In This Issue
- Millennium countdown — Y2K goes mainstream
- On/File: May 1999
- Findings & Footnotes: May 1999
- Sikh divisions marked by violence
- High tech jobs drawing ultra-Orthodox Jews
- Chinese new religion drawing, activating elderly
- Current Research: May 1999
- E-bank offerings gain currency
- Fasting embraces growing number of protestants
- Young pro-life activists aim for hearts and mind
- Religious right targets education, foreign policy
- Religious right dropping out?
- Cyber-sermons — how close to the real thing?
The Y2K computer problem, once the exclusive concern of conspiracy mavens and Christians viewing it as a catalyst for the End Times, has now hit the mainstream. Print and broadcast media have taken up the cause, running numerous reports detailing the origins of the problem, the progress made in fixing it, and possible problems and chaos that could erupt should it not be adequately repaired.
There have been several announcements of Y2K tests run successfully, and most large corporations and public institutions in the United States seem on track to completing necessary repairs of vital computer functions by the end of 1999. Although some problems are expected as the calendar changes, most computer experts do not believe that there will be widespread chaos on January 1, 2000. Nevertheless, Y2K “doomers,” as alarmists sometimes term themselves, are far from convinced. On web sites, discussion lists, and bulletin boards, the survivalist drumbeat is continuous.
TV evangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have weighed in, with Falwell terming Y2K as possibly “God’s instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation.” Gary North, a leading Y2K doomer and Christian Reconstructionist, in an April 24, 1999 posting on his web page, predicted widespread shortages of medicines, and claims that “it’s impossible for everyone to get through Y2K alive.” The Ark Institute calls food industry assurances that the food supply will be safe “magical thinking” and predicts dire food shortages by the year 2001.
Many Christians do actually look forward to whatever tributions Y2K will bring. While some concede that it likely is not a sure predictor of Christ’s return, Y2K is considered a catalyst for immense social, political, and spiritual change. Eugene Gross, of Third Day Ministry, has posted Y2K predictions on web pages and discussion lists, and believes Y2K will destroy “the two main gods of this civilization — money and technology,” bringing down “wicked” governments with them. The Remnant Living website (www.patriarch.com) predicts that only those who prepare and who accept Christ will be able to withstand the crisis and forge a new Christian society.
Law enforcement and other observers fear that a group or individual may use Y2k to provoke a genuine crisis that will cause mass hysteria. To this end many agencies have in place contingency plans should problems arise, plans which have prompted alarmists to assume that Martial Law will be declared and the New World Order will officially begin.
The truth is, of course, no one can predict what will happen on Jan. 1. The only certainty, as we creep closer to New Year’s Day, is that the next few months will be of great interest to religion watchers.
01: The creation of the Ave Maria School of Law to open in the year 2000 is an attempt to integrate Catholic teachings with a conventional law school curriculum.
Funded by the founder, and now retired head, of Domino’s Pizza, Tom Monaghn, the Ann Arbor-based school will be the centerpiece for conservative Catholic teachings applied to the full range of legal scholarship and practice. Already the well known jurist, Robert Bork has joined several others on the faculty. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court is on the school’s board of advisors. Admission will be open to all, Catholics and non-Catholics.
Monaghan says the school will become the “West Point of leadership for Catholic laity in the years to come.” Some two dozen law schools affiliated with the Catholic church are now in existence, though supporters of Ave Maria say they take a secularized approach to legal issues.
(Source: USA Today, April 9; Credo, April 19)
— By Erling Jorstad
02: As Jon Bloch states in his new book, New Spirituality, Self and Belonging: How New Agers and Neopagans Talk About Themselves (Greenwood Publishing Group/Prager, $55), those adhering to New Age and Neopagan teachings believe “The self is considered the final authority as to what to practice or believe.”
They hold that dogma is an unreliable source of truth; truth can only be determined through one’s personal experience. Although those involved in countercultural spiritual movements generally exhibit a wide range of beliefs, one can detect commonalties and, indeed, an underlying sense of community that binds disparate believers together.
Bloch’s research sought to analyze this diverse community, using interviews with 22 persons whose core beliefs tended to be rooted in varying forms of Neopagan and Native American religion. Most (77 percent) had been raised Christian; the remainder had been raised with little or no religious training.
Bloch’s respondents exhibited considerable overlap in beliefs, although no two were exactly alike. All appeared to practice an evolving spirituality, in which they were continually open to new experiences and beliefs. Bloch implies that his subjects’ beliefs were thus not the product of aimless searching for just anything to believe in, but the result of an active quest for the “right” faith.
While Bloch provides useful and often insightful commentary on his subjects’ beliefs, he often neglects to closely challenge respondents’ statements and seems to accept their stories at face value.
— Reviewed by Lin Collette
01: That a positive view of religion and the “faith factor” have found a place in mainstream American political discourse is demonstrated in the current issue of the Brookings Review (Spring), the journal of the establishment political think tank, the Brookings Institution.
The issue features a wide range of articles: overviews of the religion and politics scenes by guest editors E.J. Dionne, Jr., and John J. DiIuilio, Jr. and Richard Ostling; a comparison between social and religious views from 1965 and 1998; religion and the presidency; and faith-based social action and the role of black churches on poverty issues.
Sociologist Tony Campolo provides an interesting account of the controversy among fellow evangelicals surrounding his work as a counselor to Bill Clinton.
This issue costs $4.50 and is available from: Brookings Review, 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
02: Last month’s article on trends among the Old Catholics focused on this church in Europe and did not mention the minority in the U.S. The National Catholic Reporter (April 23) features an interesting report on the Old Catholic Church in the U.S.., showing how OC’s have often stagnated, appointing as many bishops as priests (600,000 OC’s in the U.S. is a “conservative estimate” according to one official).
The church is now trying to draw in liberal, dissenting Roman Catholics. But without structures and seminaries, Bishop Peter Hickman admits that the church “has become a refuge for every kind of Catholic schismatic for all kinds of different reasons.”
For info on obtaining this issue write: National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141
03: Readers can still get a discount copy of Against The Stream: Religion in the New Millennium, by RW‘s editor and Don Lattin.
The book, which serves as a handbook of trends on today’s religious scene illustrated by real life accounts, comes with a CD-ROM that links readers from discussions in the text to related web sites on the Internet. While our supply is dwindling down, readers can get a copy for only $18 — postage and handling included (Canadians add an extra $3 and foreign subscribers add $7).
Make out payments to Religion Watch and send to: P.O. Box 652 North Bellmore, NY 11710.
As Sikhism celebrates its 500th anniversary this year, the religion is racked by a division that threatens to split its ranks.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (April 9) reports that the seemingly minor issue of whether to take a religious meal while seated at a table or on the floor has unleashed a string of violent incidents, not to mention a defacto schism. Traditionally, Sikh’s have shared the community meal, known as langar, sitting on the floor as a sign of equality.
But in many temples, tables and chairs have been allowed to accommodate the elderly and infirm, especially on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada The conflict first unfolded in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1997, when fundamentalists” removed furniture from a temple. When moderates attempted to bring back the chairs and tables a near riot broke out.
After similar incidents and protests in other temples in the U.S. and Canada, the leader of the Golden Temple, Ranjit Singh, mandated last April that tables and chairs be removed from temple dining halls. Singh has been a favorite of hardliners, although critics note that he was convicted of murdering a rival in 1980 (eventually pardoned, however). A lawsuit filed by moderates last year brought them back into power in the prominent Ross Street Temple in Vancouver, but this only caused a new round of violence.
Last November, the publisher of a community newspaper critical of the hard-liners was shot to death. Another hard-liner in Florida opened fire in a temple killing one person. Ken Bryant, a University of British Columbia expert on Sikhism says the conflict involves Sikhism’s anti-hierarchical and anti-caste origins, where “there was a strong reaction against the notion of expensive temples and paid priests.”
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, long cloistered from the work world in their extensive study of religious texts, are moving into the high tech world, reports the Detroit News (April 8).
A recent lack of funds for seminary studies has forced some rabbinical students to seek employment, particularly as the Israeli government is less willing to give state subsidies to the burgeoning ultra-Orthodox community. The problem for ultra-Orthodox students is finding employers who can accommodate their strict rules and lifestyles, one of which is the near total separation of the sexes.
The more flexible work of computer programming has appealed to many of the ultra-Orthodox. Since there is a shortage of programmers, hi-tech employers have eagerly established training programs — and generally find their students and graduates excelling in the field.
One ultra-Orthodox student says the analytical and memory-based skill honed in studying the Torah made computers easy and fun. Some students, however, still worry about the negative reaction of their communities and the stigma of such work.
A quasi-Buddhist millennial religion is spreading rapidly throughout China, leading the government to fear its influence.
The Wall Street Journal (April 26 and 30) reports that 10,000 devotees of a mystical religious philosophy known as Falun Dafa recently filled the sidewalks of Beijing to demand recognition by the government and the lifting of a ban of the writings of their leader Li Hongzhi. It was the largest gathering of protesters since the Tienenman Square protest and massacre in 1989. Although there have been attempts to label the group a dangerous cult, the government is mainly taking a hands-off policy because of the group’s strength.
Observers were also caught off guard that the followers were mainly middle-aged and elderly men and women rather than the youthful protesters of decade ago, writes Benoit Vermander, a veteran China watcher. He adds that the older generations are resentful of being forsaken by the state — and sometimes by their own families — in the midst of economic change.
It is estimated the Li is the spiritual leader of millions of Chinese, as well as overseas supporters. Falun Dafa consists of healing and breathing techniques that aim to lead followers to enlightenment. Besides teaching strict moral standards, Li emphasizes something called a “law wheel,” a ceaselessly spinning miniature of the cosmos which is telekinetically “installed” in his followers’ abdomen, which protects them from illness and evil spirits.
Li denies that his teachings form an organized religion (which would mean that the group would be banned), but the mass gatherings are orchestrated by leaders and proselytism is held through seminars. Last year, tens of thousands of Falun Dafa practitioners held a rally in the city of Wuhan in which they formed a huge human image of the law wheel. Even as Beijing fears the political power of Li and his followers, Falun Dafa practitioners’ influence has even become pervasive in the government.
01: Americans are strongly divided on age, as well as income and other demographics regarding their belief in Christ’s second coming, according to an analysis of recent surveys.
There is likely to be a flurry of polls on end-time subjects as the new millennium draws near, but the Public Perspective (February/March), the journal of the Roper Center, finds that recent survey results already point to some noteworthy patterns on millennial beliefs. Most polls find a significant percentage of Americans believe in the second coming of Christ and even that it may not be far off.
In three separate polls conducted between 1992 and January, 1999 by Yankelovich, Clancy, Shulman, and Yankelovich Partners, 27 percent to 36 percent of Americans said they believed the second coming was likely to occur sometime during the 21st century (a smaller minority of 20 percent believe this will take place around the year 2000). More Americans believe in the world’s imminent end if the survey question specifies a religious causation.
For instance, a 1998 Peter D. Hart poll found that 25 percent of Americans believed there was a greater than 50-50 likelihood that during the next 30 years the Judgment Day would come, bringing the world to an end. But a 1998 Gallup poll showed that nearly four in ten Americans thought it was very or somewhat likely that the world would end because of a religious event in the next century.
Demographic differences are significant in most surveys. Women, minorities and Southerners are more likely to expect the end of the world, just as they rate higher in religious beliefs than others. But the big surprise is that younger Americans are consistently more likely to have strong end-time beliefs; 28 percent of those 18-29 believe the second coming will be around 2000, compared to 14 percent of those over 65.
It’s a surprise because young adults are less religious or about equally religious as their elders. Writers John Benson and Melissa Herrmann conclude that popular culture (such as TV shows like Millennium) is filled with these themes, and young adults’ interest in them may have little to do with actual religious belief.
(Public Perspective, Roper Center, University of Connecticut, Stoors, CT 06268)
02: A Georgetown University research team recently reported a noticeable increase in the number of men entering Catholic seminaries with the intention of ordination and parish service.
The report notes some 3,386 men are enrolled in post-graduate theology, a four to six year program that leads to ordination. USA Today ( April 12) reports that this is an increase of 7 percent over the l997-98 academic year, and the largest enrollment since 3,416 were enrolled in 1993-94. The report, however, also notes the total number of priests projected to be active by 2005 will be 40 percent lower than figures of the mid-1960s.
The recent increase is attributed to the growing number of men in mid-careers, from 30 to to 50 years of age, enrolling in preparation for the priesthood.
— By Erling Jorstad
03: A decade ago libertarians were highly irreligious, both in affiliation and practice, but that seems to be changing, according to a recent poll.
The libertarian magazine Liberty (April) compares polls it conducted among libertarians — those believing in freedom from government in most areas of life — in 1988 and then in 1998 and found a good deal of change. In almost every way libertarians varied from the American norm in 1988 — in religion, age, marital status, and education — but there was less variation in 1998.
Twenty three percent said they were a follower of a religion in 1988, while 29 percent said so in 1998. Only two percent said they attended church in the last week in the 1988 survey, while 13 percent said they did so in 1998. Seven percent said they never attended church a decade ago, while two percent said they never did in 1998.
(Liberty, 1018 Water St., #201, Port Townsend, WA 98368)
04: The popular practice of yoga appears to have a positive effect on sex offenders, according to a recent small-scale study in Utah.
The study, conducted by the University of Utah’s School of Social Work, was composed of 14 teenage boys treated for repeated sex offenses, such as rape. The youths practiced “meditation, relaxation and controlled breathing” techniques, which effectively “stemmed deviant impulses” in the study group, says researcher David Derezotes.
The study is cited in the online newsletter Fearless News (April 5) and is to be published in the upcoming issue of Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. Although the study took place in the university’s “yoga clinic,” there was an attempt to use content “sensitive to the diversity of all religions…It worked well with a mixture of kids and was adaptive to various faith systems,” Derezotes said.
(Fearless News, http://www.fearlessbooks.com)
In an effort to increase giving, congregations across the U.S. are taking donations automatically out of members’ bank accounts, reports the Detroit News (April 13).
The Lutheran Brotherhood, a fraternal organization, has signed up more than 600 Lutheran congregations for such “e-bank” offerings. Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal and nondenominational churches are also experimenting with electronic-funds-transfer programs. This convenience, however, is causing new social and theological dilemmas.
“There’s a stigma when the offering plate goes by and you have nothing to put in it,” says Jeanne Rose, president of Vanco Services Inc., which provides e-bank offering programs for many churches. In more liturgical churches, giving offerings is a form of thanksgiving which preludes communion. The Lutheran Brotherhood gives church members bright stickers to affix to empty envelopes to signify they have already given.
In the past five years, a sizable number of American Protestants, both evangelical and mainline, have greatly increased their involvement in the spiritual practice of fasting. evangelicals.
Christianity Today (April 5) reports that fasting for specific periods of time is claimed to enhance believers’ awareness of profound spiritual searching. Books on fasting have been best-sellers among evangelicals and mainline Protestants. A Campus Crusade for Christ conference on Fasting and Prayer attracted over 2,000,000 readers on the Internet at 4,100 satellite sights. The U.S. Prayer Track program has drawn over l0,000 inquirers interested in fasting and prayer.
Recognized leaders such as Bill Bright, Jerry Falwell and Ronnie Floyd have added their personal involvement and endorsement to those seeking renewal through formalized prayer and fasting. The article adds that teenagers are fasting in “record numbers” giving the entire movement more “depth and unifying character.” World Vision tells of significant numbers of teens fasting annually during its 30-Hour Famine.
Beyond that, observers notice the fasting movement is attracting fresh support within ecumenical movements throughout city movements, crossing denominational lines and attracting new cooperative arrangements between denominational and parachurch programs. With some exceptions, most evangelicals go anywhere from 24 hour regiments to 40-day fasts using only liquids. Falwell reports he lost some 82 pounds on his fast.
Observers suggest the prayer/fasting emphasis reflects the growing concern among Protestants to find new ways to express their ongoing spiritual quest for meaning and personal discipline.
— By Erling Jorstad
A new generation of pro-life activists are emerging that take a more “evangelical” approach, seeking to convert teens and young adults to the cause through personal contact and Internet use, according to an in-depth article in the Washington Post Magazine (April 18).
While the confrontational activism of anti-abortion “rescue” efforts have been marginalized by tough laws and restraining orders, the fight against abortion and other life issues is being finding a younger generation of leaders and followers. “While many of [the new movement’s] leaders are in their twenties and early thirties, most of those they are seeking to reach are in high school. Their medium is not bullhorns outside clinics but the Internet, underground rock music and trained teen missionaries,” writes Tamara Jones.
At the heart of the new crusade is the personal message that, as one leader tells teens, “One-third of your generation has been murdered in the womb” They consider abortion their own Holocuast, “and anyone born after 1973 a survivor.” The young pro-lifers are found in such organizations as Why Life and, especially, Rock for Life, a group that specializes in producing pro-life CDs, concerts, and other forms of youth outreach.
Although, the new generation appear less focused on legal and political efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and more interested in winning hearts and minds, they are planning a “Pro-Life Youth Pledge to Congress” in the year 2,000. The goal is to deliver 100,000 signatures to the White House and Congress — twice the 50,000 names collected by Rock for Choice.
An increasingly popular drive is emerging among religious right leaders to weaken the public education system with its alleged hostility to traditional morality and poor record of classroom achievement.
In recent months such prominent leaders as the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Tim LaHaye, popular rightist author, have endorsed plans “to seriously cripple the power that secularism now holds over our culture,” especially the children held “hostage” in public schools. In the Arizona Republic (April 10), D.K. Caldwell reports that four leaders stand out as being responsible for the growing popularity of the movement.
These are the Rev. E. Raymond Moore of South Carolina with his recently formed Exodus 2000 crusade; Brannon House of St.Paul, Minn. who heads the Exodus Project; a third is Robert Simonds of Irving, Calif., who leads the Citizens for Excellence in Education program. The acknowledged leader is Marshall Fritz, an original founder of the Libertarian Party who works with the Separation of School and State Alliance.
As the Religious Right prepares for the upcoming Presidential and Congressional elections of 2000, several of its leaders have also intensified their attempts to change American foreign policy. William Martin writes in the journal Foreign Policy (Spring), that the religious right has stepped up its pressure on Congress to reject the United Nations global warming treaty. There have also been efforts to repeal the North American Free Trade Alliance; religious rightists also have deep skepticism that the International Monetary Fund is more than a front for politically and morally liberal ideologues, and are calling for a vast increase in spending for missile defense systems.
Beyond that, Martin adds that the religious right has demonstrated its clout by being largely responsible in l990 for the United States declining to join the UN Population Fund which needed U.S. funding to provide contraceptives to some l.4 million women in 150 countries.
— By Erling Jorstad, a RW contributing editor and author of books on the religious right.
Is the religious right going underground?
That question is making the rounds in political circles as leaders of the religious right themselves question whether American society has moved beyond the pale of reform after the failure to impeach President Bill Clinton. The Wall Street Journal (April 9) reports that much of this talk started when Paul Weyrich, a pioneer of the new right, wrote in his column that Christians and other religious conservatives ought to disengage from the culture and create their own “institutions and structures,” and abandon the public schools in favor of home schooling.
James Dobson and Cal Thomas weighed in with a similar view in their new book, “Blinded by Might.”.In the book they claim that all the years of religious right activism have achieved little; the “moral landscape of America has become worse.” Dobson and Thomas call for Christians to give up organized politics and concentrate on spiritual and church life.
On the Catholic right, one hears similar strains of alienation from American culture and society. In the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis (April), Ralph McInerny writes that after the “apparent popular response to Bill Clinton’s degradation of the presidency is difficult to go on thinking that there is any widespread resistance to the neo-pagan takeover.” While it is “not natural for Catholics to accept estrangement from their own country,” he looks to the same countercultural groups as Weyrich and other critics to help Christians resist the new dark ages.
Home schooling and the newly established conservative Catholic colleges (parochial schools are not mentioned) represent a new “monastic movement” where the last vestiges of culture are preserved. [The obituary that some of its leaders are writing for the religious right may be only part of a periodic bout of frustration with the current political order. The same sentiments about marginalization and loss of influence were expressed after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 — two years before the religious right comeback in Congress. The next article suggests that religious right activism is far from going underground.]
(Crisis, 1814 and 1/2 N St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20036)
While religion has carved out its own niche on the Internet, observers are questioning how “cyber-faiths” will impact actual religious involvement and institutions.
This concern has come to the surface especially in recent months as churches and individuals have established web sites devoted to delivering sermons from a wide variety of faiths to believers and seekers in both text and audio formats. There are a growing number of “web cams” in churches that enables arm’s-length religious participation. Some organizations, such as the Vatican, also broadcast services live in real time on the Internet. Other less technologically advanced sites offer access to recorded services.
For millions of believers, the Internet has become a place where one can easily find God–or at least His followers. An Internet search by the Dallas Morning News (Dec. 26) picked up 5 million hits for the word Christian, 500,000 for Islam, 230,000 for Hindu, and 8,000 for Wicca. Free discussion list host sites such as Onelist.com have hundreds of religiously oriented lists to choose from. Churches and denominations worldwide have established web sites in hopes of serving their members and converting the as yet unchurched.
One popular Islamic site is Islamicity.com, devoted to spreading Muslim teachings worldwide. Gemal Seede, the Los Angeles-based webmaster, built his site in an effort to help believers stay spiritually connected with each other. Zoroastrians, members of one of the oldest world religions, have embraced the Internet as a means of creating virtual communities for their frequently isolated believers and to preserve their faith.
Christian sites are plentiful, as one might expect. One large site is the Cyberchurch of the Remnant, “formed for Christians who are not aligned with a church.” The Cyberchurch seeks those who have abandoned denominations and churches that have “hindered their walk with Christ.” Based in Hawaii, it mostly appeals to conservative Christians, and offers chat rooms, devotionals, and sermons. Prayer is one of the most popular activities on the various religious sites. A recent survey conducted by Ken Bedell and the Forum Foundation in Seattle found that 52 percent of respondents said they have asked other people to pray for them in e-mail messages; 70 percent said they have prayed for people because of getting e-mail.
The appeal of cybersermons and other types of religious web sites is varied, according to interviews conducted by this writer. Some users, such as Kate O’Donnell, rely on online worship to substitute for physical attendance at church services. As a health care worker, her hours often prevent regular visits to churches. She says, “by using online sites, I can read sermons, devotionals, and use chat rooms to fellowship with believers it might be difficult to meet because of my job.”
She says that someday her schedule will permit her to join a church and attend regularly, but for now, “this helps me on my journey.” Kevin Neese uses sermons in both text and audio formats, often perusing “old sermons by preachers I am familiar with, and I enjoy the opportunity of hearing a famous sermon I had not been able to find on tape.” He has also used sermon sites as teaching resources for his Sunday School classes.
Many net observers caution that religious web sites in themselves should not be considered all-in-one tools. John Morehead, of Watchman Fellowship, finds the Internet to be useful in offering apologetics resources, but thinks that face-to-face evangelism is more effective in bringing believers to a religious faith. Mark Johns, a Lutheran pastor and doctoral candidate at the University of Iowa School of Journalism, calls Internet religion “preaching to the choir” for the most part. “It offers persons already committed to the faith some additional options for community fellowship and support.” It also provides information that enables believers to shop for a denomination — or even a congregation — in a non-threatening, relaxed manner.
Brenda Brasher, a theorist focusing on cyberspace and religion believes that cyber- religion prompts “new instances of convergences and cooperation” among faith groups. This is especially true, she says, in cyber-millennialism, where Christian millennial web sites will often be linked to Jewish Zionist web sites. In the case of cyber-evangelism, it may be a similar situation to televangelism.
Scholars and observers questioned just how many believers actually were drawn to new faiths via new media forms, an issue never satisfactorily answered. In any case, Brasher is convinced that cyber-evangelism will continue and even increase. Religious groups, traditional or alternative, “have almost unanimously concurred that cyberspace is a place where they must be active” in order to grow and to survive.
— By Lin Collette, a RW contributing editor based in Pawtucket, R.I.