who] are longing for cooperation with theologically like-minded Christians against the twin pressures of Western secularism and Islamic extremism,” writes Russell D. Moore.
World magazine (July 24) reports that the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the largest black church in the country with 2.5 million members, unanimously voted at its national convention not to allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages. Although blacks tend to be liberal politically and reliable supporters of the Democratic Party, the move to gay marriage has been criticized by both liberal and conservative African-Americans, particularly as gay activists have compared their drive for gay marriage to the civil rights movement.
The convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in mid July again revealed a denomination sharply divided between conservatives and “moderates,” but the re-election of president Gerald B. Kieschnick and the defeat of other conservative leaders may signal the reemergence of moderate leadership in the 2.5 million member body. Kieschnick drew controversy when he defended a pastor who offered prayers at an interfaith service at Yankee Stadium after 9/11, with critics charging that he violated denomination rules against praying with those of other faiths.
Most of the attention paid to the June conference of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops was over the matter of whether the prelates can deny pro-choice politicians communion. But an unnoticed and potentially more momentous decision concerns a statement calling on Catholic organizations and churches to boycott dissenting politicians.
The teaching, part of the bishops’ interim statement, Catholics in Political Life, argues that politicians who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles…should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Critics fear that, if broadly applied, such a statement could dampen the involvement of Catholics in community and public life, where cooperation and compromise with politicians is often necessary, reports Commonweal magazine (July 16).
(Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641; World, P.O. Box 20002, Asheville, NC 28802; Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115))
RW recently attended a workshop during the Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR) in Barcelona (July 7-13) and found that Neo-Paganism is emerging in countries, such as Spain and South Africa, from which it was absent until a few years ago.
The PWR, first initiated in Chicago in 1893, attracted some 8,000 participants this year, offering a rich program of 400 lectures, workshops, and performances. By its very nature, the PWR is comprised primarily of liberal believers rather than representing all religious preferences.
Besides well-established traditions, faiths less well-known or emergent groups also find an opportunity to gain acceptance and acknowledgment at such events. Sikhs, who have been little-known in Spain, were massively present and received very positive coverage for providing a total of 30,000 free meals to participants during the Parliament. A number of new religious movements were also present, some of them attempting to spread their beliefs, other ones hoping to gain legitimacy, to improve their image and also to interact with like-minded groups.
Pagan participants had come from 11 different countries, according to Selena Fox (Circle Sanctuary), one of the conveners of the workshop. Interestingly, some of those countries had little Pagan presence only 10 years ago. In South Africa, Neo-Paganism (with Wicca as its main expression) has only emerged over the past 8 years; many practitioners are isolated, and the Internet is reported to play a major role in creating a sense of community. Similarly, the Internet is playing an important role in bringing together various Pagan groups in Spain.
The Pagan Federation was formed in the United Kingdom 33 years ago in the United Kingdom and has been attempting for the past 12 years to get the legal status of a British “charity.” Other countries, however, stand only at the threshold of coordinating Pagan activities and representing Paganism in public life, despite the reluctance of some Pagans toward anything smelling of institution and organization.
In Spain, an Iberian Pagan Union has been created for that purpose. American Pagans have the feeling that their faith is increasingly becoming mainstream. It is now often accepted as a participant into local interreligious assemblies. Having a Pagan chaplain in the armed forces is soon likely to become a reality. Pagans in other parts of the world are still feeling much more on the fringe. However, a British participant conceded that Pagan participation to an event such as the PWR may be one more small step toward Paganism gaining recognition as a legitimate religious option.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW contributing editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)