In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: February 2003
- Jordan’s refugee camps an incubator for Islamic revival?
- African Islam being viewed as entry point for terrorism?
- Traditionalists move away from Rome, make their own trails
- New wild card in Anglican gay rights controversy
- Current Research: February 2003
- Quebec — a promised land for ‘cults’?
- Muslim homeschooling accelerates after 9/11
- Freemasonry gets new public face
- Mormon crossovers spawn evangelical fears
- Official and unofficial mormons prosper on internet
- Ex-seekers turn to discernment in spiritual life
- ‘Creatives’ and ‘influentials’ set tone for spiritual America?
01: Deprogramming had become an important issue in the cult controversies of the 1970s and probably contributed in part to polarization in the field.
Readers may be interested in an in-depth article published in Vol. 1, No. 3 of the Cultic Studies Journal, about how the old model of “forcibly deprogramming persons from controversial ideological organizations has given way to…non-coercive models” with an emphasis on a voluntary process, known as exit counseling.
According to authors Stephen A. Kent and Joseph Szimhart, at least in America, “involuntary extractions” have virtually disappeared since the mid-1990s. This partly derives from pressures and legal risks involved, but it also indicates a professionalization in the field (former deprogrammers getting degrees in programs related to mental health).
The article offers an overview on the history and decline of deprogramming as well as describing the various frameworks within which the exit counselors usually operate, such as secular-rational, conservative religious and transpersonal, sometimes involving “fringe therapies.”
For information on this issue write: Cultic Studies Review, P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133, or visit their Website at: www.culticstudiesreview.org.
In addition, Religioscope has posted an interview with Steve Hassan, “From deprogramming to strategic interaction,” in which Hassan describes his own evolution: http://www.religioscope.info/article_48.shtml)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Jordan, which has long stood apart from other Muslim nations for its more secular political outlook, may be moving in more religious directions due to the rising Muslim revival taking place among the country’s Palestinian refugees.
Palestinians are estimated to represent a majority of Jordan’s 5 million inhabitants. The Washington Post (Jan. 28) reports that it is in the impoverished refugee camps where the call for Islamic activism and rejection of American policies is the strongest.
The intractable nature of the refugees plight has drowned out the once-powerful influence of secular nationalism. “Islamic currents carrying messages of unity and defiance have filled that vacuum,” writes Anthony Shadid. Aid workers say that a decade ago in the main refugee camp of Baqaa only a small minority of schoolgirls wore the hijab or veil.
Today, practically all of them do. The union that represents the camp’s 4,500 teachers is now solidly in the hands of the Jordan’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood (which is increasingly Palestinian). In doing extensive polling in the country, Mustafa Hamarneh of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies estimates that the brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front, would today draw twice as many votes in the camps as elsewhere in Jordan.
Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African nations may be the next staging ground for the mixture of extremist Islam and terrorism, reports the Village Voice (Jan. 8-14).
“Africa’s widespread political unrest and economic instability have made many of its countries candidates for the next Afghanistan,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates. Strong Christian-Muslim violence found in Nigeria AND Sudan as well as a smoldering anti-Americanism may have helped radicalize Islam in these nations, and it may be the case that terrorists will use Islam as an entrance to these countries.
It is not unusual to see Osama Bin Laden posters in some African strongholds of Islam. Earlier Al Qaeda attacks in Tanzania and Kenya as well as new reports that Al Queda lieutenants took refuge in Liberia and Burkina FasoIt following these incidents all point to this region as a potential terrorism hot spot.
Patrick Gaffney, an anthropologist at Notre Dame University, counters that while these countries may be like Afghanistan in their chaotic structures, there are not the same religious parallels. He notes that extremist Islam has not gained the same sort of support in Sub-Saharan Africa as in the Middle East. But Coates writes that the terrorist network Al Qaeda may “care less about religious identity than the bottom line.”
African countries such as Liberia, for instance, have become safe havens for criminals — often through bribing officials and leaders — and potentially for more terrorists.
Hopes for a reconciliation between the Vatican and Catholic traditionalists appear to be growing dim. Following the decision by a group of Roman Catholic traditionalists in the Diocese of Campos, Brazil, to submit to Rome a year ago, there had been increased expectations that the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) might finally take the same road.
Those expectations were reinforced by the fact that there had been repeated contacts between representatives of the Holy See and Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the SSPX. However, In a letter written in early January 2003 to the friends and benefactors of the SSPX, Bishop Fellay concedes that, from the perspective of Rome, the developments in Campos had been meant as a prelude to the “regularization” of the SSSPX. But following a careful observation of what happened over the past year, “our fears roused by the Campos agreement have proved to be well-founded.”
What the SSPX would have expected in order to be convinced would have been a “fundamental rethinking” of what the Vatican II Council had set in motion. This is obviously not taking place, according to Bishop Fellay. He claims that the attitude of the Society’s former friends in Brazil has changed and that they are “moving further and further away from ourselves.”
The letter ends with reports about the activity of the SSPX in “missionary countries.” This has been a little-noticed fact, but over the past two decades, the Society has slowly taken root in places of the world where it had not been active before. The letter mentions the establishment of a beachhead in Lithuania in order to “better organize our apostolate in Russia and Belarus.” In those three countries, there are small groups of faithful gathering around priests sent by the SSPX for traditional Masses.
Groups in Kenya (including 16 nuns who are reported to have had to leave their convents because they refused Vatican II reforms) have come under the SSPX. In previous months and years, there have also been reports on activities at unexpected places such as India or Scandinavia as well as other Asian or African countries. While this does not come to very significant numbers, it is an interesting indication of a globalization of the SSPX.
(Website of the SSPX: http://www.sspx.org/)
— By Jean-François Mayer
The issue of homosexuality and its place in the churches of the Anglican Communion has created a good deal of turmoil in recent months, especially following the decision made last June by the diocese of New Westminster (British Columbia) to allow blessings of homosexual partnerships.
But there might still be more problems to come in 2003. The Australian newspaper The Age (Jan. 4) reports that “influential opponents” of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, plan to bring up to 150 English parishes under the spiritual leadership of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen.
Two conservative groups, Reform and Church Society, have been upset by the choice of the new Archbishop whom they consider as representing the liberal wing; moreover, Williams admitted he had ordained a practicing gay man. In a news release from the Church Society (http://www.churchsociety.org/press.html) dated Oct. 3, 2002, following “a candid exchange” between Williams and representatives of the group, it was made clear that Archbishop had an understanding of different issues “which evangelical Christians cannot accept” and urged him not to take the post — otherwise “his unscriptural views would compel conservative evangelicals to repudiate his oversight as Archbishop.”
A few days later, the society called him “to change or go.” Regarding Reform, in a press release dated Dec. 2, 2002, it called Williams “a false teacher” according to Biblical standards (http://www.reform.org.uk/).
Since Williams didn’t go, Reform and the Church Society are now attempting to find ways which would allow parishes to remain members of the Anglican Communion while coming under the oversight of a non-liberal bishop. The system of “flying bishops,” previously introduced for those parishes in the British Isles who didn’t accept female ordinations, set a precedent for such attempts to seek pastoral oversight on a non territorial basis. However, while Jensen expressed sympathy for members of Reform and Church Society, he considers it as another matter to become involved in Church of England affairs, but doesn’t rule out the possibility.
If Archbishop Jensen accepts the oversight of English congregations, “it could take the Anglican Church a significant step closer to self-destruction”, comments The Age. The Australian daily assumes that, being aware of this fact, Jensen might follow a conciliatory solution. But deep divisions within the Anglican Communion will make it increasingly difficult for it to keep its unity.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
01: Confidence in organized religion has been driven down to its lowest level in six decades, according to the most recent Gallup Poll.
The confidence index on established religion has declined from 60 percent of Americans holing high confidence in 2001 to only 45 percent in 2002. Pollster George Gallup finds that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, which unfolded largely in 2002, may be largely responsible for the overall drop. In measuring the ethical standards of clergy, only 52 percent of Americans gave clergy a very high or high ranking in 2002, compared with 64 percent who did so in 2001.
Gallup states that Protestants have not been much affected by the scandals in the polls; 59 percent said they had confidence in organized religion, while only 42 percent of Catholics said they did Because the confidence index before this year did not provide break downs of Catholic and Protestant responses, introducing the factor of the abuse crisis is speculative. But other researchers are currently undertaking polls to measure the satisfaction of Catholics with their church [RW cited a survey last month, showing that American Catholics are more satisfied with their parishes than their Australian counterparts; we neglected to mention that the survey was conducted before the scandals had hit the church.]
02: There has been a significant drop in U.S. Catholic school enrollment during the past year, reports the New York Times (Jan. 22).
The newspaper interviewed officials in 11 of the nation’s largest Catholic school systems who reported significant declines in the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade parochial school enrollments for the 2002-2003 school year. The declines raged from seven percent in Detroit to about 1.5 percent in New York. For more than a decade, Catholic school enrollments have increased throughout the country.
In the Archdiocese of Boston, where the sex abuse scandal was the most publicized, there was a six percent decline. Yet Catholic education officials attributed the declines more to rising tuition costs, migration of families to the suburbs and competition from charter schools. The article adds that anecdotal evidence supports these explanations. Enrollments at some schools directly impacted by these scandals have shown growth. Interviews with parents also suggest that even with the crisis, they plan to keep their children in Catholic schools because they trust the teachers.
03: Although there has been a significant increase in Americans claiming no religion during the past 10 years, the percentage of the truly “secular” may be much smaller than this population.
In the polling journal Public Perspective (January/February), researchers Ariela Keyser, Barry Kosmin, and Egon Mayer report on their recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), which finds a total of 29.5 million Americans either claiming no religion or describing themselves as atheist and agnostics — a figure that has more than doubled since the last ARIS survey in 1990, comprising 14.1 percent of the population. That 14 percent figure has in the last year been held up by secular humanists and atheists as representing a rising secular constituency in the U.S. [See November RW].
But the researchers stress that the “large and growing number of American adults who adhere to no religion, or describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or secular, is quite diverse.” Some are genuinely secular, being both unaffiliated and describing their outlook as secular, as well as not agreeing with the statement that “God exists,” but they represent only about one-fifth of the “no religion” respondents.
“A much larger proportion of the `nones’ are far from die-hard atheists or even agnostics.” Only 21 percent of the respondents who professed no religion disagreed with the statement that God exists and only 12 percent of them disagreed strongly.
(Public Perspective, Roper Center, 341 Mansfield Rd., Unit 1164, Storrs, CT 06269-1164)
04: Both Catholic and Protestant Hispanics continue to trail other ethnic and immigrant groups in training clergy, reports the Washington Times (Jan. 24).
The lack of priests and prospective priests among Hispanics has long been a problem in American Catholicism. While Hispanics make up about one-third of the nation’s 65 million Catholics, they represent just 3.6 percent of U.S. Catholic clergy. Evangelical and Pentecostal Hispanics may be better able to recruit potential clergy, but they still have problems with having the resources to train candidates and with “integrating them into the religious mainstream,” writes Larry Witham.
Hispanic seminarians and clergy are “dramatically underrepresented” in accredited theological schools,” says Rev. Edwin Hernandez, a Protestant sociologist at the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. There are four times more black students and twice as many Asians as Hispanic students at the 244 member seminaries of the Association of Theological Schools. Recent census data shows that there is about one Hispanic cleric for every 3,000 residents.
But the tide may be turning, especially for Catholics. Hispanics make up 60 percent of the 9,400 lay Catholics studying for certificates in theology and parish ministry. Neo-catechumenal groups, part of a Catholic spiritual renewal movement, are having some success interesting Hispanic high school students in college seminary study.
Following the recent media hype around the Quebec-based Raelian movement’s claims regarding cloning (which some observers suspect since the beginning of having been in fact a clever publicity stunt from a movement well-known for its provocative strategy), the Canadian media have published a series of articles on this controversy and other issues of new religious movements (or “cults”).
In a multi-part series of articles published on Jan. 25-26, the French-speaking Canadian newspaper La Presse reports that Québec has become a promised land for “cult leaders” having trouble in France, according to French scholar Jacques Cherblanc, all the French leaders of New Acropolis (a group with roots in the Theosophical movement) have settled in Québec and acquired Canadian citizenship.
In order to put the situation in Quebec in an international perspective for the sake of comparison, the newspaper (which speculates if Québec isn’t too liberal toward “quacks”) looks at what is happening in other countries. It contrasts the United States and the United Kingdom, with their strong emphasis on individual freedoms, and France, with its much more interventionist policy regarding smaller religious or parareligious groups. However, even in France, some are apparently beginning to wonder how much blacklisting groups or introducing new legal rules (as was done in 2001) may really solve the problem.
Alain Combet, one of the cult-watching activists interviewed by La Presse explains that either legal texts will be too vague and won’t help, or will be too restrictive and might threaten religious and individual freedom. Combet suggests that patient, daily work will be much more effective in blocking dubious groups within the use of existing laws and dissuading prospective members. Regarding Québec, La Presse considers as highly unlikely that there will be any change in the current, liberal practice.
— By Jean-François Mayer. RW contributing editor and founder of the Website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)
Home schooling among American Muslims is growing partly over a concern with extremism in Islamic schools, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor (Jan. 14).
Islamic homeschooling has existed for several years, but it has involved only a small minority of American Muslims. After September 11, however, new interest has been shown in homeschooling among Muslims, according to Fatima Saleem, who runs an Islamic homeschooling Website. Along with parents’ interest in an alternative education to help their children maintain their religious identity, there is now the concern that they may be exposed to extremist views in private Islamic schools.
“I’m scared for my children,” Saleem says. “Any of our children can get caught in someone’s rhetoric.” There is the fear that Muslim teachers may impart views that are not in sync with parents’ own Islamic views.
After Sept. 11, fears of renewed anti-Muslim prejudice has also fueled an interest in homeschooling, according to others interviewed. Saleem adds that Muslim homeschoolers, representing a few thousand students, are just starting to create their own curriculum and network with each other, such as in the Muslim Homeschool Network (http://www.muslimhomeschool.com) and the Palmetto Muslim Homeschool Resource Network.
Freemasonry in the U.S. is lifting the veil of secrecy from some of its rituals in order to fill its ranks, reports the Long Island section of the New York Times (Jan. 12).
Freemasonry is an international fraternal and charitable organization with secret rituals and a non-sectarian belief in a divine creator that dates back to the Middle Ages. The Masons have been declining in numbers since the 1950s and most members today are senior citizens. In a campaign to attract younger members, “Freemasons across the country are attempting to demystify the organization,” writes Marc Ferris. The outreach includes such innovations as applications available over the Internet and such venerable institution as the Grand Lodge in New York opening its doors for tours.
More controversial is the establishment of a one-day class (at least in New York state), where initiates can earn the first three Masonic degrees in one sitting. Traditionally, ascending to the higher degrees involved memorizing key parts of the ritual and other texts, usually taking several months. Some Masons criticize such moves, with one saying that “Initiation is a magical process, and we’ve lost the understanding of what the initiative, psychologically, really is.”
Steven Bullock, a historian and specialist on the Masons, says that these changes represent “uncharted territory.” For more than 200 years, potential members had to seek out membership through personally contacting a Mason.. “Now they seem to be moving into the more modern hard sell.” Most Masonic lodges, however, are still open only to “brothers” (male-only) and retain a few secret rituals, such as handshakes.
Mormons are increasingly borrowing and marketing to evangelicals, a fact that is causing considerable unease among some evangelical leaders.
The Christian Research Journal (Volume 25, Number 2) reports that after ads and reviews of the new film The Other Side of Heaven appeared in many Christian newspapers, radio stations and web sites, it was discovered that it was produced and directed by Mormons. Evangelical critics charged that the Mormons were deceptive in publicizing the film in evangelical outlets’ and the ads were soon pulled with apologies made to readers for the oversight. But director Mitch Davis says that while Mormons are portrayed sympathetically, the film has a naturally wide appeal because of its focus on morality and basic Christian beliefs.
The fact that the film and others like it [see the December RW for an article on the renaissance of Mormon filming] have been accepted by many evangelicals shows the similar culture of evangelicals and Mormons. “Step into the typical LDS bookstore, and you’re likely to find the same types of pop-culture alternatives that appear in a store owned by evangelicals,” writes Doug LeBlanc.
These stores are as likely to carry evangelical “contemporary Christian music” and evangelical children’s videos as more traditional Mormon fare. Leading the effort to blend with and borrow from evangelicals is the Salt Lake City-based Excel Entertainment Group. Excel head Jeff Simpson runs the company on the assumption that the divide between Mormons and evangelicals is not very wide, and he actively scouts for evangelical musical talent for Mormon venues (without making an attempt to bring Mormon music or films into evangelical bookstores).
Mormon director Richard Dutcher is up front about the LDS identity of his films, but he also believes that niche filmmking could be a means of dialogue between evangelicals and Mormons. He adds that Mormons could help improve the flawed quality of many evangelicals’ films.
(Christian Research Journal, 30162 Tomas, Rancho Santa Margarita 92688-2124)
The Internet has given unofficial and dissenting Mormon groups more breathing space, while the official LDS church is increasingly taking an optimistic approach toward this technology, writes Hugo Oaiz in the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone (December).
At first the open and dynamic quality of the Internet worried church leaders and other LDS members as participation in this technology could override the authority of the church. Dissenting and unofficial Mormon groups used the Internet to organize, interact and post scholarship not approved by the church. A recent example of how the Internet could subvert traditional church structures was a commercial site launched in 2001 providing confidential counseling for Mormons who do not want to turn to their bishops.
But Olaiz questions how far these unofficial group reach ordinary Mormons or provide a true open forum. The tendency is for these unofficial groups, such as discussion groups, to break off from each other and turn increasingly specialized, thus mainly preaching to the choir. The official LDS church has tried to curb these groups (particularly those using the church name), including preventing its own wards from having home pages, but it now realizes that maintaining a positive presence on the Internet for education and evangelism is the best antidote.
Even so, Olaiz writes that mainstream Mormons see the Internet as only a supplement to ward life, while dissenters and others on the margins rely on their virtual involvement for communication, dialogue, and “channeling their ideas into activism.”
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Saltake City, UT 84103-1215)
A growing interest in books on discernment points to a renewed search for guidance and direction among Christians, reports Religion Bookline (Jan. 7).
Driving the trend is more than a concern about seeking what God wants Christians to do with their lives. Popular titles such as Debra Farrington’s “Hearing with the Heart: A Gentle Guide to Discerning God’s Will for Your Life” (Jossey-Bass) sees discernment as the “uber-practice, tying together other practices such as prayer, scripture [study], reading, meditation and even group study as one tries to pay attention not just to ego or desire but also to what God wishes for us,” says Sheryl Fullerton of Jossey-Bass.
She adds that as many boomers have returned to Christianity after years of seeking and shopping for a faith, they now “want to do it right” and seek special guidance. Younger people may respond to the idea of discernment because of its ancient roots. “It’s perhaps
more dependable and more real than some attempts to be relevant or up to date,” Fullerton adds.
Other new discernment books may come in the guise of memoirs, such as. Nora Gallagher’s “Practicing Resurrection: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment, and Moments of Grace” (Knopf). The book, with sales of more than 50,000 copies, and has spawned numerous spin-off titles and support volumes. Other books, such as “Hearing God’s Call: Ways of Discernment for Laity and Clergy” (Eerdmans), focus on the idea that all people — not only the clergy — have a vocation to serve God and seek to help readers understand what God is calling them to do.
There have recently been several books and major articles about “cultural creatives” and other influential Americans who set the trends in society.
A series on the “creative class” in the Austin American-Statesman (Dec. 29) newspaper reports that an important trait of this group of Americans is their high interest in spirituality while showing less confidence in organized religion. Many books and articles have been devoted to this divorce between spirituality and religion, usually in relation to the baby boom generation, but writers Mark Lisheron and Bill Bishop note that this trend is more “advanced in U.S. cities that are the centers of technology and innovation, the nation’s cities of ideas.”
When the newspaper examined polling data collected by an advertising agency since the mid-1970s, it was found that people in these cities of ideas, such as Seattle, Denver, Atlanta and Austin, were less likely to attend church regularly than in cities with more traditional economies. These people are more likely to be involved in individualistic activities and have an interest in other cultures, yet like other Americans, they still have an interest in spiritual matters.
The trends of incorporating spirituality into work and creating congregations that blend various spiritualties are typical creative class innovations. The article views these individuals as being in the vanguard of challenging traditional religious forms, but concludes that it “remains to be seen if this creative class will reorder Christianity or bring chaos.”
The new book The Influentials (The Free Press, $26) explores how one class (they are not labeled as cultural creatives) influences other Americans and bring about wide-spread changes. Authors Ed Keller and Jon Berry use decades of Roper surveys to identify influential individuals — one in 10 Americans — who have special skills in networking and word-of-mouth conversation, are highly informed, and strongly active in their communities. Helped along by the Internet and the rising rate of education in the U.S., these influentials are adept at popularizing trends and products for the rest of Americans as well as globally .
The influentials were among the first to have personal computers and have helped revive notions of self reliance in education and health care. In religion, Keller and Berry find that the influentials are more active in organized religious life than other Americans, with six in ten going to church or synagogue services in the past month, and the majority going every week. More than one in 10 currently has a leadership position in a congregation or other religious group, which is triple the rate of the public as a whole. Yet the influentials are not significantly more likely to say that religion is “very important” in their lives (only half do).
They are not strict in their religious observance, and, disproportionate to the public as a whole, they tend to portray themselves as “spiritual but uncomfortable with organized religion” (22 percent, which is ten points higher than the public).
It seems clear that the creative class and the influentials (if they can be parsed apart as two distinct groups) differ sharply in their level of involvement in religious institutions. But both classes overlap in valuing spirituality over institutional involvement — which may mean that the spiritual market place will expand in the years ahead, even if organized religion stabilizes or declines.