In This Issue
- On/File: November 1999
- Findings & Footnotes: November 1999
- Cambodian religious freedom brings on evangelical surge
- Ganesh galvanizing Hindu nationalists?
- Satanist-based vandalism in Russia, Norway?
- Current Research: November 1999
- Vacation Bible School rebounds, draws in new participants
- Karate – the evangelicals’ bingo?
- Healing rated most durable new age innovation
- Practical preaching predominating?
- Spirituality gains support, credibility among workers, CEOs
- Law enforcers going back to school on new religions?
01: In a move directly related to the larger struggle now going on within the Christian Right over whether to drop out of secular society and form a countercultural society or to keep trying to transform secular society, leaders of the latter course of action are starting the Patrick Henry College.
The Purcellville, Va.-based college is being created explicitly for home schoolers going on to college level work and then moving into activism for the Christian Right agenda. Having grown in 20 years from a few hundred homeschoolers to some l.5 million this last year, leaders are laying plans to shape the next generation of rightist activists through this college. Home school leaders such as Michael Farris sees Patrick Henry as the place where activists can enter directly into public life to shape policies just as the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee turned out such activists as Rosa Parks for the civil rights crusade.
Students at Patrick Henry will take basic Christian-oriented humanities and science courses. Dedicated, as its mission statement reads, to “transform America” through such causes as repealing Roe vs. Wade and curtailing gay rights programs, all of the students will be government majors, with intern and off campus experience built into their studies for influencing governments from the local to the national level.
Students will, according to Farris, dress modestly, refrain from any alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, and follow the requirement that any boy seeking to know an individual girl needs her parents’ written permission before starting any courtship. the collegians will seek employment in the world of public policy making and administering.
(Source: Washington Post (National Weekly Edition), Oct.4)
— By Erling Jorstad
01: “Convergence” is the new buzzword among those writing about the relation of technology and the rest of culture.
The technology magazine Forbes ASAP (October) fills 284 pages in a special issue devoted to how all sorts of things are coming together: computers and the media, religion and science, biology and behavior, business and art. The 52 writers — including Bill Gates, Muhammad Ali and Tom Wolfe — often turn to the religious and spiritual themes and implications of convergence.
Futurist George Gilder links spirituality with the freedom and global character of the Internet; theologian Keith Ward finds growing unity among religions as the world moves together (interestingly, futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler see more fragmentation developing among faiths over technological issues); and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson predicts a more “secular mode” of life emerging, as morality and belief are shown to be biologically based.
In a penetrating and humorous article, Tom Wolfe pours cold water on the whole convergence enterprise. Wolfe traces the concept’s lineage to Catholic thinkers Tielhard de Chardin and Marshall McLuhan’s idea of spiritual evolution and unity and notes how computer and technology people have imbibed their philosophy.
“You can pick up any organ of the digital press…and close your eyes and riffle through the pages and stab your forefinger and come across evangelical prose that sounds like a hallelujah! for the ideas of Teilhard or McLuhan or both.”
More information on this issue can be found on Forbes ASAP’s web site: www.forbesasap.com.
02: The debate about secularization is still going strong in the academic world judging by the latest issue in the journal Sociology of Religion (Fall).
The issue devotes itself to past and present theories of secularization and how they can be explained, or dismissed, by the persistence and, in some cases, rebirth of religious beliefs and institutions. The reason secularization is still seen as important by several of the contributors, such as Belgian sociologist Karel Dobbelaere, is that they define it as a complex phenomenon involving not only the decline of faith, but also the pluralism and individualism of modern religious expressions that weakens its societal influence.
In one of the more readable articles in the issue, Rodney Stark argues that any such developments should be seen only as changes rather than as signs of religious decline. Stark examines historical and contemporary case studies — from 19th century British parish records to beliefs in Iceland — to suggest that there was no golden age of belief in the past and there is far from a secular escalation in the present.
For information on this issue, send to: Sociology of Religion, 3520 Wiltshire Drive, Holiday FL 34961-1239.
03: Wade Clark Roof’s new book Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (Princeton University Press, $24.95) continues where his earlier work Generation of Seekers left off.
The book includes data and interpretation on the baby boomers he studied in the 1980s and then takes a look at how they have changed in the 1990s through interviews and survey research. Even more so than in the earlier book, Roof sees the traits and styles of baby boomers as transforming the entire American religious landscape. Roof finds an increasingly fluid manner of religious practice; interest in spirituality remains high while many of those who had returned to congregational life have since dropped out again (and some then returned again).
Roof sees differences among American believers and divides them into five subcultures: born again Christians, mainstream believers (Catholics, Jews and mainline Protestants), dogmatists (such as fundamentalists), metaphysical believers (New Age, occult), and secularists. Aside from the dogmatists and secularists, Roof sees major convergences developing among these groups toward a “questing” culture that accepts doubt and stresses the experiential side of religion (he sees liberalization within evangelicalism as decisive for these changes to have nationwide impact).
As with A Generation of Seekers, Roof tends to see these trends as positive signs of religious vitality (though not without their problems), but more pessimistic interpretations can also be mined from the data and case studies he ably provides.
With greater freedom for Christian and other non-governmental groups, Cambodian churches are growing.
There are more than 1,000 evangelical churches in the country, up from about 50 in 1992, Religion Today (Oct. 25) reports. While there are about 120 Christian and Missionary Alliance churches and the Assemblies of God has about 1,000 members, congregations started by native Cambodians are growing the fastest. Many Cambodians became Christians in Thai refugee camps and evangelized their countrymen when they returned. Cambodians who became Christians in the United States are also returning to spread the gospel.
Los Angeles pastor Christopher LaPel started one of Cambodia’s largest indigenous churches. LaPel, a native Cambodian, started several churches in a Thai refugee camp and later helped the congregations resettle in northwest Cambodia. Today the movement has 314 churches serving 18,000 in three provinces.
The spread of Christianity is not due to any planned evangelistic program, but occurs as “the Gospel passes from believers to their friends and relatives, from one village to its neighbor,” LaPel says.
The elephant Ganesh, one of the most common among the Hindu’s pantheon of gods and goddesses, is increasingly being put to service of Indian nationalists, reports the Washington Times (Oct. 2).
That Ganesh is becoming a vehicle for Hindu nationalism and political activism was evident in the recent elections in India, where images of the god often led parades calling for Hindu unity. The movement known as the Hindu Munnani spearheads the activist wing of nationalism and it has adopted Ganesh as its symbol of a Hindu reawakening and political renaissance, particularly among the lower-caste Hindus.
The more mainstream element of the nationalist movement represented by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has called for moderation and compromise, such as retaining rights for religious minorities. But the hard core agenda of the Munnani call for a completely Hindu state and often refer to the onslaught of traditional Hinduism by the growth of (and conversions to) Christianity and Islam.
The Munnani and Hindu nationalism in general has grown rapidly in South India, where it has never been strong. A decade ago, the Ganesh festival would take place with a few idols and a small number of Mummani; today, “some 1,400 Ganesh idols are immersed in the ocean by 40,000 boys and young men,” reports Robert Marquand.
Satanism is often viewed as either a teen prank that can not sustain an actual movement (particularly since the collapse of organized Satanism in the U.S. since the death of Anton LaVey), or by many conservative Christians as an active force often aimed against them and their faith.
Recent incidents in northern Europe and Russia suggest that Satanism may be both a teen phenomenon as well as take on an actively anti-Christian thrust. In the journal of new religions Nova Religio (October), Robert Ellwood reviews the book Lords of Chaos (Feral House) and finds its reportage of the “Satanic metal underground” nothing to shrug off. The book, which looks at the connection between the heavy metal music subculture and Satanism, draws a contrast between the youth fad in America and darker currents in Europe, particularly Norway.
In Ellwood’s words, the book finds Norway “something of cynosure of musical diabolism, Neo-Nazism, and the darker forms of Neopaganism. The Satanism-metal connection is seen in a series of recent burnings of no less than 45 Norwegian churches, including the priceless stave churches built in medieval times.
“Many if not most of the arson has been linked to persons in the black metal world who in interviews or in court have hinted or boasted that the fires were Odins, or Satan’s, or Hitler’s revenge on Christianity.” When communism first fell in Russia and other former Soviet countries, there was the a growth of occult activities, including groups allegedly claiming some connection to Satanism. But more recently, individuals claiming Satanist influence have been striking out especially against Christian churches and holy objects, reports the Danish Christian countercult journal, Spirituality in East and West (No. 12).
Russian journalist Sergei Chapnin writes that “manifest anti-Christian sects” have grown in Russia and Belorus in the last five years. “Profanation of Christian sacred things, anonymous threatening calls to the addresses of the clergy, blasphemous publications in the press — all of this has happened several times recently. One of the most serious incidents was the profanation of an Orthodox church where icons were smeared with black paint and the walls were covered with “blasphemous writings with direct threats to physical annihilation of Christians, and Satanic symbolism.”
As with others suspected and convicted, those arrested claimed involvement in Satanist groups (of which there are 30 groups in Moscow, Chapnin writes). But Chapnin acknowledges that this vandalism is done by teens whose knowledge of Satanism comes from videos and “different trends within rock music.”
(Spirituality in East and West, Dialog Center, 46, Katrinebjergvej, DK-8200 Aarhus N, Denmark)
01: Strong new evangelical churches started by Latin Americans and tailored to immigrants are appearing and growing in the United States, according to recent research.
The congregations are led by immigrants from Latin America who view the U.S. as being infected by “materialist secularism,” says Uruguayan researcher Jose Gonzales. He finds that more than 1,000 evangelical churches of Latin American origin have opened recently in the United States, according to a Religion Today (Oct. 27) report.
One example is Eklessia USA, whose congregation is the fasting-growing Protestant church in Fairfax, Va. The church is made up of people from 13 Latin American nationalities and African and Asian countries who receive the Christian message through a translator. Leaders from the Latin churches are usually professionals who may have started out poor but have improved their lot.
02: Atheists and agnostics have beliefs and practices that may parallel those of believers in God, according to a study by the Barna Research Group.
The study, presented in an October 15 news release, finds that of the seven percent of the adult population who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, two percent attend Christian services; on last Easter Sunday 12 percent of that segment — approximately a million and a half adults — attended church. The study maintains that most atheists and agnostics belief that Heaven exists; some believe that the Bible is “totally accurate” in all that it teaches (13 percent), and that Satan is a living force that influences peoples’ lives (15 percent).
About one out of five atheists and agnostics (19 percent) pray to God during a typical week. Barna finds that many atheists and agnostics describe themselves incorrectly. Many so-called atheists may believe in some kind of deity but are indifferent about the existence of a divine being (a significant number of such people hold that humans can possess god-like qualities or power), while self-proclaimed agnostics are individuals who don’t believe in a deity of any kind.
(Barna Research Group, 5528 Everglades St., Ventura, CA 93003)
03: Heart patients who were prayed for had fewer complications in recovery, a study finds.
The Mid America Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City studied 990 coronary patients in one year, the Associated Press reports. The first names of half the patients were given to religious believers who prayed for four weeks that they would have a speedy recovery with no complications.
The prayed-for patients had 10 percent fewer complications, according to the study published in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers said the study suggests that prayer facilitates healing.
04: The Christian population is decreasing worldwide, according to a report in Religion Today (Oct. 19).
The UK Christian Handbook states that 28.3 percent of the world’s population identified itself as Christian in 1990. The percentage of Christians will decline to 27.8 in 2000 and to 27.1 in 2010, it said. A lower birth rate among Christian families is the primary reason for the drop.
About 85 percent of the people in the world who are not Christians live in Asia. Most of the 3.5 billion residents of the continent are Hindu, Islam, and Buddhist.
While Vacation Bible School (VBS) has been a staple of American Protestant churches for decades, these summer religious education programs are now catching on even among synagogues and mosques.
The evangelical digest magazine Current Thoughts & Trends (November) reports that VBS is experiencing a resurgence in popularity including interest from non-Christian groups. Over 20 religious publishers compete for position in offering thematic VBS programs and curricula that appeal to kids.
Today there is a new level of cooperation in running VBS programs. Many congregations work together so that VBS programs can run consecutively throughout the summer, allowing parents to give their children more than a week’s worth of exposure to religious education.
Churches across the U.S. are starting marital-arts ministries and also raising questions about the limits of using secular activities to draw converts and new members.
The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 28) reports that the growth of karate and similar martial arts groups in churches has helped bring the unchurched teenagers to Christian services. Such ministries as Kicks for Christ and the Gospel Martial Arts Union attracting are gaining members among both clergy and laypeople.
But the trend is facing a barrage of criticism from evangelical theologians and others, who claim that encouraging martial arts goes against the Christian injunction to turn the other cheek. Other critics cite the Eastern spiritual techniques and concepts that are part of many martial arts exercises. But most Christian karate instructors remove any non-Christian practices and even see such self-defense training as being in line with warrior images in the Bible.
The New Age movement will expand in the future because of its strong holistic health thrust, but the amorphous movement also needs to move toward greater social action to have more impact.
Those are two of the forecasts made by New Age veterans in the 25th anniversary issue of New Age magazine (November/December). The magazine asked 25 New Age “visionaries” to share their predictions about the future. Most of the forecasts are optimistic while registering some dissatisfaction with how American culture has fastened on to the more superficial aspects of the New Age. The majority of the respondents cited as the most important development to be the mainstreaming of holistic health practices, as the medical establishment seeks to incorporate practices such as yoga, meditation and Eastern healing techniques into their practices.
Holistic medicine specialist Rachel Naomi Remen writes that the “New Age has offered medicine . . . a greater understanding of the difference between curing and healing…Curing has to do with the repair of the body, while healing has to do with the movement toward wholeness in every human being.” Holistic author Jean Houston sees communication technologies making New Age ideas more global and accessible to all, thus speeding up the evolutionary process.
In fact, the original New Age (and the term New Age is used by most of the respondents, even though it was written off as passé more than a decade ago) message that mankind is evolving toward a higher plane and the world will be transformed is still evident in most of the predictions. Most echo the view of Riane Eisler that more attention needs to be paid to “social and cultural healing” rather than individual healing. The strongest cautionary note about the New Age is struck by Caroline Myss and Robert Thurman, who write that
New Agers have allowed themselves to experience abuse at the hands of authoritarian leaders, often Eastern gurus, and that more sophistication and depth is needed.
(New Age, 42 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472)
Among the many developments that have taken place within American Protestantism in the last three decades, the changes in the weekly sermon has often been left unstudied.
In the journal Books & Culture (September/October), Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. of Calvin College surveys the field by reviewing twenty leading books by homiletics (or preaching) specialists. This leads him to his major thesis: the new homiletics “celebrates pilgrimage, not propositions.”
The author calls on preachers to recognize the profound changes that have occurred within congregational audiences during this time period. No longer much concerned with the intricacies of carefully crafted expositions of theological doctrine, today’s audiences respond to preachers who customize their messages to meet these peoples’ needs at this particular time in history. And that group is not much concerned with the old theological wars of the l6th century.
The new homiletics also gives careful attention to the several audiences involved; young, old, well educated, activist, and indifferent. Plantinga notes that the new homiletics stress letting the Bible speak for itself; and telling the great biblical stories without embellishment.
In harmony with other current religious reforms, preaching is done best when it leans towards the informal, the anecdotal, and the personal. Further, the new homiletics seeks not so much to elucidate the deepest meanings of the assigned texts, but to preach more to “the ear” rather than “the eye.” Effective new preaching uses stories, dialogue and sentence fragments just as a person uses them in everyday speech. Beyond that, preaching that reaches the audiences sounds less like essays and more like odysseys.
They unfold in a dynamic sequence of linked “frames” rather than as a still photo. Finally, the gospel message of the Bible is as always the central theme for effective preaching. With new materials, more informality, sermons for the everyday laity, and trust that the message of grace is understood in common parlance, the new homiletics will likely find a home in the new world of Protestantism in America.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
— By Erling Jorstad
Amidst the widespread popularity of do-it-yourself, spirituality, the phenomenon of religion in the workplace continues to grow and is now filtering down to workers as well as producing positive results in productivity and job satisfaction.
An in-depth article in Business Week (Nov. 1) reports that today’s business leaders are a part of a spiritual revival “sweeping across Corporate America” with “executives of all stripes mixing mysticism into their management.” Much of the momentum for this comes from the changing nature of employee involvement with their work. Knowing that the office is where people exercise, date, and baby-sit, even older firms such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Wal Mart have implemented various forms of spiritual enhancement programs.
In New York, law firms are encouraging prayer groups, while in Silicon Valley, California, Hindu leaders are studying how to relate technology to spirituality Store managers are employing non-denominational chaplains to counsel employees and visit them in hospitals. The Fellowship for Companies for Christ International estimates that over l0,000 prayer groups and Bible studies are active at workplaces across the country.
Among the growing numbers of Muslims in corporate America, several employeers encouarge them to bring their prayer rugs at work. Even academia is investing in the trend; several colleges, such as the University of Denver, have set up research centers devoted to the field. The first empirical study of the subject, appearing in the book “A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America” (Jossey-Bass), finds that employees who work for organizations they consider spiritual are less fearful, less likely to compromise their values, and more able to throw themselves into their work.
Business Week suggests this movement is part of a larger trend. In the l990s the country has entered into what is called the “New Economy” with low unemployment, escalating stocks and bonds and product innovation unparalleled in American history. This change, as well as the emergence of such technology as the Internet, is causing a deep-seated curiosity about the nature of knowledge, the deeper meaning in life. There is time and space to think about forces outside of one’s self, a new interest in tapping into more intuitive sources of creative thought. Today’s information and services-dominated economy “is all about instantaneous decision making and building relationships with partners and employees.”
To do so, the market place draws on spiritually-oriented programs as means of reconciling conflict at the workplace and, admittedly, increasing productivity. Aware that such programs can and have sparked religious conflict among differing groups, with conversion minded evangelicals clashing with New Age seekers, leaders and program designers are focusing their messages largely around what has come to be known as “secular spirituality.” This spirituality combines a cross-denominational, hybrid set of messages with inspirational love-your-neighbor themes.
(Business Week, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020)
— By Erling Jorstad
There has long been animosity between law enforcement officials and members of new religious movements, with each viewing the other as either a threat to religious freedom or to public safety.
But that chill may be easing up as law enforcement officials are making new attempts to understand and incorporate scholarly insights regarding unconventional religious movements. The journal on new religions Nova Religio devotes much of its October issue to the interchange between police, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, and scholars of new religions, particularly within the framework of such events as Waco and the standoff with the far right Montana Freemen in 1996.
In the aftermath of Waco, law enforcers were accused by scholars of ignoring the beliefs and practices of members of new religions and the scholarship about them and siding with anti-cultists, ultimately forcing a violent confrontation with those whom they considered deviant cultists.
Since Waco particularly, the situation has changed. Jayne Seminare Docherty writes that the FBI has opened up new channels of communication with scholars on new religions, as well as shown concern about balancing their duty to uphold the law with protecting religious freedom. FBI agents are now using religious studies scholars as advisors and “worldview translators” in cases involving religious groups. Scholars and specialists are also lecturing at the FBI Academy [anti-cult groups are likely to protest that the FBI and other law enforcers are being fed information from “cult apologists” — their name for the many academics who they believe hold favorable views on new religious movements].
At the same time, new religious movement scholars are moving beyond “demonizing the FBI for its handling of Waco. The new relationship was evident in the standoff with the Montana Freemen, where consultation with specialists prevented law enforcers from pressuring members to take drastic actions, writes Catherine Wessinger. Docherty adds that a considerable worldview clash still separates law enforcers from scholars; the latter take a non-judgmental, often “relativistic” position toward faiths, while police make clear distinctions between legitimate and non-legitimate beliefs and practices.
The FBI’s current attempt to monitor and squelch far right millennialist groups, known as “Project Megiddo” report, is one example of how controversy and conflict can erupt when law enforcers try to deal with unconventional religious and political movements. An FBI press release (October 20) says that the Megiddo report is the culmination of research by the bureau of individuals and domestic groups who “attach special significance to the year 2000 . . . Many extremists place significance on the next millennium, and may present challenges to law enforcement authorities.
The significance is based primarily upon apocalyptic religious beliefs or political beliefs concerning the New World Order conspiracy theory.” The Megiddo report (available on the FBI web site: htttp://www.fbi.gov/library/megiddo/publicmegiddo.pdf) was leaked in late October to USA Today, which sensationalized its contents. The leak forced the FBI to release the statement downplaying its conclusions.
The statement was ignored on the Internet, where many anti-government activists hold court and rumors of impending government oppression of patriots abound. Habitues of militia-sympathizing discussion boards invariably termed the Megiddo report as just another example of anti-Christian persecution by the “real” extremists — government agents. The 32-page report is really nothing more than a compendium of information that has been previously released in many forums — print, broadcast, and online.
However, one observer of the far right fears that the manner of its release may create a hysterical atmosphere among law enforcement — and anti-government sympathizers — which may lead to overreaction. This, of course, can lead to more tension between the right wing and federal authorities, especially since memories of Waco are still fresh six years later.
(Nova Religio, Seven Bridges Press, LLC, 135 Fifth Ave., 9th Fl., New York, NY 10010-7101)
— Lin Collette contributed to this report.