In This Issue
- Middle class Indians religious in their own fashion
- Findings & Footnotes: February 1998
- World Jewry’s divided future
- New Christian political party reshapes Poland, Southeast Europe
- Current Research: February 1998
- Liberal Catholics having trouble signing up others for the cause
- Far-right religionists are main target in anti-terrorism campaign
- Conflict and unity in global religious future?
- Emerging divisions on Catholic-Evangelical pro-life front?
- Evangelical Catholicism in the making?
Middle class Indians religious in their own fashion
A middle class is emerging in India that is more religious that has generally been predicted, but not very orthodox.
Hinduism Today magazine (February) devotes a cover story to the beliefs and practices of the middle class Indians and finds that those of all faiths — Hindu, Christian, Muslim — do not largely discard their beliefs as much as adapt them according to a modern mind-set that disdains ritual and magic.
In interviews with Indians throughout the various states, the reporters find that “to a significant extent, they have seen through and rejected the anti-religion beliefs of the communists, rationalists and secularists.” Even in the communist state of West Bengal, an atheistic middle class has not emerged. One doctor explains, “I see that everybody, including doctors, are God-fearing people. We may not be observing all the rituals, due to shortage of time, nuclear family, working wife, etc., but we are religious.”
In Kerala, where there is a strong Christian and Muslim presence, there is more variation in religious belief. The emerging Christian and Muslim middle class “is enjoying an unprecedented improvement in their standard of living and becoming more religious too. Once mass was conducted in the Catholic churches only on Sundays. Now it is done almost every day,” writes V.S. Gopalakrishnan. Middle class Hindus in Kerala “revealied religion to be much less important in their lives than it was in the lives of their Christian and Muslim neighbors.
They unanimously said they do not read any of the scriptures..they never recite hymns . . . Instead television provides the main activity . . . In fact, one can postulate that it is television which has replaced ritual observances in many Hindu homes.” Bangalore’s middle class, meanwhile, is more religious, with a combination ritual and social occasion, known as “vrats” becoming a fad.
The editors conclude that the middle class is seeking a more “logical” and inward form of religion than their parents “They are unable, it seems, to feel the very real contact between the human world and God’s world which is facilitated by ritual.” While Hinduism has entire branches that accommodate such a “ritual-less” devotee,, they also face a major obstacle.
Unlike the Muslims and Christians, they do not have the structures and comprehensive systems to educate their youths outside of the family, which is now too strained to provide such a function.
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholalele Road, Kapaa, HI 96746-9304)
Findings & Footnotes: February 1998
01: There has been a recent spate of books and studies about evangelical women.
Godly Women (Rutgers University Press, $19) by Brenda Brasher is unique since it focuses on women in the burgeoning evangelical megachurches. Brasher, a religion professor at Mount Union College, participated in services and women’s cell groups and interviewed women in congregations affiliated with Calvary Chapel and Hope Chapel. These small groups and bible studies provide women (especially younger ones) with a subculture apart from the male-led congregation to meet specific needs and the networks in which to wield their own power in church, even if such influence is not officially approved, according to Brasher.
The book shows how involvement in these groups offers women the benefits of stability in family life and clearly defined gender roles.
02: Religious growth and change is increasingly being viewed by scholars from within an economic framework, particularly that of “rational choice theory.”
This theory holds that believers pay “costs” and get “benefits” in joining religious groups (which, proponents say, is why strict churches grow faster than lax ones). The new book Rational Choice Theory & Religion, edited by Lawrence A. Young (Routledge, $17.95) can make for difficult reading for the lay person, but some of its essays, particularly the more autobiographical ones, provide interesting accounts of the theory and its critics.
World Jewry’s divided future
While the world’s Jewish communities are united by rapid communications and a common history, Jews in diaspora around the world are facing different futures based on such factors as assimilation, immigration and intermarriage.
Moment magazine (February) asked correspondents from around the world how Jewish life will change by the year 2100, and, in the process, reveals many current trends in these communities. European Jews were the most upbeat about their current and future situations, although they are facing new divisions.
Ruth Zilkkha writes that whereas European Jews once looked to America and Israel for direction and funding, but such factors as the fall of Communism, the anticipation of a common currency and a continent-wide economic crisis have turned European Jews more toward their own communities. A new breed of European Jewish activists are networking with each other and working on common projects and alliances.
In France — the largest European Jewish community with 60,000 Jews — there is an upsurge in synagogues and Jewish schools. At the same time, there are “new ideological fissures between Orthodox rabbis and the vast majority of moderate Jews…between Jews who wish to consider themselves above all as Holocaust Jews and those who cherish their French, even European, identity,” writes Dianna Pinto.
In England, there is a growing alienation between British Jewry and Israel; Italy, there is also a growth of assimilation. The resistance of Jewish leaders to any type of Jewish proselytizing which might help revive the community and make it less inward-looking is a major problem.
The influx of Russian-speaking Jews into Germany is creating the fastest growing Jewish community in the world. There are too few synagogues for the non-Orthodox, even though the number of such Jews is rising sharply, adds Bea Wyler. Revival is the word used to describe the situation in Poland, the Ukraine and even Russia.
The flow of immigrants to Israel has slowed in these countries, and Jewish organizations are being restored. The concern now is to form indigenous Jewish expressions rather than the exported (often Orthodox) varieties that have the most money behind them.
In Latin America, the situation is mixed. Mexico (with 40,000 Jews) reports stability and growth, while Argentina (with a community of 250,000) is facing a steady flow of emigration to Israel, the U.S., and other countries, as well as a drain on the Jewish population caused by intermarriage. South Africa, while having a high level of Jewish observance is seeing a rise in “Islamic fundamentalism,” a weakening of ties with Israel, and continuing emigration.
In Australia (with 100,000 Jews), 70 percent of Jewish children attend Jewish day schools, and there is a close identification with Israel, even if assimilation is beginning to make inroads into the community.
(Moment, 4710 41st St., N.W., Washington, DC 20016)
New Christian political party reshapes Poland, Southeast Europe
In the wake of the departure of communism and communist-related political parties in Poland and southeast Europe, a new, highly energized and attractive political movement is reshaping the future of the region, according to the journal Foreign Affairs (January/February).
Starting with the surprising victory of the Solidarity Electoral Action bloc (AWS) in Poland’s legislature’s elections last September, a Christian democratic movement based on explicit Catholic teachings, Poland’s economic and social life is being reshaped to harmonize specifically with the traditional faith of the great majority of its people.
A resurgence of new legislation based largely on market capitalism as espoused by Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Centisimus Annus” is giving hope to those looking to revitalize eastern Europe after decades of stagnation under Soviet direction. Specifically, AWS is flourishing because under the highly effective leadership of Marian Krzaklewski, it is appealing directly to the long-faithful Catholics in Poland. It supports explicit “right to life” programs in the country; it utilizes Christian radio broadcasting; and it works carefully with local political constituencies to further specific neighborhood issues.
The article also suggests that the same general pattern of direct Christian political activism is spreading to Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Lithuania. Leaders find that these Christian democratic movement’s appeal to “tradition” and connection with Roman Catholicism “is creating a stable frame of reference for people who have experienced wrenching economic social and political change.”
The social vacuum created by decades of communist-directed legislation is being filled by people inspired by Catholic values now freely expressed in national life. The Foreign Affairs writer suggests that this resurgence of Christian democracy may soon spread to western Europe.
(Foreign Affairs, 58 E.68th St., New York, NY 10021)
— By Erling Jorstad.
Current Research: February 1998
01: A new study on the religious attitudes and beliefs of baby busters confirms that they are a lot like baby boomers in their individualism and few attachments to institutions — only more so.
The study, conducted by Jackson Carroll and Wade Clark Roof, surveyed 1,150 people in North Carolina and southern California about their beliefs, worship styles, and church-going habits. The Christian Century (Jan. 7-14) reports that Roof and Carroll found that 45 percent of the busters or Generation Xers went through some sort of family disruption, such as divorce of parents, compared to 27 percent of baby boomers and 23 percent of the pre-boomers.
Such disruption may be a cause of Xers loose attachments to congregations. The survey shows that 35 percent of Xers indicated religious involvement while growing up, compared with 45 percent of boomers and 53 percent of pre-boomers.
The main differences were found not between Xers and boomers as much as between pre-boomers and the later generations. Xers and boomers are more interested in autonomy, freedom, independent thought and religious exploration, with less institutional commitments. Carroll finds that for both Xers and boomers, the most successful churches are those that function “like a shopping mall. People pick and choose among small groups that meet their particular needs like a variety of shops and boutiques. And they come in and out.”
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
02: The well-educated and well-off are not so different in beliefs from most other Americans, while those defined as the “cultural elite” are quite different from both groups, according to a recent poll in the New Yorker (Jan. 5). Conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland, the survey identified three groups: some 400 randomly sampled adults identified as “Main Street.” The second was “Easy Street”, a sampling of six hundred members of the economic elite, that is, colleges graduates under sixty earning at least $100,000 annually. Third was “High Street”, some 400 adults, all of whom subscribed to the New Yorker.
In the religion category, they found that 92 percent of MainStreeters answered “yes” to “Do you believe in God?” Close to 90 percent of the Easy Streeters also said yes. But with High Street respondents only 61 percent said they believed in God. On the question of what each understood by “God,” 47 percent of Main, 41 percent of Easy and 24 percent of High said this was “a supreme being who sometimes intervenes in human affairs.
Some 22 percent of Main, 27 percent of Easy and 22 percent of High said “the force that created the universe and its laws, but does not intervene in the working of that creation.” Finally, as to the definition of God as “the name people give to the sacred spirit within each person” some 20 percent Main, 21 percent Easy and 38 percent High Streeters agreed.
The same differences appeared when the pollsters asked about personal attitudes on gay tolerance, marijuana use, and the future of the nuclear family. Mostly, Main Streeters and Easy Streeters were less likely to approve same sex unions or condone the use of recreational drugs compared to the High Street respondents. In summary, writer Hendrick Herzberg points out that the cultural elite is out of step with both the economic elite and “Main Street” on most issues.
— Erling Jorstad
03: Are Americans are giving less to religious causes?
The American Association of Fund Raising Counsel, Inc. (AAFRC) recently reported that religious, benevolent, and charitable contributions to religion was $8.6 billion in 1968 but that it had risen to $66.3 billion by 1995 and has given every sign of continuing its increase. But figures recently issued by Empty Tomb, Inc., a group surveying religious giving patterns, are substantially lower than those of the AAFRC, according to Sightings (Jan. 9), the electronic newsletter of the Public Religion Project.
Empty Tomb finds a base of $8 billion in 1968 and a rise to only $44.5 billion, not $66.3 billion, by the mid-nineties. The organization contends that giving increases are not keeping up with inflation, and that in most aspects of giving, there are not even many increases. “Church member giving to Benevolences declined as a portion of income for an unprecedented tenth year in a row.”
(Benevolences include gifts to and through denominations and local and global agencies.)
For the first time since 1992, giving as a percentage of income decreased not only to benevolences but to everything, including funds to keep congregations in operation. In 1968 giving as a portion of income was 3.11 percent, but by 1995 it had decreased to 2.46 percent. Mainline Protestants experienced a continuing decrease in finances. More unexpected was the greater proportional decrease among the growing evangelicals. In 1968 they gave 6.14 percent of their income to religion, but that had dropped by a third to 4.08 percent in 1995.
04: The clergy and religious leadership in England has a lot of directors and resource people who try to get things done, but few critics and creative thinkers in their ranks.
That is one of the findings by the Christian Research Association when it polled 202 of its Christian leaders-members. The association newsletter Quadrant (January), reports that the highest scoring characteristics of the respondents’ leadership were resourcers (22 percent), shapers (15 percent) and directors (15 percent), while creative people were at only seven percent; critic — 10 percent, team person — nine percent and “complete finisher” (those who finish a whole task) at nine percent.
There were also differences by denomination: Anglicans had more resourcers; Baptists had a high number of critics, Presbyterians more often selected “team people,” while Pentecostals were task people and directors. Lay people were more likely to be creative and task people than clergy (Anglican clergy in this case), who were more likely to be resourcers. Women were less likely to be directors and more likely to be “team people” than men (which may be explained by the higher rates of ordained men clergy).
The newsletter concludes that the dominance of resourcing gifts stands out in the survey. “Perhaps with so many clergy in a `one-man’ role, they have to have or develop resourcing skills to survive.”
(Quadrant, 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ England)
05: Young Greeks find faith far more important than politics, according to an opinion poll.
The German news service Idea (Jan. 20) cites the poll as showing that 84.6 percent of 22-and 23-year old Greeks consider faith to be very important. A majority — 59.1 percent — trust the Greek Orthodox Church, while 86.9 percent mistrust politicians. Political analyst Maria Bossis says the “results indicate a radical change. 20 years ago, young people were interested mostly in politics.”
(Idea, e.V., Postfach 18 20, D-35528, Wetzlar, Germany)
Liberal Catholics having trouble signing up others for the cause
Liberal American Catholics may have to take a few lessons from their conservative counterparts if they want to reach more sympathizers in the church.
American Catholics involved in such liberal caucuses as Call to Action planned a drive 2 years ago called “We Are the Church,” where they planned to collect more than one million signatures to petition church leaders to accept such positions as optional celibacy for priests, women’s ordination and the “primacy of conscience” on sexual questions.
But when American Catholic leaders presented their petitions to the Vatican along with other liberal Catholics from other countries, they had only collected 37,000 signatures [Although, worldwide, the petition drew 2.5 million signatures].
Crisis magazine (January) reports that when conservative Catholic groups learned about the We Are The Church petition, they drew up their own petition called “We Are Catholics.” The petition, written up by two Catholic high school students, supported the pope on the contested issues. When Fr. Paul Marx of the conservative pro-life group, learned of the conservative petition, he posted it on the World Wide Web. The “We Are Catholics” petition (eventually presented to the pope) gathered more than 90,000 signatures in the U.S.–57,000 more than the “We Are The Church” document.
[The different outcomes on these petitions does not necessarily mean that American Catholics are becoming more conservative in belief. Rather, the failure of the We Are The Church petition to reach its desired goal may show that the liberal segment of the church has problems mobilizing its members to action as compared to conservatives. The conservative Catholic’s significant presence in the media, such as Mother Angelica’s TV network and in their many publications, as well as the Internet, suggests that conservative leaders have developed more points of access to their constituency than liberal Catholics.]
(Crisis, 1814 1/2 N St., NW, Washington, DC 20036)
Far-right religionists are main target in anti-terrorism campaign
Crime specialists and enforcers are targeting far right religious groups, and particularly what is called “leaderless resistance” in such movements, more than foreign-based terrorists, according to U.S. News & World Report (Dec. 29/Jan. 5).
Since the Oklahoma city bombing, law enforcers have successfully attempted to open lines of communications with militia groups and other organizations with conspiracy-based views on the government. Law enforcement officials have found that only a few of the far right religious and political groups have the potential for violence (in fact, some of the militia members have been helpful in targeting potential terrorists). The “hard-core extremists” number only in the hundreds, and those that are the most well-known, such as the Christian Identity churches and the neo-Nazis have “proved susceptible to infiltration,” write David Kaplan and Mike Tharp.
They add that “what worries officials the most is what militants refer to as `leaderless resistance’– a strategy to avoid law enforcement by operating in small, independent cells. Of special concern are so-called Phineas Priests, fanatics who practice a violent creed of vengeance advocated by the white supremacist Christian identity movement.”
Phineas Priests struck in 1996 in Spokane, Wash. in a four month crime spree that included bank robberies and bombings at the local newspaper and Planned Parenthood offices. Another group appealing to the radical right is the Odinists, who espouse a form of Scandinavian paganism and witchcraft. Although most Odinists are not violent or dangerous, the movement continues to gain a strong following among Neo-Nazis and skinheads, who often mix in their own brand of white supremacy into such teachings.
Conflict and unity in global religious future?
Futurologists are paying new attention to religion — a departure from previous times when they consigned faith to having a minor and fading role in a technological future.
In the Futurist magazine (January/February), respected futurologist, Ronald Sellers identifies nine major trends among religions of the world.
01: Despite critics’ predictions that secularization would overcome religious faith, we find increasing interest in religious commitment on the increase in countries long denied the opportunity of free religious expression, especially in Russia, Afghanistan, China and Cuba.
02: In areas of major moral decision making, scientists and religionists will remain in serious dispute over such matters as human cloning and fetal-tissue research.
03: On the other hand, science and religion will come closer to harmony with each other in such human activities as the practice of medicine, psychology and social welfare.
04: A continuing expansion fom Middle and Far Eastern religions into the Western world. In terms of numbers, Islamic and Hindu communities will continue their energetic expansion into hitherto unsettled nations, creating new scenarios for inter-religoius strife.
05: In some areas, one will find increased governmental activities in regulating the freedom of dissenters in their nations to have full religious expression.
06: Despite this, religious minority groups will flourish, often underground, through communications via the Internet with similar groups globally.
07: In North America especially, the current trend towards greater blending of faiths in marriages and families will continue, as will the move towards establishing full communion among mainline Protestant bodies.
08: At the same time, the appeal of an evangelical, individualist religious faith will grow even more than today. This embraces individual conversion, personal spirituality, and local autonomy of the congregations.
09: Sellers finds, despite the negative public reaction to them, various cults and religious scams will continue to flourish. As the pressures of living in a highly complex, physically dangerous and religiously confusing society grow, so too will the appeal of messiahs and various forms of escapist movements for seekers.
(The Futurist, 4916 St. Elmo Avenue, Bathesda, MD 20814-5089)
— By Erling Jorstad
Emerging divisions on Catholic-Evangelical pro-life front?
The Catholic-evangelical alliance discussed above may be experiencing some strains due to emerging divisions in the pro-life movement.
World magazine (Jan. 17) says that new drugs and techniques “threaten to blur the line between contraception and abortion — and in the process, perhaps, split evangelicals from their Catholic allies in the fight for the unborn.” Medical advances that allow women to take a pill or use a device to prevent a pregnancy shortly after intercourse are bringing the Catholic critique against contraception to the surface in pro-life circles.
Until now, Catholic and evangelical activists have agreed to put aside their differences over contraception for the sake of fighting abortion. While some think the new abortion technologies will lead evangelicals to rethink their position in favor of contraception (a phenomenon that is happening among some evangelicals), others believe there will be new divisions among pro-life activists. The key to preserving the alliance may be to emphasize educational and counseling programs that try to persuade women against making the abortion choice early-on, write Roy Maynard and Bob Jones IV.
A recent study of seminarians, however, suggests that future pastors of conservative Protestant churches will share with their Catholic counterparts a general opposition to family planning measures. Christopher Ellison and Patricia Goodson surveyed 635 seminary students from mainline and conservative evangelical schools and found significantly less support of family planning, including using or advocating the use of contraceptives (although there was not a complete opposition to contraception for married couples), according to the study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December).
A belief in biblical inerrancy and a resulting literal interpretation of God’s command in the book of Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply,” were found to be key predictors for such opposition.
(World, P.O. Box 2330, Asheville, NC 28802; Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1365 Stone Hall, Sociology Dept., Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1365)
Evangelical Catholicism in the making?
In its long history, Roman Catholicism has assimilated different philosophies and spiritualities as it expanded worldwide.
Is evangelical Protestantism next in line for such assimilation? That is the intriguing question asked by sociologist Gustavo Benavides in pondering the future of Catholicism in Latin America in the current issue of Social Compass (December), an international journal of the sociology of religion. In noting the sharp Protestant growth and the decline of liberation theology in Latin America, Benavides writes, “The question now is whether the church will be able to neutralize or assimilate Protestantism.
What is likely is that, with liberation theology exiled to the safety of the universities and publishing houses of the United States, the church will undertake a new Counter-Reformation, attempting to incorporate as many of the characteristics of evangelical Christianity as possible.”
He adds that a renewed Counter-Reformation is already taking place, with the Vatican encouraging the growth of such conservative movements as Opus Dei, which preaches personal discipline and productivity — the same values Protestantism has sought to cultivate among members as they participate in a capitalist economy. Benavides may attribute too much power to the Vatican, but his forecast of an increasingly “evangelical Catholicism” emerging in Latin America doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The weekly Brazilian magazine IstoE recently ran a survey showing that seminary students are closer to the evangelical-oriented charismatic movement than to liberation theology. The article, cited in the National Catholic Register (Jan. 18), reports that in 1994, there were four million charismatic Catholics in Brazil; now there are eight million. The dominating presence of charismatics in Catholic broadcasting in Brazil also shows this movement’s strong evangelistic thrust.
An attempt to strengthen evangelical-Catholic relations seems to be an important part of Catholicism’s new approach to Protestantism, both in Latin America and in other parts of the world. In First Things magazine (January), Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, the Vatican official on ecumenism, states that evangelization efforts and ecumenical activity in Latin America should go hand-in-hand. In order for such a new ecumenism to develop, Cassidy calls each tradition to recant the historic incriminations — and, in some cases, government restrictions — against each other. Cassidy says that Catholics and evangelicals should evangelize “with each other” rather than “against each other.
It is worth noting that the cardinal’s article is from an address he made to a gathering of the Latin American bishops and North American evangelicals and Catholics who had just signed a statement called the “Gift of Salvation.” The statement, organized by neoconservative Catholic leader Richard John Neuhaus and evangelical spokesman Charles Colson, finds basic agreement on the doctrine of salvation.
In 1994, Neuhaus and Colson drew together evangelical and Catholic leaders for an agreement on basic Christian doctrines and common social concerns such as abortion. The new agreement, as published in the same issue of First Things, goes a step further, stating that both traditions teach that salvation is the gift of God and that such an “understanding is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone.”
In fact, the language of the agreement, whose signers included Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ and Catholic theologian Avery Dulles and charismatic leader Ralph Martin, is strongly aimed toward evangelical sensitivities and concerns.
So, what is the the connection between the “The Gift of Salvation” statement and the evangelical-Catholic conflict in Latin America and other countries? If it can be shown that Catholics and evangelicals are in basic agreement about how one achieves salvation, then there would be no need for either group to target each other for evangelism or missions.
The statement is not official (although it has received support from some of the American Catholic hierarchy) and has already drawn fire from Catholics and, to a stronger degree, evangelicals. Yet it serves to show how the Catholic Church both in the U.S. and abroad is trying to make peace with evangelicalism and drawing upon the concerns and language of their “separated brethren.”
(Social Compass, 6 Bonhill St., London EC2A 4PU England; First Things, 156 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010)