In This Issue
- Charter schools compete with religious schools
- Findings & Footnotes: October 1999
- Aum thrives despite crackdowns, millennial fears
- Millennial movements, rumors heat up in Latin America
- Current Research: October 1999
- Mormon kitsch borrowing from popular culture
- American-Muslim women taking up the veil
- Catholic charismatics more ethnic, feeling the Toronto effect
- Globalizing the faith and American book publishers
- Spruced-up prison ministries competing
- Intelligent design thinkers seek religio-political momentum
- Secular humanism optimistic and defensive
It’s a small ripple now, but the rapid formation of charter schools–specialty schools operated by public schools — is making a dent in the demand and interest in religious schooling, reports the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 15).
Charter schools operate independently of public school districts and borrow many innovations from private schools, such as small classes and significant parental involvement. The clearest example of how charter schools are providing new competition to private religious schools is the non-profit National Heritage program.
The Grand Rapids-based National Heritage has burgeoned from one school with 174 students in 1995 to 22 schools with 8,600 students in two states. The organization’s marketing campaign seems to be aimed at evangelical parents. J.C. Huizenga, the founder of National Heritage and himself an evangelical, says poor parents need an alternative to expensive private schools.
“It didn’t occur to many people that tuition-burdened parents at religious schools would also welcome an alternative, particularly one teaching small classes, strict discipline and moral education. But today, charters are taking market share from fundamentalist schools, their predecessors as the hottest phenomenon in American education,” reports the article.
And charter schools, at least those started by National Heritage, are not as reticent about bringing religion into the class as are public schools. Already the organization is facing a lawsuit for allowing prayer meetings, having a teacher read the Bible to her class, and permitting a Baptist minister delivering a sermon at a staff training meeting. The new competitive atmosphere goes beyond National Heritage. In Detroit, for instance, students are transferring from religious schools to newly established charter schools. One Baptist minister who runs a small school in the city says he may have to close it because he has lost half of his students to charters.
01: In the new book Millennial Seduction: A Skeptic Confronts Apocalyptic Culture.
(Cornell University Press, $16.95), Lee Quinby examines the influence that absolutist moral claims, coupled with a millennialist worldview, has on American views of gender, sexuality, and society. Her main interest is in how anxiety about the coming millennium casts every event, minor or major, in apocalyptic terms.
She sees millennial rhetoric as pervasive, because at heart humans are afraid of change. Although we see the future optimistically, we still feel some fear as we look ahead at the unknown. A visit to the Isle of Patmos, where St. John the Divine wrote his Revelations, and the Pulitzer-winning play “Angels in America,” serve as backdrops and inspirations for Quinby’s reflections on life at the end of the 20th century, and she refers back to these two items throughout the book, using them as examples of the lengths apocalyptic thinking can go.
In particular “Angels” seems to serve as a commentary on our obsession with sexuality, an obsession often expressed in religious terms. The book tends to blame Christianity and traditional values for the quagmire of apocalyptic obsession in which society finds itself. She seems to be unable to grant Christianity (or indeed any form of religious orthodoxy) credit for anything positive.
— By Lin Collette, an RW contributing editor
02: Ted Daniels’ anthology, A Doomsday Reader: Prophets, Predictors, and Hucksters of Salvation (New York University Press, $19.95) is a worthwhile introduction to modern apocalyptic influences, being a compilation of selections from various millennialist sources accompanied by adroit commentaries.
Daniels is the founder of the Philadelphia-based Millennium Watch Institute and has published an essential bibliography of millennialist sources. He apparently realized early on in the process of writing this book that it would be almost impossible to develop a single unified theory that would explain all millenarian groups. This is actually far more useful than it sounds; too many books on the subject attempt to force all groups into the same categories and it is refreshing to see that Daniels recognizes that while millenarian groups do often share the same characteristics, it would be folly to treat the Montana Freemen, a far right constitutionalist/Christian Identity group the same as, say, the Church Universal or Triumphant.
Daniels seems most interested in so-called “far right” millenarians, from which he draws most of his selections, which include Mein Kampf, The Turner Diaries, and the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. He does include a section on Marxism from the Communist Manifesto, but by and large seems to ignore left-wing apocalyptic thinking. He uses Freudian theory to examine the leaders of the groups he includes, and he effectively illustrates the “all or nothing” mentality most millenarian movements seem to exhibit.
A Doomsday Reader is almost an essential choice for those wishing to understand the more radical responses to impending world events and their symbolism.
— By Lin Collette
Aum Shinrikyo, the apocalyptic group that engaged in a terrorist gas attacks in Japan over four years ago, continues to grow, while facing new ostracism in Japanese society.
An issue of Millennial Stew notes that the numbers vary on Aum’s membership. The police report that after being disbanded after the attacks, Aum now has 700 followers living in communes and 1,200 scattered elsewhere, in contrast to 20,000 before the gas attack. Another report says there are 500 full-time devotees, as opposed to 1,100 members at the time of the gassings.
Writer Tom Doyle adds that “The overall impression is that, after losing members in the wake of the subway attack, the group has started to grow again. The organization has 38 compounds around the country, and continues to recruit new members at universities. Financially, Aum continues to make millions from its retail computer business. Aum may even have helped raise money for Prime Minister Obuchi’s faction.”
Aum’s leader, Shoko Asahara, has predicted the end-time to arrive anywhere from 1999 to 2003. Police fear that the release of popular Aum spokesman Fumihir Joyu this December may precipitate another attack. Joyu may also provide the leadership the group has lacked in Asahara’s absence, adds Doyle. There has been a recent spate of reports of residents trying to keep Aum members from moving into their towns as well as police stepping up attempts to limit Aum’s activities.
Doyle concludes that this continuing pressure on Aum (creating greater solidarity) along with the millennial stirrings in Japanese society at large (Both Aum and Japanese popular culture share a fascination with Nostradamus’ prophesies) may possibly once more lead Aum in troubling directions.
A millennial movement is growing rapidly in Peru, tapping into the nation’s tradition of messianic fervor.
Millennial Stew (Summer), the newsletter of Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies, reports that the popularity of the 200,000-strong Israelites of the New Covenant stems from the history of both Christian millennialism and existing messianic ideologies in the Andes. Like several messianic groups before it in Peru, the Israelite movement is built around a living messiah, this time an elderly former shoemaker, who, in one person, is considered Moses, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit and possibly Atahualpa, the returned emperor of the Incas.
Damien Thompson and Victor Balaban note that the Israelites have taken over from the Shining Path as the “voice of Peru’s disoriented peasantry. But unlike the Maoist terrorists, the Israelites do not practice violence to achieve their aims.” The proclaimed messiah, Ezequiel Ataucusi Gamonal, has been preaching the end of the world in 2000 and that God’s covenant with the ancient Israelites will be transferred to Peru, the new Holy Land. The group has planted five frontier colonies that intend to model the Inca-based kingdom that will cover the whole of Peru after the apocalypse, according to Thompson and Balaban.
Millennial and apocalyptic fervor is growing in Latin America as a whole, reports the National Catholic Register (Aug. 29 — Sept. 4). Rumors of end-time revelations, such as concerning the Marian apparition at Fatima, are gaining currency among Catholics in many Latin American countries, writes Alejandro Bermudez. “Marian shrines and other spiritual centers have been the most evident barometers of this phenomenon. The Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the Shrine of Saint Rose in Lima, Peru, and the Marian Shrine of Our Lady in [Bolivia] are some of the places that have recently seen a significant number of pilgrims preparing for the end of the world.”
Most of the pilgrims explain that they heard water from springs close to Marian shrines would be an effective way to ward off attacks by the devil during the “days of darkness” preceding the end of the world. Since most of the rumors, which have been condemned by church leaders, have spread through the Internet, Bermudez writes that the phenomenon embraces the most literate social sectors of Latin America. Latin American “fundamentalists” are also spreading their own end-time warnings; they say that in the year 2000, an alliance will form between Arab millionaires and the Vatican and that no one will be able to purchase goods unless they have the numbers 666 stamped on them.
(Millennial Stew, 704 Commonwealth Ave., Suite 205, Boston, MA 02215)
01: A basic belief in God appears to be present among children regardless of whether they receive religious education or are exposed to religious faith in their environments, according to a study by psychologist Olivera Petrovitch.
The Oxford University psychologist studied both Japanese and British children on their views of the origins of natural objects from both a scientific level (for instance, how did this particular dog become a dog?) and a metaphysical level (how did the first dog ever come into being). In an interview with the magazine Science & Spirit (September/October), Petrovitch says that on forced choice questions, consisting of three possible explanations for primary origin, both the Japanese and British children predominantly selected the word “God,” instead of either an agnostic response (such as “nobody knows”) or an incorrect response (such as “people”).
That the Japanese children’s responses lined up with those of the British children surprised Petrovitch and her colleagues. “My Japanese research assistants kept telling me, `We Japanese don’t think about God as creator–it’s just not part of Japanese philosophy.” She thinks the findings are an “example of a natural inference that [children] form on the basis of their own experience.” While the children may acquire a concept of God as Jesus or similar concepts through religious education, no children made such “anthropomorphic” connections to their notion of a creator.
Rather, their images of God as creator corresponded to abstract notions such as gas, air, or a person without a body. Petrovitch adds that adults and children were not very different in their responses to explaining the origins of objects, although adults show greater cultural influences in their speculations about the creator (she notes that she has not yet studied Japanese adult reposes).
(Science & Spirit, 171 Rumford St., Ste. B, Concord, NH 03301-9944)
02: Recent research shows the intermarriage rate between Catholics and non-Catholics is growing sharply.
A recent article by Purdue University sociologist James Davidson in Commonweal magazine (Sept. 10) explores what this trend may mean to Catholics. Today’s intermarriage rate “is at least twice what it was in the pre-Vatican era,” according to Davidson Research has found at least five forces at work.
First, today’s younger adult Catholics lack the attachment to the organized church that older generations possessed; theirs is the well-documented; reference for individual pursuits, ‘shopping for faith’, and the like. Secondly, the number of church-approved marriages is in decline; going from 382,861 in l970 to 293,434 in l995.
Next, this downturn is not the result of any decline in the total population for Americans generally, and Catholics, specifically. In contrast to 20 years ago, there are many more Americans and many more Catholics. Davidson shows that a 23 percent decline in church sanctioned weddings occurred between l975 and l995. Fourth, interfaith marriages are occurring far more outside the church than within. Non-Catholic spouses are choosing civil ceremonies in record numbers.
Davidson concludes with suggestions for reversing this trend. These include reexamination by church officials of marriage preparation policies to make the church relevant to their particular marriage. Also new programs for single, young-adults are called for, emphasizing the sacramental character of marriage, the benefits of marrying within the faith, and the value of being married within the church. Also, attention should be given to the “increased likelihood of divorce.” Finally, priests and other leaders should start building strong mentoring programs for engaged and newly married couples.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)
— By Erling Jorstad
03: A new nationwide survey by the Barna Research Group finds more unchurched Americans compared to last year.
The study finds that almost one-third of the nation’s adults (31 percent) can be considered unchurched. Barna classified respondents “unchurched” if they had not attended Christian services during the past six months other than a special event, such as a wedding, funeral or holiday service. The 31 percent figure rose from 27 percent measured in a similar survey 18 months earlier.
The Minnesota Christian Chronicle (Sept. 9) notes that there was substantial change in the rate of unchurched in different American regions. The most notable increase was in the South–up from 19 percent to 26 percent. Smaller increases were found in the Northeast (from 34 percent to 39 percent) and the West (34 percent to 38 percent), with the Midwest remaining stable.
(Minnesota Christian Chronicle, 7317 Cahill Rd., Suite 203, Minneapolis, MN 55439)
04: Religious schools are more drug-free than public schools, according to a recent study.
A study by the National Center on Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that three-fourths of teenagers in religious schools regarded their school as drug-free. Only 40 percent of public schools student surveyed considered their school drug-free.
The Long Island Catholic (Sept. 8) reports that center president Joseph Califano says that teenagers in religious schools are at about half the risk of abusing tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs as teens in schools where these substances are more prevalent. The study surveyed 2,000 students between 12 and 17 and 1,000 parents with children in that age range.
In the 1990s, Mormons have especially incorporated images and styles from the popular media into such mass-produced objects (called kitsch) as clothing, plaques, and toys.
In the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone (June), Jana Reiss writes that the tension between popular culture and Mormon values are evident in such projects as rings and T-shirts using a “CTR” slogan (after the popular Mormon slogan, “Choose the Right”) mimicking the style of Calvin Klein’s “CK” logo.
The Nike slogan of “Just Do It” was changed to the Mormon slogan “Just Go and Do It” and is now emblazoned on T-shirts heralding the Book of Mormon hero, Nephi. Such Book of Mormon action figures are among the best-selling products in Mormon bookstores. Reiss concludes that the recent growth of Mormon kitsch “reflects a desire to be accepted into the larger culture but on Mormon terms.”
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215)
The numbers of American-Muslim women wearing scarves have increased dramatically in the past few years, reports New Jersey’s Bergen Record newspaper (July 11).
One official of the Kentucky-based International Union of Muslim Women says that “In the last year in particular, the number of inquiries we’ve had from women dealing with the issue of whether to wear the scarf has increased dramatically.” While wearing the scarf is a sign of modesty and allegiance to Koranic teachings, most of the women taking up the observance have mothers who don’t wear the veil, and they are doing it against the wishes of their husbands and families.
Many converts begin wearing the veil before cradle Muslim women do, adds reporter Monique El-Faizy. But the issue of wearing a veil is divisive enough that the Union of Muslim Women does not take a position on the matter. The many American Muslim women taking up the observance has “sparked a growing area of civil rights litigation.”
The number of charges filed by Muslim women on instances of work-related bias has grown from 44 in 1996 to 62 in 1998, although it is uncertain how many of these charges are related to wearing veils. At the same time, however, Muslim women reporting discrimination from the public about wearing the veil has decreased in recent years, according to the Council on American-Relations.
In a report on Pentecostalism in RNA Extra (July/August), the newsletter of the Religious Newswriters Association, one priest forecasts a resurgence of the charismatic movement in American Catholicism.
Msgr. Vincent Walsh of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Wynnewood, Pa., predicts that the next wave of the charismatic renewal among Catholics will be the Pentecostal “holy laughter” movement started in Toronto in 1994 (also referred to as the Toronto Blessing). Walsh is not a disinterested forecaster of this trend, since his parish in the Philadelphia suburbs has become the center for translating the Toronto Blessing to charismatic Catholics.
Charisma magazine (July) reports that Walsh and his parish see themselves as the next step beyond the charismatic renewal that sprouted up in mainline and Catholic churches in the 1970s. After experiencing a lull in his ministry and in the Catholic charismatic movement in general, Walsh came upon the ministry of Rodney Howard Brown, who was instrumental in introducing the Toronto Blessing and such manifestations as “holy laughter.”
Walsh and his parish were soon fully immersed in the holy laughter phenomenon, which they term a “revival.” The midweek prayer meeting grew from 50 to close to 1,000. But the ranks of charismatic Catholics are still divided over the Toronto blessing, with leaders taking a wait-and-see attitude toward it.
The Charisma article also notes that today the Catholic charismatic renewal finds its greatest strength among Korean, Hispanic, Haitian, Filipino, Vietnamese and Portuguese immigrants. Dramatic healings and deliverances from drug and alcohol addiction and family violence usually mark these immigrant charismatic meetings.
(RNA Extra, P.O. Box 2037, Westerville, OH 43086)
A major issue among religionist scholars in recent years has been why and how the Christian faith of Americans is being “globalized” by the greatly increased knowledge of other world religions.
This process, however, is a two-way street. Along with Americans absorbing world religions into their smorgasbord understanding, millions of seekers on all continents are being greatly influenced to absorb the major themes of American mainline and evangelical religious expressions. The Sept. 13 issue of Publishers Weekly presents extensive evidence showing how American publishers are responding to non-American seekers’ demands for both specific best seller titles and general, usually popular religious works.
In the last few years such giants as Baker, Zondervan, Eerdmans, Thomas Nelson, Augsburg Fortress, John Knox Westminster are building growing markets and reader demand for United States published religious books, many of which are being translated in as many as 30 languages. American publisher Richard E. Brown says “Our thinking is that academic ideas travel very well over the ocean. You’ve got to think globally. Publishers ignore that at their peril.” In a new marketing vehicle, five major United States publishers have pooled resources to create a European distribution company for English language products known as the Alban Books enterprise. Sales increases have gone from 27 percent in l996 to 31 percent the next year and a hefty 22 percent increase during the first half of l999.
Part of the success in this reverse globalization (sending United States religious ideas overseas) is due to the publishers’ ability to produce in-demand titles at a very low price. These publishers, including some American-based Jewish firms and small publishing houses, are exploring the ways in which reverse globalization can be increased through the use of the Internet.
Alongside the obvious improvement of speed in filling orders, Internet growth has eliminated the concept of exclusive territorial rights. All in all, religious book publishing is continuing to expand rapidly, as it has in the last two decades, by using technology and electronic evangelism to spread the reverse globalizing of the faith. A Tyndale House official concludes, “It’s a fine line between ministry and business.” Some firms have lowered royalty fees to make books more affordable in overseas markets.
— By Erling Jorstad
“No longer simply the avocation of big-hearted church volunteers, prison ministry has become a sophisticated and competitive business.
The new generation of ministers has moved beyond Bible study to recognize the seductive power of electric bands, celebrities, videotapes and glossy posters to lure captive men and women to God,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 7). The new enthusiasm for prison ministry is occurring as the US prison population has risen 40 percent over the past six years to about two million. Chuck Colon’s Prison Fellowship Ministries has launched the “glitziest” program, known as Starting Line. The program draws inmates to Christianity with fun, games, and stunts.
The use of satellites and videos are also changing these ministries. The popular black Dallas preacher JD Jacks is beaming his revivals into more than 100 prisons. Muslims are using video, also, as they spruce up old promotional material. One businessman has started to produce “Discover Islam” packets, which features prominent figures, such as Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, testifying to the truth of Islam. The new involvement of ministries in prison is worrying some officials who try to limit prisoners contact with the outside world.
They fear that some prisoners will use the volunteers to carry contraband or messages outside the prison walls. Meanwhile, Charisma (August) magazine reports that Alpha, an influential British-based ministry, is turning to the prisons. Alpha has exploded throughout much of the world as it introduces many unchurched to Christianity through a format of discussion and basic Christian teachings. In Britain, more than 100 prisons are running the Alpha course.
In the U.S., Governor George Bush has given his approval to launch Alpha in Texas prisons. Alpha conferences are also being organized for prison chaplains. The success of the program in prisons is that it presents Christianity in “digestible portions,” and has a strong follow-up program to prevent backsliding from the faith.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
Intelligent design is usually considered a theory about how the world was created with divine purpose, but increasingly this concept is taking on the form of a religious and social movement.
In a special issue devoted to intelligent design , the conservative ecumenical magazine Touchstone (July-August) claims that the theory represents a “new paradigm” in science that will “revolutionize the way we view creation, the cosmos, and ourselves.” Phillip Johnson, law professor and critic of Darwinism, calls the movement the “Wedge,” and says its basic aim is to show how Darwinian evolution is a philosophy rather than scientific fact. He cites such thinkers and writers as Michael Behe, William Dembski and himself as its primary architects.
In another article, writer Nancy Pearcy says intelligent design is naturally attractive to a wide range of believers since it only requires rejection of “naturalistic evolution;” most of the intelligent design thinkers support some form of evolution. The polls also show widespread questioning of Darwinian evolution, according to Pearcy.
But the real promise of intelligent design may be found in the social arena, according to writer John G.West Jr. The view that moral beliefs are the products of heredity or environment (or adaptations from evolution) has paved the way for moral relativism, he writes. Thus, discrediting and disproving such “scientific materialism” will defend traditional morality and the sanctity of human life.
Leading the effort to spread the message of intelligent design in the broader culture and particularly among political and academic leaders is the conservative Discovery Institute. The Seattle-based think tank has started a Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture which publicizes intelligent design views and also funds scientific research.
(Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641)
The secular humanist movement has issued a number of manifestos outlining its goals for the future, but its most recent document shows more concern about religion’s predominance in the world, the growth of “irrational” philosophies, and balancing responsibility as well as freedom.
The “Humanist Manifesto 2000” is similar to the previous manifestos in proclaiming secularism and a non-theistic world order the wave of the future, although the emphasis is now on what is called “planetary humanism.” The manifesto, published in the secular humanist magazine, Free Inquiry (Fall), claims that the growth of religious and ethnic rivalries and fundamentalist, pessimistic, and apocalyptic movements makes a new humanist offensive particularly important.
Specifically marked out for criticism is postmodernism in universities which, according to manifesto drafter and philosopher Paul Kurtz, questions the “basic premises of modernity and humanism, attacking science and technology, and questioning humanist ideas and values.” In an interview in the Washington Times newspaper (Sept. 8), Kurtz says that the new theme of this manifesto is the importance of responsibility along with freedom; one section says ethics can be derived from common universal principles based on reason and biology. While the manifesto calls for optimism about the future, it also has a defensive tone, viewing secular humanism as a minority voice. The manifesto acknowledges that “most worldviews accepted today are spiritual, mystical, or theological in character.”
Since college campuses are often the birthplace of new philosophies and the doorway to involvement in many new religious movements, the secular humanist movement is increasingly targeting these institutions, according to Lingua Franca (October), the magazine reporting on academic life. Those choosing to disaffiliate themselves from any form of organized theistic faith are finding in the Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA) an opportunity to affirm a life philosophy, consider new moral directions, find for themselves an intellectual tool kit, and develop an agenda for political activism. Founded by Prof. Paul Kurtz in l996, the CFA has spread over the past three years to include participants on over 100 campuses.
The CFA aims to provide for the skeptics an organization much like that of Hillel, Campus Crusade, and the Muslim Students’ Association. Activities include lectures, parties, activism, and socializing opportunities. Collegians are joining for several reasons; fear of the growing influence of the religious right, seeking an alternative to the nihilistic outlook of post-modernism, and what it sees as an anti-intellectual climate recently strengthened in Kansas, which removed evolution from the school curriculum.
On several campuses, CFA chapters have become directly involved in activism on environmental causes, racial equality, women’s rights, gay and lesbian liberation, and the separation of church and state. The members report many instances of resistance to their agendas, with one collegian finding it to be as difficult to be atheistic as it is to be gay. Observers note also the benefit of CFA offering an alternative campus program that provides community, identity and security in uncertain times.
They offer such festivals as Superstition Bash Day, Darwin Day, Banned Book Week, and Freethought Day . The article concludes with the analysis that the CFA serves as “a warm haven for the CFA’s most vulnerable members — those at smaller, more conservative schools and those from fundamentalist families.”
(Free Inquiry, P.O. Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226; Lingua Franca, 22 W. 38th St., New York, NY 10018)
— This report was written with RW contributing editor Erling Jorstad