In This Issue
- On/File: November 2000
- Findings & Footnotes: November 2000
- Anglican evangelicals pressing for freedom to organize parishes
- Faith movement spreads worldwide in changed forms
- Current Research: November 2000
- New interest in applied religion
- Wiccans give two thumbs up to TV’s portrayal of witches
- Homeschoolers divide on religious factor
- Rural, small town churches face immigration challenge
- Faith influence on health tested on the ground
- Mainline liberals plan strategy to offset conservative gains
01: Deism, the religious philosophy held by some U.S. founding fathers and Enlightenment thinkers and many scientists, is gaining a new following, as well as organizational structure through the work of the World Union of Deists (WUD).
Deism teaches that God created and reveals himself through creation and natural laws rather than revelation and direct involvement in the world. The WUD was founded in early 1993 by former fundamentalist Christian Robert Johnson, but the group really took off after 1996 when it started its web site, www.deism.com. Thanks to its exposure from the web site, local chapters of the WUD have been formed in eight U.S. states and in Australia, England, South Africa, and Malaysia.
Aside from providing a support group for isolated Deists, the WUD has involved itself in political issues, such as revoking the tax exempt status of religious organizations in the U.S. and opposing organized religious activities or beliefs in public schools.
01: European scholars have long held that the U.S. is the exception to the secularization occurring in the Western world.
Grace Davie’s new book Religion in Modern Europe: A Memory Mutates (Oxford, $27.95) demonstrates that it is actually Europe that is now exceptional. Davie, a British sociologist, presents evidence of continuing disaffection from the established (particularly, the state) churches at a time when religion is flourishing in most other parts of the world. Yet she finds that the churches still serve as reservoirs of a European Christian memory, particularly as they commemorate important personal (baptisms, weddings) and public (Princess Diana’s funeral) events.
In many cases (such as in the state churches of Scandinavia or Britain), the memories are more vicarious; members do not necessarily hold to church teachings, but they are adamant that rituals and churches be maintained “on behalf of both the individual and the community.” Although fewer Europeans — particularly among the young — may hold this Christian memory, particularly as unconventional (such as New Age) and minority faiths make their presence known on the continent.
Davie also points out that innovations and what she calls “alternative memories” are also growing in Christian quarters, such as in the “seeker” sprituality centered around pilgrimages and sacred sites (she doesn’t include much on the growth of evangelical congregations in Europe).
02: Signature Books and the Italy-based Center for the Studies of New Religions (CESNUR), have issued a new series on new and alternative religious movements.
The first book in the series, The Church of Scientology, by new religions specialist J. Gordon Melton, provides mainly an historical overview of Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. Although very brief (80 pages), the book gives an interesting account of the evolution of Hubbard’s teachings from secular “mind technology” to Scientology theology.
Melton provides a fairly even-handed account of Scientology’s legal battles and how some of its teachings (such as on justice and punishment) have fueled legitimate charges of abuse. Scientology critics will not like the fact that Melton treats Scientology as a legitimate religion (rather than, as many anti-cultists maintain, a front for a psychological and financial organization) that does not practice mind control.
Writing in a similar vein is Massimo Introvigne, author of the second book of the series, The Unification Church. Most of the book (also 80 pages) looks at the history and theology of the church and also seeks to debunk the anti-cult charges of mind control. Introvigne provides an interesting look at recent developments in Unificationism: how contact with the “spirit world” often through deceased leaders, “seem paramount among Moon’s recent concerns;” the establishment of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, which seeks to revamp the UC into a broader social movement; and the shift in mission from North to South America.
Both books cost $12.95 and are available from Signature Press, 546 West 400 North, Salt Lake City, UT 84116-3411 or www.signaturebooksinc.com.
Conservative churches and renewal associations in mainline bodies, particularly Anglicanism, are increasingly pressing not just for evangelical doctrine, but also the right to plant their own congregations unfettered by denominational control.
This trend can be seen in The First Promise movement, where evangelical activists seek alternative means of leadership from that of their liberal bishops as well as the freedom to plant conservative churches in liberal dioceses. The Sidney Morning Herald (Oct. 16) reports that a “quiet revolution” of evangelical Anglican churches being established by ministers outside the normal diocese and parish system is taking root in Australia.
The churches, now being established mainly on Australia’s central Coast as well as in such cities as Brisbane and Canberra, have their origins in the evangelical Sydney Diocese. These new parishes are usually fast growing as they adopt a “form of worship that strips away the liturgical trappings of middle and high church Anglicanism and [focuses] attention on the biblical text,” writes Malcolm Brown.
The dioceses in which such churches have been planted are “not favorably disposed toward them, but they cannot eject them and at best they try to coexist.” The fear is that these new churches as well as other conservatives in the Diocese of Sydney are destroying the unity of the Anglican Church in Australia, leading to a schism within the church.
The faith movement, known for promoting prosperity teachings, is growing rapidly around the world, and although the movement may have started in the U.S., it is finding its own expressions, particularly in the Third World.
In the Journal of Contemporary Religion (October) Stephen Hunt writes that while the faith movement was once a strand of the Pentecostal movement, today the movement has become a global carrier of Pentecostalism itself, as it promises material and health benefits to participants. Hunt finds the Faith movement growing in places from Sweden to Seoul, Korea, although there are differences in style and types of followers they attract. In Europe, for instance, the faith movement attracts the lower classes rather than the middle class as it does in the U.S.
The movement is stronger in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, “where the symbols of the worldly prosperity of the Faith ministries, the promise of physical healing, together with the food parcels which are freely distributed, have won many over to the Christian evangelical cause.” In the Pacific Rim and in other parts of the Third World, Faith teachings take on a greater diversity.
In Korea, health and wealth teachings blend in with the shamanism of the culture, while in Africa, the Faith message is revolutionary, acting as a “form of motivation for rising out of the dire conditions experienced by some of the poorest people on earth.” The often individualistic Faith teachings found in the U.S. take a more communal approach in Africa, where prosperity is sought for one’s community and congregation.
Hunt argues that it is misleading to view the spread of the Faith movement around the world as an example of U.S. religious imperialism; these teachings are adapted by indigenous churches to meet local needs.
(Journal of Contemporary Religion, Centre for New Religions, Kings College, University of London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK)
01: What is undisputed is that the actual number of Roman Catholic priests is declining.
The ratio of Catholics per priest has risen from 652 to 1 in 1950 to 1,257 to 1 in the year 2000. The question in the American Catholic Church is whether this decline represents a priest shortage or not. The answer, according to Professor Dean R. Hoge at the Catholic University of America, depends on one’s opinion of the need for reforms in the Church. In a presentation at the annual meeting of the Society of the Scientific Study of Religion in Houston in October, Hoge outlined the debate over the priest shortage and characterized it as a proxy debate over whether married men or even women should be eligible for the priesthood.
Those who do not believe there is a priest shortage point to the historical numbers. While there has been a marked decline in priests since 1950, the numbers have not been as dramatic when compared to a hundred years ago. They argue that the Church is simply growing out of a priest surplus. Additionally, the ratio of Catholics to priests in North America is lower than anywhere else in the world. (The ratio in Europe was 1,336 to 1 in 1998 while the ratio in South America was 7,094 to 1.) And what’s more, with the increase in lay participation and ministry in recent decades, especially after the Vatican II Council, the requirements on the number of priests has eased.
Those who believe that there is a shortage of priests say that perception is the problem, not historical numbers. They assert that the 1950-2000 time frame is most relevant because that is the time span that most Catholics can remember, and it is in the minds of lay people that the perception of a priest shortage lives. They point to the growth in the size of Catholic parishes – the average Catholic parish is a “megachurch” by Protestant standards — as evidence that the number of priests is not increasing to meet the needs of the Church.
Hoge himself came down on the side of those who advocate that there is a genuine priest shortage in the U.S. Catholic Church. He pointed to studies which indicate a growing acceptance of the limited availability of priests by Catholic lay people (51 percent in a recent survey indicated that a priestless parish was “Somewhat Acceptable” or “Very Acceptable.”) He also pointed to surveys of priests who report increasing stress from overwork and “unrealistic demands and expectations of lay people.”
— By Cody Clark
02: Those purchasing New Age books and other products are more likely to be Generation Xers, the unemployed, and high school drop outs than the stereotypical female baby boomers, according to a recent study.
In the journal Sociology of Religion (Fall), Daniel Mears and Christopher Ellison analyze data from a recent poll of Texan residents and find surprisingly high rates of agreement with New Age-oriented teachings, including the views that “we can heal ourselves” (43 percent) and that the “truth comes from within” (66 percent). Also unexpected was the fact that 22 percent of respondents reported purchasing New Age materials during the year preceding the survey, particularly in a conservative state such as Texas.
The demographics of the New Age buyers were equally surprising to Mears and Ellision. The purchase of New Age materials is distributed “rather evenly across most segments of the population.” The purchase of such products does not vary much by gender, income, education level, or membership in the baby boomer generation. These buyers were more common among the less educated, the disabled, the unemployed and persons age 18-29.
Another finding of the study is that the purchase of New Age materials is not as individualistic and solitary as some have theorized; purchasers were “exceedingly likely to have social or familial ties to other New Age consumers.”
(Sociology of Religion, 3520 Wiltshire Drive, Holiday, FL 34691)
03: A majority of U.S. Protestant pastors support school voucher programs and school prayer, according to a new poll.
The polling firm Ellison Research found that 73 percent of all ministers support the idea of school voucher programs to assist parents in sending their children to private schools. The survey was conducted among 500 Protestant ministers from denominations affiliated either with the National Association of Evangelicals or the mainline National Council of Churches. The poll additionally found that 93 percent of these ministers agreed that student-led prayers at public events in public schools should be allowed, and 83 percent would support laws permitting prayers in the classroom.
While there was a sharp division between conservative and liberal clergy on the voucher issue, that, surprisingly was not the case on school prayer. The issue is often thought of as a conservative rallying point, but the poll found a large number of those ministers calling themselves political liberals supporting school prayer. Sixty seven percent favor allowing student-led prayer at public events, and 39 percent favor allowing corporal prayer in the classroom, even when led by a teacher.
(Ellison Research, www.ellisonresearch.com)
04: In a nationally conducted survey poll of some 605 teenagers in September, the Barna Research Group finds significant decline in the acceptance of Biblical truths among this age group.
Director George Barna finds three eye-cathing areas where today’s teens are not following in the traditions of their churches or parents: the reality of Satan, salvation by good works, and Jesus’ human nature. Most of those interviewed stated they were Christians, their denominational loyalties followed national patterns, and they took seriously the role of the churches in their lives. But two-thirds also reported that Satan was not a living being but only a symbol of evil.
Some sixty percent said a good, moral person can earn eternal salvation through good works. Finally, some 53 percent stated Jesus committed sins when on earth. A Gallup poll finds that teens rely on themselves and others in decision-making rather than God or religious teachers. Emerging Trends (September), the Gallup newsletter on religion, reports that six out of 10 teens say they pay the most attention to their own views and the views of others.
(www.barna.org, Emerging Trends, 47 Hulfish St., Princeton, NJ 08542)
— By Erling Jorstad
05: It seems that the more money one has, the less spiritual value is attached to it. Martin Marty reports in his e-newsletter Sightings (Oct. 9) on a recent Gallup poll that asks whether money can lead to spiritual growth or decline.
Those with incomes of less than $15,000 see money leading to spiritual growth or decline in about even terms (47 percent for the former and 48 percent for the latter). In the $30,000 to $49,000 bracket, 39 percent thought wealth advanced spirituality while 53 percent saw decline. Marty sees the most significant finding among those making $50,000 or more: only 25 percent of these people conceived of wealth as promoting spiritual growth, while 62 percent associated it with decline.
06: “Militant atheists” are just as good at warding off depression as the very devout, according to a recent German study.
Most studies relating religious belief and adherence to mental health have found that those with a strong faith have lower incidence of depression than those with less or no religion. But in one of the first studies to examine a population of “resolute atheists,” psychologist Franz Buggle finds that it is more the half-believers and doubters with ties to religion that have the highest rates of depression.
Writing in the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry (Fall), Buggle finds in his survey of 174 people that the less religious do have higher rates of depression (on a diagnostic scale of 4.0 for the moderately religious and 6.0 for the less religious) while strong believers only have a 3.4 depression score.
But the problem is that past studies have included atheists in the “less religious” category, even though these non-believers are a very small segment of the population. In Buggle’s study, he included resolute atheists who subscribe to an atheist magazine and broke away from their religious upbringings. He finds that they have a depression score of 3.2–less than the strict believers. He writes that “This means that fanatical Christians and militant atheists are least prone to depression, whereas wavering atheists and the half-heartedly religious” are the most depressed.
Buggle concludes that atheists who have made a clean break from religious faith differ in their “psychic condition…from those who, though quite obviously with a guilty conscience, do not keep the church’s rules, but never seriously analyzed their own religious education and their obviously persistent secret, religion-based convictions.”
(Free Inquiry, P.O. Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226-0664)
07: British researchers have found that the usual biological and psychological factors cited for near-death experiences do not full explain this phenomenon.
A year-long study of heart attack survivors at Southampton General Hospital concluded that the near-death experiences they reported were not caused by drugs or lack of oxygen, typically mentioned to explain away the phenomenon. “If the mind and brain can be independent, then that raises questions about the continuation of consciousness after death,” said consultant neurophysicist Peter Fenwick, one of the study’s authors.
“It also raises the question about a spiritual component to humans and about a meaningful universe with a purpose rather than a random universe.” Several of the patients interviewed after their recovery recounted feelings of peace and joy, time speeded up, heightened senses, seeing a bright light, and entering another world, reports Charisma News Service (Oct. 27).
Religion and how it is applied to social problems is attracting widespread attention as well as foundation funds.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times (Oct. 8), applied religion is “a hot field of inquiry,” though it was considered dying if not dead by academic specialists until recently. The interest is found in three general areas. Major foundations such as Ford, Pew and Lilly are sharply increasing their funding for studies of how religion is affecting poverty, literacy, cultural assimilation and family life.
Study centers at such schools as the University of Southern California, University of Pennsylvania and the Manhattan Institute are drawing from the foundations and other sources to start extensive research programs. The interest in ‘faith-based’ social activism and its relation to public social service agencies continues to grow. Too new an area for conclusive evaluations, its work with local and state agencies has become a national priority for candidates for public office including Al Gore and George W. Bush.
— By RW contributing editor Erling Jorstad
The portrayal of witchcraft and magic in the popular media is more realistic today, and suggests a greater acceptance of these alternative religions.
That is the main conclusion of the fall issue of PanGaia, a Neopagan magazine. From the best-selling Harry Potter books to popular TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Xena, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, there has been a growing use of witchcraft, or wiccan themes in the arts and entertainment media. While Sabrina is more in the mold of the 1960s sitcom Bewitched, displaying little knowledge of actual wiccan practice and teachings, that is not the case with most of the other shows, writes Jennifer Ricard.
Charmed is the first TV show “dedicated to the concept of the `Good Witch,” as it empathetically portrays the struggles and secrecy of Wiccans, even while not getting their teachings right. Unlike the others, Buffy the Vampire Slayer“treats Wicca as a religion rather than a supernatural talent . . . presenting an image of the witch that is, for the most part, positive and beneficial to the Pagan community.”
Ricard expects the trend of positive portrayal of Wicca on television to increase as the pagan lifestyle gains acceptance. In the same issue of the magazine, it is noted that no similar trend is evident in films, which still use witches as a scare technique. And how do Wiccans view the Harry Potter phenomenon? While the magic is not very realistic, the books are praised for making “the Craft nonthreatening to boys.”
(PanGaia, P.O. Box 641, Point Arena, CA 95468-0641, www.pangaia.com)
The homeschooling movement is experiencing sharp divisions over the influence of conservative Christians in its ranks.
While homeschooling is growing among believers and non-believers as well as gaining academic credibility, a battle is being fought over the role of the Christian rightist Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in the loosely-based movement, according to the Charisma News Service (Oct. 2). The HSLDA, which most recently gained headlines for founding Patrick Henry College, the first college designed for homeschooled students, has been a pioneer of homeschooling, growing to 70,000 member families since it started in 1983.
The news service cites an article from the online magazine Salon which reports that both Christian and other homeschoolers are protesting that the HSLDA requires local homeschooling support group members to sign doctrinal statements and exclude those who are not conservative Christians. The social and political outspokenness of the HSLDA, including its views supporting corporal punishment and gun ownership and condemning the United Nations and gay rights, has also come under fire by those pressing for “inclusive” homeschooling.
The National Home Education Network was recently started to address homeschooling topics without a religious bias. Christians disgruntled with the HSLDA have also founded inclusive support groups and a new Christian homeschooling magazine called Gentle Spirit.
An influx of immigration to rural and small-town America is finding congregations ill-prepared to minister to such newcomers, according to the current issue of Visions, a newsletter on religion and demography.
The Census 2000 released in late August found that counties with rapidly growing Spanish-speaking populations were primarily in rural, small-town and outer suburban regions. Most of these newcomers, largely Mexican, are employed in t he food processing industries in agricultural areas. Hispanics in small-town and rural regions encounter churches that are few and small in membership.
Because these immigrants are sometimes transient, they are not “well accommodated by existing churches…which at best look to the new residents either to assimilate them into their English-speaking churches, or to fit them within their self-drawn plans for an ethnic ministry,” writes Anthony E. Healy. Hard-pressed Catholic parishes may fail to offer Spanish masses or accept ethnic religious customs, while rural Protestant churches have many elderly members without the resources or inclination to deal with these newcomers.
This has led some Hispanics to defect to newly established Pentecostal and evangelical congregations. The situation is compounded by many denominations and their judicatories that have become increasingly focused on ethnic ministry to the larger concentrations of people in cities while overlooking the smaller, dispersed populations in rural, small-town and suburban areas.
(Visions, P.O. Box 94144, Atlanta, GA 30377)
The growing body of scientific work that demonstrates the benefits of religious belief and behavior to adult health and well-being is now being channeled into practical programs that can be applied to congregational life.
Past research has shown that prayer, close social ties, altruistic behavior, and a sense of purpose are among the religious factors that have been associated with specific, measurable health improvements for religious practitioners. Melanie and Joe Adair, adjunct professors at the University of Tennessee, are attempting to create programs that will help adults improve their health by capitalizing on this research. In a presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion held in Houston in October, the Adairs surveyed the field of studies which give evidence to the religion/health connection.
They emphasized the recent research into a “neuropeptide delivery” phenomenon which provides a concrete neurochemical link between thoughts and physiological effects on the body. Then they outlined the design of an adult religious educational program designed to take advantage of this mind/body connection to link spiritual growth to health improvement Using their backgrounds in health education and instructional design, the Adairs have developed a program focusing on an optimum strategy to achieve improved health through spiritual growth.
By educating participants on what the Adairs call the “Be”-attitudes — forgiveness, thankfulness, creativity, altruism, and hopefulness among others — and guiding them in applying them to everyday life, they hope to provide adults with an integrated approach to physical as well as spiritual well-being.
The Adairs and their colleagues piloted such an educational program to forty-five adults over a period of several months. Participants were surveyed and interviewed before and after the program to detect changes in attitudes and perceived well-being. Seventy-six percent of the participants after the program expressed a feeling that they were in good health, which was a nine percent increase over the number indicating good health upon starting the program. (For reference, there was a four percent drop in perceived health for a control group over the same period.)
The percentage of participants indicating ailments and health impediments decreased by 12 percent (as opposed to an increase of 12 percent for the control group.) The Adairs find their pilot results encouraging enough to warrant more extensive research into the educational application of mind/body research. With the trends toward the aging of the American population, an increased interest in spirituality and alternative health practices, research into the effectiveness of this type of program bears watching. Designed specifically to be used in churches, a program like this may prove to be a popular ministry resource, especially for senior citizens.
— By Cody Clark, a Houston-based writer who runs a web site on religious futures called Signs & Wonders at www.wnrf.org/news
The long time conflict between liberals and conservatives in mainline denominations seems to be entering a more political phase judging by a recent New York conference RW attended.
The late October meeting was organized by Union Theological Seminary and the Institute of Democratic Studies (IDS) to counter the recent victories of conservatives in such mainline bodies as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) The new evangelical influence in the United Methodist Church was strongly in evidence at the denomination’s General Conference last spring, where liberal measures supporting same sex unions were turned back while greater conservative representation among delegates was set in place [see September RW for more on the United Methodist meeting].
At the New York conference there were reports of pressure to conform to conservative demands, jobs threatened, reputations smeared, and even “religious cleansing” as a “constellation of forces” is coming together to reconfigure mainline churches. The various evangelical renewal groups, such as the Confessing Movement in the United Methodist Church, were targeted for threatening “progressive Christianity.” The main point made by all the speakers was that the thirst for “power and control” is driving the conservative resurgence rather than theology or even the controversial issue of same-sex unions.
The conservative developments mainline was compared to the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Rev.Welton Gaddy, head of the the liberal Interfaith Alliance, called on mainline congregations to organize in order to prevent a similar right-wing victory. Dr. Robert Bohl, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church. said that the time for establishing “common ground” and discussions between liberals and conservatives is past.
He is helping to organize a caucus for Presbyterian leaders to battle conservative renewal groups. The Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a liberal group, is distributing literature from the Institute for Democracy Studies to all Presbyterian churches, seeking to uncover the link between the renewal groups and the religious right. That some mainline liberal leaders are joining forces with the IDS, a secular liberal think tank and watchdog of the political right, suggests that the left feels overpowered by the conservative challenge — a point that the speakers did not deny.
Diane Knippers, head of the neoconservative Institute for Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., says that the religious left is correct in fearing that their “enormous power” in mainline institutions is being “slowed and halted.” Knippers told RW in an interview that the renewal groups are not borrowing techniques from the religious right so much as mirroring the tactics their church opponents used during the 1970s and 80s. Conservatives and moderates are becoming more effective at challenging the left, showing up at conventions to make their voices heard.
Knipers says it’s “ridiculous” to charge that “power and control” rather than doctrine is behind the new conservative groundswell. “These renewal groups focus a lot on theology. This can be seen at the [recent United Methodist] General Conference where the left won on most of the social issues.”