In This Issue
- Which liturgical future for Catholics?
- Current Research: September 2005
- The new Christians use or misuse of yoga?
- Megachurches take up satellite model
- Mainline liberals, moderates, conservatives and gay rights
- ‘Post-secularism’ in academia?
“How far will Benedict go?” asks Robert Moynihan, the editor of Inside the Vatican (August-September).
According to the Catholic magazine, Benedict XVI is currently preparing his first encyclical, which will deal with the subject of liturgy. The encyclical is expected before the end of the year. The recent meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the head of the Society of St. Pius X in order to attempt to solve the traditionalist schism has once again drawn the attention of the media to the lasting tensions within some sections of Roman Catholicism as a consequence of the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and their subsequent implementation (and sometimes adaptations not always favored by Rome).
The opposition of the Society of St. Pius X goes beyond the liturgical issues. While it would like the pope to allow any priest to celebrate according to the pre-Vatican II liturgical practices (Tridentine Mass, also called Rite of St. Pius V), the society also objects to current attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church regarding ecumenism and religious freedom. However, there are indications that major decisions regarding the future of liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church are on their way. The new Pope has never made a mystery of his sympathies for traditional litrugical practices; for instance, he prefers the priests to face the East rather than to face the people.
Regarding the expected encyclical, nobody knows for sure if some major decision will be taken regarding the use of the Tridentine Mass. According to Inside the Vatican, the main aim of Benedict seems to be “to reform the new Mass.” The encyclical may put a renewed emphasis on the sacrifical character of the Mass (contrasted with a Protestant style of worship), Moynihan suggests. Restrictions may also be introduced regarding practices such as dances or various types of music in the liturgy. But nobody knows at this point with certainty what the content of the encyclical will be.
An article by Andrea Tornielli in the same issue of Inside the Vaticannotices that Masses celebrated by the new Pope show “a return to simplicity, greater use of Gregorian chant, and the use of the Roman Canon.” Tornielli wonders if the current Master of Papal Ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini (in office since 1987), will soon be replaced, as expected by a number of “Vaticanologists.” The selection of his successor by the Pope will also be seen as an indication regarding the liturgical orientations of the current pontificate. –
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
(Inside the Vatican, http://www.insidethevatican.com)
01: A new study of church growth in the South and Southwest shows an unexpected and sharp increases of Catholics, as well as modest gains among mainline Protestants.
The study, presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in Philadelphia, reanalyzed data from the Glenmary Research Center that allow for comparison over a ten year period for metropolitan areas in the South and Southwest. Robert Beckley, who conducted the study with D. Paul Johnson and Jerome Koch, said that the unexpected finding was that Roman Catholic membership growth exceeded all Protestant membership growth in all six metropolitan areas.
In four out of the six areas, Catholic growth was greater than 100 percent. Hispanic population growth accounted for much of the membership growth, but “within country” migration of non-Hispanic groups also played a role in such an increase. This particularly is the case in suburban areas and counties within the metropolitan areas. Beckley noted that Roman Catholic membership has grown far more than the numbers of parishes, particularly in the last five years. Although on record with steady decline, mainline Protestants showed some growth, but the increases were not enough for much expansion in their proportion of the religious populations of the six metropolitan areas.
02: One reason that pollsters predicted a dead heat between George Bush and John Kerry may be due to the under-representation of fundamentalists in surveys, according to a recent analysis by sociologist Darren Sherkat.
In a paper presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) conference, Sherkat examined patterns of religious influence in respondent cooperativeness and found that those Christians espousing biblical inerrancy are significantly less cooperative than other respondents. In analyzing General Social Surveys (GSS) data, Sherkat found that as the non-response (or refusal) rate to sample surveys has increased in recent years, the proportion of “white sectarians” and “inerrantists” has gone down.
When survey researchers were able to get higher response rates, the more sectarian whites turned up. Sherkat said that both sectarians and inerrantists have exclusivist beliefs and mindsets that would make them less cooperative with social scientists who they believe represent the wrong side of the culture wars.
03: Fundamentalism came under scrutiny again as Sherkat presented another paper at the conference finding fundamentalists to have significantly less cognitive skills than other religious groups and secular Americans.
Using data from the GSS on scores of vocabulary exams (which correlate with other measures of general intelligence) and religious identification measures, Shekat found that across all levels of educational attainment, fundamentalists (using biblical inerrancy as a measure of fundamentalism) show significantly lower levels of verbal ability.
The differences were even greater among more educated respondents (non-sectarians with a graduate degree averaged 8.2 correct answers on the verbal test, while sectarians with a graduate degree scored 7.3). These findings remained when Sherkat controlled for race, rural origins, income and education, leading him to theorize that the fundamentalists’ absence of networks and ties outside of their subgroup and a de-emphasis on reasoning can influence verbal acuity and even intelligence.
Sherkat added that there is a dearth of survey research on the negative effects of religion at a time when social scientists, spurred on by conservative think tanks and foundations, are focusing “myopically on the laudatory effects of religion on well being.”.
04: Many American denominations have “Washington offices” that seek to provide a faith-based perspective to policy makers, but these institutions are largely ineffective, according to a new study. In a paper presented at the ASR, Rachel Kraus of Ball State University confirmed the common criticism of denominational Washington offices as being out of touch with their constituents.
In interviews with Washington office leaders and by examining their literature, she found that “very few offices mention their constituency and laity in their work, even if their religion tradition stresses” such accountability. Some groups even acknowledged tensions between their offices and the laity. Whether mainline, or conservative Christian or non-Christian, all of them focus on social welfare, though with different references. Mainline and liberal offices often cite Old Testament calls for justice while evangelicals exclusively cite the New Testament in their literature.
05: American comic strips have become more religious in the last decade and have also tackled more religiously diverse themes, according to a recent study.
A paper presented at the ASR meeting by Pamela Leong of the University of Southern California, found that the interplay between humor and religion was frequent in the syndicated comic strips in the Los Angeles Times she studied in 2004. Leong found a total of 639 references to religion and 203 comic strips with largely religious content in this one year period; in contrast, an earlier study of comic strips in the L.A. Times found only 365 cartoons from mid-1979 through mid-1987.
The most religious comic strip was 9 Chickweed Lane, which features a Catholic school student, with 35 daily strips containing religious content. Get Fuzzy was the second most religious comic strip and was the most religiously diverse of the 35 comic strips studied. Leong attributes this to the fact that the two main characters are animals and thus are not held to the same standards as human characters, avoiding controversy.
06: Christian missions have made a noticeable impact on improving education in Third World nations, even long after missionaries have left the scene, according to a study by Robert Woodberry of the University of Texas.
Woodberry, who presented his findings at the ASR conference, said that missionaries tended to push for more access to schooling when colonialists restricted education to the few. Regions of the nations with a strong missionary presence in the past continue to show more widespread education patterns than in those areas where they had not penetrated, according to Woodberry. For instance, in mission-penetrated areas of India, such as South India and Kerela, which are far from centers of commerce and education, the literacy rates were higher than in regions with historically less missionary presence.
Women‘s literacy and infant mortality rates were especially impacted by a past missionary presence, as were the groups of people, such as the Dalits (or untouchables), who converted to Christianity from these efforts,. according to Woodberry. The mission factor was found to have a strong correlation with the move to political democracy in the non-Western nations studied.
07: Following the July terrorist attack in London, several polls have been conducted in order to learn about the feelings of British Muslims. As expected, polls reveal contradictory trends, from estrangement to assimilation.
Only five percent consider that further attacks by British suicide bombers would be “justified,” according to an ICM poll conducted in July 2005 and commissioned by the Guardian newspaper (July 26). The July incidents have created fears about a possible backlash: 63 percent acknowledge that, following the incidents, they have considered whether or not to remain in the UK. About half seem to stand more or less clearly on the side of deeper integration within British society: 52 percent agree that foreign Muslims inciting hatred should be deported, 40 percent feel that the Muslim community should do more in order to integrate into mainstream British culture, and 50 percent think that British Muslims are not doing enough in order to prevent the infiltration of extremists.
Another poll dealing with multiculturalism was conducted in August by MORI on behalf of the BBC (August 11). British Muslims remain strongly attached to a multiculturalist approach: 82 percent agree it makes Britain a better place to live (in contrast with 62 percent of the national average). Fifty nine percent of Muslims (35 percent national) feel that people who come to Britain should be free to live their lives by the values and traditions of their own cultures.
At the same time, 88 percent of the British Muslims feel proud when British teams do well in international competitions. Similarly, 90 percent of Muslims feel it is normal that immigrants who become British citizens should be made to learn English, 95 percent agree that they should accept the rights of women as equal citizens, and 65 percent of Muslims would back a move stating that clerics should preach in the English language.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope
Yoga is finding a new respectability and acceptance in churches, though its Hindu practitioners might have trouble recognizing it. Time magazine (Sept. 5) reports that “from Phoenix, Ariz., to Pittsburgh, Pa… hundreds of Christian yoga classes are in session.
A national association of Christian yoga teachers was started in July, and a slew of books and videos are about to hit the market.” Christian yoga often substitutes Christian prayers, such as the Jesus Prayer, or praise music for Hindu mantras. Others rework “vinyasa,” or a series of postures, to use biblical themes.
Purists criticize the use of yoga as a means of evangelism and Hindus argue that their religion is integral to the spiritual practice. But even Christian critics of the use of yoga by Christians tend to reject the name rather than the practice; one critic offers a series of postures she calls “Praise Moves.”
Megachurches are increasingly spinning off satellite congregations that serve many of the functions of smaller fellowships while maintaining the identity of the “mother” church. Christianity Today (September) reports that close to 1,000 U.S. churches have embraced a “multisite approach,” where the sermons are often beamed into smaller congregations from a preacher on the church’s main campus. Pioneering in the move to satellite campuses is Willow Creek Church near Chicago, the nation’s most prominent megachurch.
The styles of worship and hours held for services in these satellites may be different to appeal to different niches and demographic groups. For instance, Life Church in Oklahoma City has 14,000 members spread out on five different campuses, each with their own pastor to lead activities and build the social networks needed to bind the church together. About 40 percent of the multisite churches use video sermons and teaching from the main campus either by satellite or, more commonly, by DVD.
The rest use roving team teachers or pastors who move from campus to campus. Megachurches have been concerned that attendees driving long distances to services tend to diminish their involvement. The new model permits wider involvement and also sidesteps the space and zoning problems that come with building one huge congregation in saturated suburbs.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
While debates and deliberations on gay rights in mainline Protestant churches have become standard fare at their conventions, this summer’s denominational gatherings showed some unexpected turns. The decision of the liberal United Church of Christ to approve gay marriage was not a surprise, but the move was widely viewed as being not so much a bellwether of the future as much as a singular event in a unique denomination.
A sign that the UCC’s move may not be part of mainline trend was evident at the August conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, when the denomination somewhat unexpectedly rejected measures that would have allowed the ordination of gays and lesbians and approval of same-sex unions. Observers were expecting the measures to pass — though only by a close margin — and even a schism to possibly break out over the issue.
The liberal measures may have failed because of the numerous conservative groups and caucuses (such as Word Alone and Solid Rock) that emerged in the ELCA during the past five years while the sexuality statement was in preparation. The Lutherans appear to be engaging in a similar pattern of coalition-building and denominational activism — on the left as well as the right — that has been thriving among the Episcopalians , United Methodists and Presbyterians for the last decade. The American Baptist Churches’ (ABC) convention also showed signs of conservative activism, with three regional groups threatening to withhold their contributions if the denomination does not take a clearer position against homosexuality, according to Baptists Today (August).
It seems to be the case that the actions of the UCC, ABC and ELCA confirm the existence of a tri-party system in American Protestantism (and, in fact, in Judaism) consisting of liberals, moderates and conservatives The Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ (and the Reform Jews) have long comprised liberal Protestantism, but their positions on homosexuality (and abortion) are not likely to be widely accepted by the moderate Protestants, consisting of the American Baptists, ELCA, United Methodists and Presbyterians, short of serious schism. Rather, these denominations may continue to be deadlocked between a liberal leadership and clergy and a more moderate and conservative (and increasingly activist) laity.
Is academia entering a “post-secular” stage? That this question was asked at all at a session of the Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in Philadelphia in mid-August, suggests that something is afoot.
Much of the new religious influence in academia is due to a burst of evangelical confidence and activism, said Michael Lindsey of Princeton University. Lindsey added that a new breed of evangelical elite leaders, particularly philanthropists, have built powerful networks linking students and scholars that are having a “trickle-down effect” at universities.
Groups and individuals such as the Christian Union based at Ivy League colleges, a new initiative to fund evangelical students at elite schools, and the wide ranging efforts of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson and other philanthropists (400 of them, according to Lindsey) and foundations are all leading to a “deghettoization of evangelical scholarship.” John DiIulio of the University of Pennsylvania preferred the modifier “post-hyper-secularism” to “post-secularism,” and said the movement is more “from below” as “religious kids coming to elite schools are pushing these changes from below.”
Changes may also be taking place among the faculty. Most research has shown that it is the social scientists (sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists) who have registered the highest levels of nonbelief while the natural and applied scientists have shown more religious interest. But Elaine Ecklund Howard of Rice University presented preliminary findings from a survey of 1,646 professors which showed that the divide between largely secularist social scientists and more religion-friendly natural scientists may be narrowing.
About 29 percent of natural scientists agreed with the statement that there is “very little truth in any religion,“ compared to 23 percent of social scientists. In contrast, about 74 percent of social scientists think there are “basic truths in many religions” compared to 69 percent of natural scientists.
Both natural and social scientists viewed spirituality positively; about 57 percent of natural scientists identified themselves as moderately or slightly spiritual, while about 60 percent of social scientists did so. There has been an overall decline of Jewish faculty in the natural and social sciences and an increase in the number of Catholic faculty.
Howard added that these findings may reflect the changing demographics of the U.S. population, but the key finding of the narrowing gap between social and natural scientists may have more to do with changes within academia; more women are in the academy today, and women overall tend to be more religious than men. Howard noted that few of the faculty claim an evangelical or fundamentalist identity. But DiIulio suggested that “a groundswell of Ph.D.’s from Christian colleges will change that [pattern].”