Black, White, and Gray: Denominational Change in American Protestantism since 1972 (Brad Wright)
Talk about a picture that says a thousand words ...
Black, White, and Gray: Denominational Change in American Protestantism since 1972 (Brad Wright)
Talk about a picture that says a thousand words ...
1. The Economist has an interesting graph showing the captialism has led to greater happiness in member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union countries excluding the three baltic countries.)
2. AEI has an informative piece on economic mobility in the United States: How’s the American Dream doing? Well, which one?
There are two ways to define economic mobility: 1) absolute mobility, whether each generation is financially better off than the one before; and 2) relative mobility, whether you can change your income rank vs. your parents. Most Americans probably think both measures important. We want to be more prosperous than mom and dad, but also be able to change our circumstances and make our dreams come true. ...
... A San Francisco Fed study – using data tracking families since 1968 — looks at both versions of the American Dream, finding one healthier than the other. Looking at absolute mobility, researchers Leila Bengali and Mary Daly find the United States “highly mobile.” Over the sample period, 67% of US adults had higher family incomes than their parents, including 83% of those in the lowest birth quintile, or bottom 20% (versus 54% for children born into the top quintile, or top 20%.) ...
3. Concerning gender income inequality, Mark Perry says ‘Studies’ that compare average wages by gender, without controlling for demographic factors, can’t be taken seriously
4. Clive Crook thinks an ownership society may be the answer to reducing wealth inequality: Liberals Should Embrace the Ownership Society
... It’s true that conservatives’ standard proposals for privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare would shift risk onto beneficiaries -- but this plainly isn’t a necessary consequence of the basic principle. I agree with Konczal that adequate insurance against economic risk, underwritten by the government, is essential. I also agree that most conservatives aren’t interested in providing that guarantee. That’s exactly why liberals ought to take up the ownership society themselves.
Ownership entails risk, it’s true, but insurance can minimize it. Ownership also provides control, independence and self-respect -- things it wouldn’t hurt liberals to be more interested in. And when it comes to inequality and stagnating middle incomes, ownership can give wage slaves a stake in the nation’s economic capital.
Done right, an equity component in government-backed saving for retirement could be the best idea liberals have had since the earned-income tax credit (oh, sorry, that started out as a conservative idea as well). ...
5. Scientific American: Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science
6.Scientific American also has interesting piece on how Brain Researchers Can Detect Who We Are Thinking About
FMRI scans of volunteers' media prefrontal cortexes revealed unique brain activity patterns associated with individual characters or personalities as subjects thought about them.
7. Gizmodo reports that Sex in Space Could Be Deadly.
Researchers already knew humans, animals and plants have evolved in response to Earth's gravity and they are able to sense it. What we are still discovering is how the processes occurring within the cells of the human and plant bodies are affected by the more intense gravity, or hypergravity, that would be found on a large planet, or the microgravity that resembles the conditions on a space craft.
According to estimations, engineers expect the the store to generate around 265,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. Store operation will only require 200,000 kWh, so perhaps that extra wattage could be pumped back into the grid or used to power nearby utilities.
9. CNN reports on How online ruined dating ... forever
When people can browse potential dates online like items in a catalog, geo-locate hook-ups on an exercise bike just seven feet away, arrange a spontaneous group date with the app Grouper or arrange a bevy of blind dates in succession with Crazy Blind Date, it makes me wonder if all this newfound technological convenience has, in fact, made romance that much more elusive. Now, we may be more concerned with what someone isn't rather than what they are. And as that twenty-something entrepreneur reminded me over coffee, services like OkCupid, and even Facebook, sap a lot of the mystique out of those first few dates. So, sure, it may be easier than ever to score a date, but what kind of date will it really be?
10. Interesting piece on Why Do People Use Nope Even Though No Is Shorter?
11. Is the New Pope More Liberal Than the Last Two? Why It's Hard to Tell. Emily Chertoff offers some insightful analysis.
12. Michael Bird offer this quote from Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew's "The Drama of Scripture" in his post The Importance of the Narrative of Scripture.
Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits – theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore it’s divine author’s intention to shape our lives through its story. All humanity communities live out some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of Scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence the unity of Scripture is no minor matter: a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers! (p. 12).
13. Scot McKnight has a great piece on what constitutes legalism: Legalism: Old and New Perspectives
14. Thom S. Rainer on Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors
Read the whole thing.
15. Joseph Sunde rates the 5 TV Shows That Demonstrate the Importance of Ordinary Work
Christian Century: A secular Latin America?
In recent months, observers have remarked on the growing number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation (the “nones”), whose numbers are highest among the young. We can argue about just what these numbers mean, but possibly they do mark the beginning of a secularizing trend, a drift toward European conditions. Surprisingly perhaps, given our customary assumptions about Latin America, conditions in several Latin American nations mirror those in the U.S. Increasingly these countries are developing a European coloring. ...
... Whatever the causes, the European experience indicates that countries where the fertility rate falls well below replacement (2.1 children per woman) might be facing rapid secularization.
With that figure in mind, let’s look at the countries of Latin America, and especially the most economically developed ones. A few decades ago, all had classic Third World population profiles and very large families. In the 1960s, for instance, Brazil’s fertility rate hovered around 6 children per woman, alarming those who warned of a global population explosion. By 2012, though, Brazil’s figure was 1.82, far below replacement level. Chile and Uruguay both record similar rates of 1.87. Argentina is still above replacement, but the rate is falling fast. That’s a social revolution in progress—as well as a gender revolution.
In religious terms, these countries present a complex picture, with strong evidence of a continuing passion for religion. Brazil is home to some spectacularly successful Pentecostal megachurches, which Catholic clergy seek to imitate in order to hold on to believers. New evangelical churches are also booming in the other Latin nations, to the point that Protestants claim to be living through a new Reformation.
At the same time, though, signs of secularization appear that would have been unthinkable not long ago. Nine percent of Brazilians now say they follow no religion, and the proportion of nones is much higher among those under 20. Uruguay emerges as the region’s most secular country, with 40 percent having no religious affiliation. ...
Poor nations have the highest proportion of people who identify as religious
The world's poorest nations are also some of its most religious – but does that mean religion can't flourish in a prosperous society?
Gregory Paul doesn't think it can. After constructing a "Successful Societies Scale" that compared 25 socioeconomic indicators against statistics on religious belief and practice in 17 developed nations, the Baltimore-based paleontologist concluded in a 2009 study that "religion is most able to thrive in seriously dysfunctional societies."
Gregory, who is a freelance researcher not affiliated with any institution, compiled data on everything from homicide rates and income inequality to infant mortality and teenage pregnancies and found that the societies that scored the best on socioeconomic indicators were also the most secular.
"The correlation between religiosity and successful societies is somewhere around 0.7. Zero is no correlation and one is a perfect correlation, so it's a really good correlation, and it's not just an accident," he told CBC News. ...
... Sociologists have argued that the social benefits of religion take on greater importance, the fewer resources and the less control people have over their own lives.
"Religion becomes less central as people's lives become less vulnerable to the constant threat of death, disease and misfortune," Norris and Inglehart write in their 2004 book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide.
"As lives gradually become more comfortable and secure, people in more affluent societies usually grow increasingly indifferent to religious values, more skeptical of supernatural beliefs and less willing to become actively engaged in religious institutions." ...
... "The United States is one of the wealthier societies, and yet, it's still quite religious," said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who has studied secularization in Scandinavian countries and wrote a book about it called Society Without God.
"I think it's when you have what we might call 'existential security' — so, wealth and prosperity are part of that, but by that we [also] mean the bulk of people in society have access to housing, health care, jobs. They live in a relatively stable, democratic society without much in the way of existential threats to their lives or their culture." ...
... "Europe and the United States seem to be going in very different directions," said Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., who has written about religion and economic growth.
"One of the arguments is that the United States has a much livelier and open market for religion than do, say, countries in Scandinavia, where you have established churches." [Notably Rodney Stark]
But Zuckerman and other sociologists attribute the U.S.'s outlier status to socioeconomic inequality. ...
1. The United States had its financial bubble. Europe is having one too. Is China next? If it is, it could reshape the global economy and radically reshape Chinese government. Here is an interesting piece about China's real estate bubble.
2. Robert Tracinski thinks we are in midst of a Third Industrial Revolution.
... I like the idea of a breaking the Industrial Revolution into stages, but I would define them in more fundamental terms. The first Industrial Revolution was the harnessing of large-scale man-made power, which began with the steam engine. The internal combustion engine, electric power, and other sources of energy are just further refinements of this basic idea. The second Industrial Revolution would be the development of interchangeable parts and the assembly line, which made possible inexpensive mass production with relatively unskilled labor. The Third Industrial Revolution would not be computers, the Internet, or mobile phones, because up to now these have not been industrial tools; they have been used for moving information, not for making things. Instead, the rise of computers and the Internet is just a warm-up for the real Third Industrial Revolution, which is the full integration of information technology with industrial production.
The effect of the Third Industrial Revolution will be to collapse the distance between the design of a product and its physical manufacture, in much the same way that the Internet has eliminated the distance between the origination of a new idea and its communication to an audience. ...
3. Tyler Cowen has some thoughts about the impact our technological revolution as well Are we living in the early 19th century?
... Eventually all of the creative ferment of the industrial revolution pays off in a big “whoosh,” but it takes many decades, depending on where you draw the starting line of course. A look at the early 19th century is sobering, or should be, for anyone doing fiscal budgeting today. But it is also optimistic in terms of the larger picture facing humanity over the longer run.
4. You may have seen a deeply flawed viral video about wealth inequality this past week. I working on my own response but here is economist Mark Perry's response. In response to the viral ‘Wealth Inequality in America’ video
5. What are the contours of income inequality in the United States? This 40 minute video by Emmanuel Saez offers some important insights.
6. Futurist Ray Kurzweil is a little too sensationalist for my taste but this vid offers interesting food for thought about nanotechnology and the future sports. We will even be able to have meaningful sports competition?
7. Atlantic takes up at a frequently perpetuated myth. 'Women Own 1% of World Property': A Feminist Myth That Won't Die
The recovered wealth - most of it from higher stock prices - has been flowing mainly to richer Americans. By contrast, middle class wealth is mostly in the form of home equity, which has risen much less.
10. When looking at decisions in your own context, Seth Godin explains why Macro trends don't matter so much
Whether or not you think science is wonderful, the stereotype of all scientists being atheists is unrealistic. There is, however, a special dance.
12. I consider this good news. Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution
More Christian parents are asking for mainstream science in their children's curricula.
13. Remember to keep Syria and Egypt in your prayers. Nearly 1 in 20 Syrians are now refugees
Mar 09, 2013 in Asia, China, Current Affairs, Economic Development, Economics, Religion, Science, Sports and Entertainment, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution), Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
1. I love maps and charts. Naturally I was drawn to this: 36 Maps That Explain The Entire World. Here is just one example:
2. Roger Pielke, Jr., says It's Time to Bury the Easterlin Paradox.
"The Easterlin paradox suggest that in terms of human happiness -- a
squishy concept to be sure -- there is a limit to economic growth beyond
which there really is just no point in attaining more wealth. Further, a
decoupling between income and happiness at some threshold would imply
that GDP would not be a good measure of welfare, we would need some
A recent paper (PDF) by Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argues that the Easterlin paradox is also wrong. ..."
3. John Danforth thinks We Need Less Religion in our Politics and Less Politics in our Religion.
"Why isn't there more outrage about the president's unilateral targeted assassination program on the left?"
5. Arnold Kling with an interesting piece on the role of Jews in the rise of the modern urbanized economic order. The Unintended Consequences of God
"In those days, most people were farmers, for whom literacy’s costs generally outweighed its benefits. However, in an urbanized society with skilled occupations, literacy pays off. As urbanization gradually increased in the late Middle Ages, Jews came to fill high-skilled occupations. Botticini and Eckstein argue that literacy, rather than persecution, is what led Jews into these occupations."
6. New Geography wants to know Is Urbanism The New Trickle-Down Economics?
"But while progressives would clearly mock this policy [trickle-down economics], modern day urbanism often resembles nothing so much as trickle-down economics, though this time mostly advocated by those who would self-identify as being from the left. The idea is that through investments catering to the fickle and mobile educated elite and the high end businesses that employ and entertain them, cities can be rejuvenated in a way that somehow magically benefits everybody and is socially fair."
7. NPR has nice piece on mini-reacters. Are Mini-Reactors The Future Of Nuclear Power?
8. Mark Perry excerpts a quote from green libertarian John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market.
“Capitalism is the greatest creation humanity has done for social cooperation. It has lifted humanity out of the dirt. In statistics we discovered when we were researching the book, about 200 years ago when capitalism was created, 85% of the people alive lived on $1 a day. Today, that number is 16%. Still too high, but capitalism is wiping out poverty across the world. 200 years ago illiteracy rates were 90%. Today, they are down to about 14%. 200 years ago the average lifespan was 30. Today it is 68 across the world, 78 in the States, and almost 82 in Japan. This is due to business. This is due to capitalism. And it doesn’t get credit for it. Most of the time, business is portrayed by its enemies as selfish and greedy and exploitative, yet it’s the greatest value creator in the world.”
9. Economist Gavin Kennedy with some interesting thoughts on the relationship between the state and the economy in developing nations:
The problem is to achieve the right balance between a competitive market economy and an effective state: markets where possible; the state where necessary.
10. Climate Change: Key Data Points from Pew Research. Highlights some interesting shifts in the public's priorities.
11. Great piece about yet another way family life is changing. Yes, I’m a Homemaker
I’m a guy. My wife works. We’ve got no kids. I’m a stay-at-home dude.
"... What a sweet picture this conjures: the stay-at-home dad nurturing his children, looking after the house and helping support his wife in her budding career and shelving his own big ambitions for later. Now it gets a little awkward. There is no adorable kid, nor plans to have one. No starter home that needs knocking into shape. I'm not just doing this temporarily until I find something meaningful to do. I’m actually a full-time homemaker ... not stay-at-home dad but stay-at-home dude. A conversational pause. Where do you mentally file this guy? Usually I just change the subject. ..."
12. The Atlantic reports that Women Are Often Remarkably Reluctant to Ask for Help Around the House
A new study shows that high-earning women are more likely to let their houses be messy than to hire a housekeeper or get their husbands and kids to pitch in. ...
... "You can purchase substitutes for your own time, you can get your husband to do more, or you can all just do less," Killewald says. "Whether women outsource housework in particular has less to do with resources, but whether or not paid labor is viewed as an appropriate strategy for undertaking domestic work.
Doing less housework seems to be a popular option. ...
13. Business insider reports on a finding that comes as no shock to me: Men Really Do Have A Harder Time Reading Other People's Emotions.
Psychiatrists have concluded that males take longer to assess facial expressions as their brains have to work twice as hard to work out whether another person looks friendly or intelligent.
14. Daniel Kirk with a thoughtful piece Homosexuality under the Reign of Christ
In particular, researchers found that 40% of people say they would avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook, while 50% say they would not avoid a person who unfriended them. Women were more likely than men to avoid someone who unfriended them, the researchers found.
... Libraries are responding to the decline of print in a variety of creative ways, trying to remain relevant – especially to younger people – by embracing the new technology. Many, such as New York’s Queens Public Library, are reinventing themselves as centers for classes, job training, and simply hanging out. In one radical example, a new $1.5 million library scheduled to open in San Antonio, Texas, this fall will be completely book-free, with its collection housed exclusively on tablets, laptops, and e-readers. “Think of an Apple store,” the Bexar County judge who is leading the effort told NPR. It’s a flashy and seductive package.
But libraries are about more than just e-readers or any other media, as important as those things are. They are about more than just buildings such as the grand edifices erected by Carnegie money, or the sleek and controversial new design for the New York Public Library’s central branch. They are also about human beings and their relationships, specifically, the relationship between librarians and patrons. And that is the relationship that the foundation created by Microsoft co-founder’s Paul G. Allen is seeking to build in a recent round of grants to libraries in the Pacific Northwest. ...
17. 3-D Printing just gets more amazing. A 3D Printer That Generates Human Embryonic Stem Cells
3-D printers can produce gun parts, aircraft wings, food and a lot more, but this new 3-D printed product may be the craziest thing yet: human embryonic stem cells. Using stem cells as the "ink" in a 3-D printer, researchers in Scotland hope to eventually build 3-D printed organs and tissues. A team at Heriot-Watt University used a specially designed valve-based technique to deposit whole, live cells onto a surface in a specific pattern.
Feb 09, 2013 in Capitalism and Markets, Culture, Economic Development, Economics, History, Male and Female, Politics, Public Policy, Religion, Social Media, Sociology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
American Interest: Religion As An Activity Engaged In By Consenting Adults In Private
Sociologist Peter Berger concludes this article with this observation:
... But I do want to make a general observation: In all these cases the authorities accused of violating the plaintiffs’ rights operate with a definition of religion as a private matter to be kept out of public space. There is here a general issue of government overreach, as clearly illustrated by the (still unresolved) attempt by the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to provide contraception coverage in their employees’ health plans. Beyond that, though, there is a very ideological view of the place of religion in society. In other words, religion is to be an activity engaged in by consenting adults in private. The attorney for the Judeo-Christian side in the aforementioned American case had it quite right when he compared the treatment of his client’s religion with measures of disease control. This is not an attitude one would expect to find in a Western democracy. It is curiously reminiscent of policies toward religion in Communist countries and toward non-Muslims under Islamic rule.
An aggressive secularism seems to be on the march in all these cases. It seems more at home in Europe, which is far more secularized than America. Even in the United Kingdom, it seems, the drums of the French Revolution still reverberate. But how is one to explain this sort of secularism in the United States? The “nones”—that is, those who say “none” when asked for their religious affiliation by pollsters—are a very mixed lot. One theme that comes through is disappointment with organized religion. There is an anti-Christian edge to this, since Christian churches continue to be the major religious institutions in this country. Disappointment then, or disillusion—but why the aggressive hostility? There is yet another theme that comes through in the survey data: An identification of churches (and that means mainly Christian ones) with intolerance and repression. I think that this is significant.
Let me venture a sociological hypothesis here: The new American secularism is in defense of the sexual revolution. Since the 1960s there has indeed been a sexual revolution in America. It has been very successful in changing the mores and the law. It should not be surprising that many people, especially younger ones, enjoy the new libidinous benefits of this revolution. Whether one approves or deplores the new sexual culture, it seems unlikely to be reversed. Yet Christian churches (notably the Catholic and Evangelical ones) are in the forefront of those who do want to reverse the libertine victory. Its beneficiaries are haunted by the nightmare of being forced into chastity belts by an all too holy alliance of clerics and conservative politicians. No wonder they are hostile!
I suspect he is right.
Christian Century: Gallup chief sees signs of religious revival
Despite a deep drop in the number of Americans who identify with a particular faith, the country could be on the cusp of a religious renaissance, says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll.
Grounded in more than a million Gallup interviews, Newport’s new book, God Is Alive and Well, argues that the aging of the baby boomers, the influx of Hispanic immigrants and the links between religion and health could portend a bright future for faith in America. [The following interview was edited for length and clarity.]
Why did you write this book?
I think religion is extremely important in America today. All of our research shows that, and I wanted to get empirical data about religion out there, rather than just speculation.
We here at Gallup have had a tracking project since 2008. We do 350,000 interviews a year, which is a huge and unique dataset that nobody else has. And personally, I grew up in a religious background and always found it interesting. ...
Of course, this caught my eye ...
You write that mainline Protestants are pretty much doing everything wrong in terms of growing their churches. Why is that?
For any group to grow, whether it’s a country or a church, you have to have more people coming in than going out. For example, the Catholic Church holds its own in terms of percentage of the American population because of the in-migration of Hispanics. But there is no massive in-migration of Protestants.
Second, there’s been no evidence that they’ve been able to evangelize effectively. And third, one way you grow is to have high fertility rates. Mormons are doing that well because their theology encourages big families. But Presbyterians, for example, have fewer children on average [than other Americans]. So, if you look at all the ways churches could grow, the mainline Protestants haven’t been able to hit the nail on the head with any of them. —RNS
I haven't read the whole report yet but this summary is very interesting.
Hartford Institute for Religion Research: A Report on the 2010 National Profile of U.S. Nondenominational and Independent Churches
... If the nation’s independent and nondenominational churches were combined into a single group they would represent the third largest cluster of religious adherents in the country, following the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention; second largest in the number of churches – following the Southern Baptist. Overall, this research found over 35,000 churches representing more than 12,200,000 adherents. In total, four percent of the US population worships in an independent or nondenominational church.
And the phenomenon is on the rise. Our study identifies a larger number of people engaged in nondenominational churches than Barry Kosmin found in the American Religious Identification Survey in 2008 where they estimated 8 million Americans identified as nondenominational Christians. In their studies, this count was up significantly from only 0.1% or 194,000 in 1990. According to the General Social Survey, the percent of Protestants claiming “no denomination or non-denominational” has risen from roughly four percent in the 1970s to fifteen percent in 2006. (The Ties that Bind: Network Overlap among Independent Congregations Christopher D. Bader Christopher P. Scheitle and Buster Smith).
Pew’s Religious Landscape Study also found significant numbers of Americans affiliate with independent and nondenominational churches, although the exact number and percent is not entirely clear given how they divided their labeling. It is absolutely clear, as Kosmin said recently, that “The rise of non-denominational Christianity is probably one of the strongest trends in the last two decades…. It is nearly as sharp an increase as the no-religion response.” Additionally, the Baylor Survey of Religion report claims non-denominational churches are the fastest growing Protestant churches in America and in 2006, as it is now, they are the second largest Protestant group just behind the Southern Baptist Convention....
... These congregations should be seen as a separate and distinctive religious reality. If we begin to think of them as not just individual aberrant outliers or lone isolated congregations but rather as a unique religious phenomenon – as a distinctive religious market segment – then we can begin to address the question of why they have become so popular in the past few decades. As a group, they are a significant reality – one that demands consideration, study and reflection on why they are so prevalent currently. ...
... Megachurches often get associated with the nondenominational movement but in fact only about 35% of the Protestant churches over 2000 attenders are nondenominational. Nevertheless, roughly half of the nation’s largest and fastest growing Protestant churches, as determined by the most recent Outreach Magazine listing were nondenominational. ...
What do you make of this trend?
Peter Wehner has another good post this week following up on his comments last week about Jim Dobson, Christ Before the Cause: The New Evangelical Politics, courtesy of Tim Dalrymple.
...One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that some of the most prominent Christian figures in politics radiate a sense that their work is essential if the Lord is to accomplish His goals on earth. Because they believe so much depends on them, they develop an aggressive, anxious, even desperate spirit. They seem to believe that only they and a few others are strong enough to resist compromising with evil. And over the years they have demonstrated a barely contained disdain toward those who do not share their zeal for their cause. This can create its own set of problems.
I’m reminded here of the cautionary tale of Sheldon Vanauken, who in A Severe Mercy wrote about his days in the anti-Vietnam war movement. “I was one of those caught up in the mood and action oft the 1960s,” Vanauken wrote:
Christ, I thought, would surely have me oppose what appeared an unjust war. But the Movement, whatever its ideals, did a good deal of hating. And Christ, gradually, was pushed to the rear: Movement goals, not God, became first, in fact — not only for me but for other Christians involved, including priests. I now think that making God secondary (which in the end is to make Him nothing) is, quite simply, the mortal danger in social action, especially in view of the marked intimations of virtue — even arrogant virtue — that often perilously accompany it. Some may avoid this danger, perhaps. But I was not obeying the first and greatest commandment — to love God first — nor it is clear that I was obeying the second — to love my neighbour. Hating the oppressors of my neighbor isn’t perhaps quite what Christ had in mind.
Over the years, some politically active Christian leaders seem to believe that at stake in their work is nothing less than the influence of Christianity in America, as if Christ depends on them instead of the other way around. There are multiple effects to such a mindset, including apocalyptic rhetoric and absolutism. At some point, though, characterizing every election and every important piece of social legislation as a moral tipping point for America begins to wear thin.
My own sense of things is that an increasing number of evangelicals, particularly younger evangelicals, want their brand of politics to be less partisan and bitter than in the past, as well as more high-minded and more firmly rooted in principles. They want their leaders to display a lighter touch, a less distraught and angry spirit, a more gracious tone. In short, they seem to be looking for a politics that is both moral and civil. And they are thirsting for more serious Christian reflection on human society and the human person — on first principles. ...
Real Clear Politics: The Rise of Latin Youth
Liberal bishops dismissed Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic constitution authorizing wider use of the traditional Latin mass, as a bone thrown to over-the-hill conservatives. But Pope Benedict XVI probably wrote it more for the young than the old. ...
... The secular press covers youth interest in the traditional Latin mass far more respectfully. The Economist recently reported on the "traditionalist avant-garde." The old mass, it found, isn't petering out but picking up some speed: "The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, started in 1965, now has over 5,000 members. The weekly number of Latin masses is up from 26 in 2007 to 157 now. In America it is up from 60 in 1991 to 420. At Brompton Oratory, a hotspot of London traditionalism, 440 flock to the main Sunday Latin mass. That is twice the figure for the main English one."
The influx of conservative Anglicans has bolstered these numbers a bit: "Dozens of Anglican priests have 'crossed the Tiber' from the heavily ritualistic 'smells and bells' high-church wing; they find a ready welcome among traditionalist Roman Catholics."
But the principal source of growth comes from youth interest. "Like evangelical Christianity, traditional Catholicism is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the church," says The Economist. "Traditionalist groups have members in 34 countries, including Hong Kong, South Africa and Belarus. Juventutem, a movement for young Catholics who like the old ways, boasts scores of activists in a dozen countries."
Self-consciously "relevant" Catholicism is increasingly seen by the young as irrelevant. Youth masses that try to imitate the trends of the world, often lamely, generate only sporadic attendance. ...
Are there lessons here for the Protestant world?
New York Times: Study Finds One in 6 Follows No Religion
A global study of religious adherence released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that about one of every six people worldwide has no religious affiliation. This makes the “unaffiliated,” as the study calls them, the third-largest group worldwide, with 16 percent of the global population — about equal to Catholics. ...
Source: World Religious Groups
One of my favorite blogs is Adam Smith's Lost Legacy, written by economic historian Gavin Kennedy. He frequently finds mentions of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" from around the web and then goes to work debunking the abuse of Smith's views. The metaphor, mentioned only twice in passing in The Wealth of Nations, was appropriated by economists over the last half century in support of modern notions of free markets. He wrote an intriguing article on this topic Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand: From Metaphor to Myth.
But Kennedy also helps interpret other aspects of Smith's work. Some economists apply economic principles to the formation of religious organizations and Smith is indentified as having supported a competitive religious marketplace over state run monopolies, as a way to promote religion. Kennedy writes the following in Adam Smith's Authentic Views On Church and State.
... I think these long quotations encapsulate what Smith was about in arguing for a multiplicity of sects, namely that the very competition of each would act as a balm on the otherwise violent, or at least the disturbing clamour of their zealots at the expense of public tranquility. It was not aimed at causing larger congregations so much, perhaps, as allowing room for the tolerance of a third-sect of potentially non-religious citizenry, living amidst a large number of religious sects at peace with each other. ...
Understanding Smith's comments in context adds a lot. Interesting stuff!
Stephen Novella has written an interesting piece about confirmation bias as it relates to politics, Moderating Political Opinions. What he has to say applies to many other areas of life including conversations about theology and our faith experiences. Novella begins his discussion recounting findings from recent experiments conducted by psychologists. He summarizes their findings here:
... The researchers interpret all of this as the action of confirmation bias – a core cognitive bias that motivates people to seek out and notice information that confirms existing beliefs and either ignore or dismiss evidence against their existing beliefs or in favor of a competing belief. Confirmation bias is the default mode of human thinking – the cognitive pathway of least resistance that we will tend to follow. If you force people to slow down and think harder, even in a manner tangential to the question at hand, confirmation bias is moderated by deeper evaluation. However – deeper evaluation takes cognitive energy, and if you deprive subjects of this energy by giving them another task to perform, then the default mode of confirmation bias takes hold. ...
How do we overcome confirmation bias?
... Imagine if students were systematically educated to engage abstract thinking and to ward off the effects of confirmation bias (and other biases) when considering important issues (or all issues, for that matter). This, in essence, is scientific skepticism. Skeptics are those who do not simply flow down the path of least resistance, giving in to the lowest energy state of thought, surrendering to cognitive entropy. Skepticism is about understanding the nature of cognitive biases and then doing the hard mental work of thinking complexly and abstractly about important questions.
The trigger for skeptical evaluation needs to be internal. In this way being a skeptic is partly just a habit of thought. The skeptic stops and asks, “wait a minute, is this really true?” When confronting an opposing opinion or interpretation of the evidence, the skeptic tries to understand the various points of view and will at least try to fairly assess each point, recognizing that many topics are complex, with good and bad points on all sides.
Being a skeptic is also about applying the findings of decades of psychological research to our everyday lives. It is a shame that psychologists have conducted thousands of experiments carefully describing the many ways in which human thinking is biased, and yet public awareness of this useful body of knowledge is limited. ...
It is impossible to escape confirmation bias. Fortunately, most of the time, our imprecise understanding is close enough. And in many cases, even where our understanding is way off, the consequences aren’t that significant. Yet in some cases, confirmation bias can be deadly.
Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people. Many people believe minorities and the poor were disproportionately represented among the fatalities. But Amanda Ripley points out in The Unthinkable that this was not true. The disproportionately affected demographic was the elderly. Why? Because many of them had weathered hurricanes in the past. They “knew” they could weather this one as well. They discounted information that suggested otherwise. By the time they learned they were wrong it was too late.
We can't avoid confirmation bias altogether. Our brains are wired to find patterns in our experiences that will inform us in future decisions. We often see patterns that aren't there, or at least as strongly there as we imagine. We simply don't have the capacity to pause and scrupulously analyze every issue or decision that presents itself. But we do need to be especially diligent about confirmation bias when something significant is at stake. This could be a financial decision, a job decision, or a decision that deeply affects relationships. Politics and religion are two topics that frequently have such an impact. This is especially true when there is conflict. I suggest we need to do at least the following:
I have a follow-up post on this topic tomorrow but for now I have a few questions. When have you discovered confirmation bias in your own thinking? Do you agree with the list of practices above? What would you add?
Black, White and Gray: Democrats: Losing their Religion
Mark Regnerus was running some number using New Family Structure Study (NFSS) data when he found out this about people disassociating from religion:
... The most dramatic shifts, however, appear around personal politics. Political affiliation—a one measure, 1-5 scale of just how politically conservative or liberal our respondents consider themselves—takes the cake for shifting the bar on perceived growth or decline in organized religious involvement. Only 23 percent of respondents who said they were “very conservative” politically reported being less active in organized religion today, while 31 percent said they were more active than as a youth. Keep in mind that’s compared with 53 and 13 percent of the total population, respectively.
It’s a linear association, too: 48 percent of just plain “conservative” respondents reported being less active religiously, compared with 52 percent of moderates, 62 percent of those who said they were “liberal” and 76 percent of those who self-identified as “very liberal.” That’s quite a span–from 23 percent (among the most conservative) to 76 percent (among the most liberal).
The Democrats truly are losing their religion. Or perhaps these are persons who lost their religion and then decided the Democratic Party seemed most in line with their sentiments. There is probably plenty of both types. ...
(re)integrate: Finding God in Advertising Bob Robinson
In a profound chapter in A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture, Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor look at how advertising has shaped contemporary society. The authors offer “Ten Commandments of Advertising,” all of which point to an overarching question that people in this (and every) culture ask: “What is it to be fully human?”
“This is the question that advertising seeks to answer, a question that was one the pursuit of philosophers and theologians. Advertising is an incredibly powerful form of pop culture that influences us on levels far deeper than getting us to choose certain products. Life choices are part of today’s world of advertising and consumption. ‘The glory of God,’ Irenaeus wrote, ‘is a human being fully alive.’ In contemporary society, to be fully human is to shop. Advertising offers us ways to be alive, ways to be human.” (p. 84)
Certainly, there are ads that are manipulative and appeal to the baser aspects of human depravity in order to sell products. But advertising, at its best, appeals to our desire to know who we are, to celebrate life, to find meaning in being human. ...
I especially liked this statement:
Christianity needs to “re-message” itself as a faith that embraces the joy of God restoring humanity and encourages celebration. The restoration of all things is in our future. We await the return of Jesus Christ with great anticipation. What are we doing in preparation?
The primary vision of the church today, liberal or conservative, is to offer people meaning and transcendence by extracting them out of the daily routines of life, rather than equipping people to see transcendence in those daily routines. We do it in the form of therapeutic pietism or in the form of activism to change the world. And if you are really "spiritual" you will enter "full-time ministry" to do these things.
(Bob wrote a great post here. He recently began (re)integrate, which is devoted to addressing just the kind of issues the post raises. Be sure to check the website.)
Where have you seen examples of the church equipping people to see transcendence in the routines of life? How might we do a better job of celebrating life?
NEW YORK (AP) -- Scientists in Oregon have created embryos with genes from one man and two women, using a provocative technique that could someday be used to prevent babies from inheriting certain rare incurable diseases.
The researchers at Oregon Health & Sciences University said they are not using the embryos to produce children, and it is not clear when or even if this technique will be put to use. But it has already stirred a debate over its risks and ethics in Britain, where scientists did similar work a few years ago.
The British experiments, reported in 2008, led to headlines about the possibility someday of babies with three parents. But that's an overstatement. The DNA from the second woman amounts to less than 1 percent of the embryo's genes, and it isn't the sort that makes a child look like Mom or Dad. The procedure is simply a way of replacing some defective genes that sabotage the normal workings of cells.
The British government is asking for public comment on the technology before it decides whether to allow its use in the future. One concern it cites is whether such DNA alteration could be an early step down a slippery slope toward "designer babies" - ordering up, say, a petite, blue-eyed girl or tall, dark-haired boy. ...
So what are the ethical implications here? Any thoughts?
Over at Gray, White, and Black, Jerry Park has posted an interesting piece based on Pew Research called Racial Religious Patterns in Political Ideology – Expanded Version. There are several interesting points in the post. Be sure to read it. But there is one chart in particular I wanted to lift up and I want to get your feedback on an interesting question. This is a chart showing the political party identification of non-Catholic Christians:
Being a PCUSA guy, you can guess where my eyes went first. The White Mainline group is the second most balanced group after the Asian American Mainline group (and it often surprises many people that Mainliners do tilt toward Republican.) But let's disaggregate the White Mainline group a little. Here is data taken from the 2011, Presbyterian Panel. of the Presbyterian Church, USA. The Panel is an going survey done by the denomination. Here is a breakdown of political identification within the denomination:
For members and ruling elder who identify with a party, the ratio is 3:2, Republicans over Democrats. The ratio for pastors is a 5:2 in favor of Democrats. The ratio is more than 5:1 for Democrats among specialized clergy. Part of what this says to me is that there are many pastors who find themselves with a substantial disconnect between themselves and their congregations, and vice versa.
I just completed eight years of service on the board of PCUSA's Presbyterian Mission Agency, which oversees the domestic and international work of the denomination between General Assemblies. I have had close involvement with staff and the countless boards and organizations that make up the denomination. (A rewarding experience, I might add.) I can affirm for you that the people who are in the PCUSA hierarchy are overwhelmingly in a continuum from moderate Democrats to flaming liberals. ;-)
As we look at the groups in the first chart, my perception is that the White Mainline group is unique in this dischotomy between members and leaders. There may be some differences between members and leaders in other groups but I wonder if there are any where the ratios are flipped.
So here is my question: Do you perceive that this difference between members and leaders is unique to White Mainline denominations? If so, why do you suppose the difference exists? (And just a caution. As we are dealing with politics AND religion, everyone play nice. ;-) )
Philosophical Fragments: Why We Need More Religion in Politics, Not Less - Timothy Dalrymple
Dalrymple highlights the popular perception that the mixing of politics and religion is something unique to the Republican Party. He makes the case that Obama has actually been quite willing to mix the two over the course of his presidency, and actually it is Romney who is more reticent to bring up religion, due largely to the challenge his Mormon faith presents. Read the first several paragraphs for yourself and see what you think but I thought his analysis of how we got to where we are was especially good.
So where do people get this notion that the Right has claimed ownership over Christianity? It’s best understood historically. And while there are certainly points in this story on which to criticize the Right, the story has just as much to do with poor decisions on the Left. If it came to seem as though the Right owned the Christian camp in the ongoing political warfare between the parties, it was largely because the Left completely abandoned the religious field.
Jeffrey’s Bell’s The Case for a Polarized Politics tells the story in far greater detail than I can hope to do here. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Democratic party came to represent the rejection — in fact, it was quite explicit — of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Democratic National Conventions were awash in anti-Christian sentiment, as that tradition came to represent all that was oppressive and backwards, the decrepit authority of a prior generation that was best case aside in the mark toward the new utopia. Religion was essentially privatized. Believe whatever (nonsense) you want in the privacy of your own home, but religious convictions, passions and persuasion do not belong in the public, political sphere.
Also, since this was (not coincidentally) the same group that was promoting the sexual revolution and its transformation of personal mores, cultural forms and social policy, the Religious Right arose and, increasingly in the late 1970s made common cause with the GOP. On one issue after another — prayer in schools, artifacts and invocations of faith in the political sphere, the enforced teaching of evolution and sex education, abortion, pornography, marriage and eventually gay rights — the Left lined up on the side opposite the Christian consensus. Evangelicals briefly believed they might have a Democrat they could support in the born-again Jimmy Carter, but they quickly grew disenchanted with Carter and fully cast their lot with the GOP in 1980.
However, what was initially a temporary alliance forged to address specific issues that concerned Christians as Christians, became a more complex and thoroughgoing union. …
He goes on to point out that a pragmatic alliance with Republicans morphed into a thorough fusion. This alienated many people and robbed the church of its prophetic voice. But he writes:
As a historical matter, the extreme alignment of Christians and the Right might never have happened if the Left had not abandoned the field. As it was, the Right was the only side making a religious pitch. Both sides should have been making a religious pitch. The Left has been reemphasizing the use of values and religious language, and when it’s not artificial and manipulative I actually appreciate that. We need Christians arguing both sides.
And then he writes this, which I could easily have written myself:
While I tend to vote conservative, it’s my responsibility as a Christian to examine each issue on its own merits according to my principles and my beliefs. I feel no loyalty to the Republican Party. In fact, I fear that feeling of loyalty because I fear it would cloud my judgment. My loyalty is to something much greater, and that greater loyalty will sometimes call me to criticize the Republican Party. I need to be able to deliver that criticism.
Then he concludes:
What we require is not less religion in politics, but better religion in politics. We require a religion in politics that is not reflexively partisan (and now that problem is just as acute amongst progressive Christians on the Left as it ever was amongst conservative Christians on the Right). We require more thoughtful ways of bringing the fullness of who we are, religious vision included, into the political arena. We require the kind of faith in politics that will hold us accountable to be humble and honest and searching and serving, that will hold the state accountable to use the power of the sword and the power of the public purse wisely and justly, and that will hold the church accountable to speak with a greater regard for the truth than for political power.
“Reflexive partisanship.” To me, that is the virus that has diminished the church’s voice in culture. It is epidemic. And it continues to spread through the body ... right, left, and in between.
USA Today: Fewer than half in USA are Protestant
As Protestants decline, people with no religion, "Nones", are rising in number. Protestants are less than half of Americans, while Nones are one in five.
For decades, if not centuries, America's top religious brand has been "Protestant." No more.
In the 1960s, two in three Americans called themselves Protestant. Now the Protestant group -- both evangelical and mainline -- has slid below the statistical waters, down to 48%, from 53% in 2007
Where did they go? Nowhere, actually. They didn't switch to a new religious brand, they just let go of any faith affiliation or label.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released an analytic study today titled, Nones on the Rise, now that one in five Americans (19.6%) claim no religious identity.
This group, called "Nones," is now the nation's second-largest category only to Catholics, and outnumbers the top Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists. The shift is a significant cultural, religious and even political change. ...
Strolling down the main shopping drag in this working-class Rio de Janeiro suburb, it's not the second-skin dresses in shocking pink spandex that catch the eye or even the strapless tops with strategically placed peekaboo paneling.
The newest look can instead be found in stores like Silca Evangelical Fashion, where the hot items are the demure, long-sleeved frocks with how-low-can-you-go hemlines and the polyester putty-colored potato sack dresses.
In the birthplace of the "fio dental" or dental floss string bikini, so-called evangelical fashion has emerged as a growing segment of the country's $52 billion-a-year textile industry, catering to the conservative sartorial needs of Brazil's burgeoning numbers of born-again Pentecostals.
Once so difficult to procure that evangelical women tended to make much of their own clothes themselves, the modest garb is now popping up all over Brazil.
On the tiny high street of Rio suburb Itaborai, not one but two evangelical clothing stores compete to dress the faithful. M&A Fashion got its start two decades ago as a conventional clothing shop, selling the short, tight styles favored in this tropical country, but shifted to evangelical offerings five years ago. Silca Evangelical Clothing, two doors down, opened in March. ...
Washington Post: Report shows 5,000+ multisite churches
The number of congregations that host worship services at more than one physical location has grown to more than 5,000 in the last decade, according to a new report.
Researchers say these “multisite” churches, which may share worshippers across town or many miles apart, are growing at a much larger pace than traditional megachurches.
Without the burden of additional expensive buildings, congregations find they grow faster in new places, said Warren Bird, research director of Leadership Network, who announced his conclusions Tuesday (Aug. 21).
“It’s a combination of both evangelism and saying, ‘People may not come to this particular building. How can we take where we are to where they are?’” he told Religion News Service. ...
... Multisite churches have grown from fewer than 200 in 2001 to 1,500 in 2006 to an estimated 3,000 in 2009 to more than 5,000 today. In comparison, U.S. megachurches have grown from about 50 in 1970 to about 1,650 in 2012 in North America. ...
Very interesting graphs.
Washington Post: Poll shows Christianity good for the poor, bad for sex
WASHINGTON — Americans feel the “Christian faith” has a positive impact on help for the poor and raising children with good morals, according to a new poll, but it gets a bad rap on its impact on sexuality in society.
In a new study conducted by Grey Matter Research, more than 1,000 American adults were asked if the Christian faith had a positive, negative, or no real impact on 16 different areas of society, such as crime, poverty and the role of women in society.
Strong majorities (72 percent) said Christianity is good for helping the poor and for raising children with good morals. Around half (52 percent) said Christianity helps keep the U.S. as a “strong nation,” and nearly as many (49 percent) said the faith had a positive impact on the role of women in society. ...
... Sellers said he wasn’t surprised that Americans hold their most negative perception for how Christianity impacts sexuality: 37 percent felt there was a negative impact, compared to only 26 percent who felt it was positive.
In six of the 16 areas, sizable numbers of Americans said Christianity had little or no impact, including the environment, business ethics, civility and substance abuse. Americans were roughly split, at about one-third each, on Christianity’s impact on racism. ... (my emphasis)
... Given that some of these countries have performed about as well or better than the U.S. in recent years, one might conclude that the historic link between religious faith and material progress — so central to the work of Max Weber – has been irretrievably broken. Yet in reality, the religious connection with economic growth may be still far more important than is commonly supposed.
Many in the pundit class identify religion as something of a regressive tendency, embraced by the less enlightened, the less skilled, intelligent and educated. Yet some scholars, such as Charles Murray, point out that religious affiliation is weakening most not among the middle and upper classes but among the poorer and less educated who traditionally looked to churches for succor and moral instruction. Secularism may have not hurt the uber-rich or the academic overclass so far, but it appears to have helped expand our lumpenproleteriat.
Some might be surprised to learn that religious affiliation grows with education levels. A new University of Nebraska study finds that with each additional year of education, the odds of attending religious services increased by 15%. The educated, the study found, may not be eschewing religion, as social science has long maintained, even if their spiritual views tend to be less narrow, and less overtly tied to politics, than among the less schooled.
Overall the most cohesive religious groups — such as Mormons and Jews — still outperform their religious counterparts both in educational achievement and income. Both Jews and Mormons focus on helping their co-religionists, providing a leg up on those who depend solely on the charity of others or the state. In countries with a substantial historical Protestant influence such as Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands continue to outperform economic the heavily Catholic nations like Italy, Ireland and Spain, according to a recent European study. The difference, they speculate, may be in Protestant traditions of self-help, frugality and emphasis on education. None of this, of course, would have been surprising to Max Weber. ...
... There may be other positive fiscal effects of religiosity. Religious people donate on average far more to charities than their secular counterparts, including those unaffiliated with a religion. Nearly 15% of the religious volunteer every week compared to just 10% among the secular.
Social networks, much celebrated among the single, might provide people with voices, but religious organizations actually do something about meeting real human needs. Organized religion provides a counterweight to the European notion that we must rely on government for everything. Poor people educated or fed by the charities of mosques, churches, and synagogues relieves some of the burden faced by our variously tottering states and shredding social welfare nets. Aging baby boomers, notes author Ted Fishman, may be forced to rely more on the “kindness of strangers” from religious backgrounds to take care of them in their old age.
Sadly few prominent religious leaders deliver this message effectively, often preferring to scold non-believers. This is unfortunate since what the faithful do in the real world, at home and in their communities, may prove ever more crucial to the viability of our societies in the future. ...
USA Today: Evangelicals seek positive change
... But not far below the surface, change is afoot in the ranks of a once-reliable GOP voting bloc and around that term, "evangelical." As has been widely reported, more evangelicals are breaking formation and tackling social problems such as poverty and human trafficking that weren't on the evangelical political agenda a decade or two ago. Even more seismic, though, is a challenge being mounted against the notion that electoral politics is the way to do God's work in America's public life.
In a refreshing departure from the culture war mind-set that has come to characterize this and other recent elections, some of evangelicalism's leading thinkers and spokespeople are trumpeting an important insight: Christians too fixated on politics are bound to end up frustrated and tarnished. And politics is not the only way to create positive change. ...
Black, White and Gray: Are Religious Organizations Like Firms?
Can ideas from economics, such as that monopolies are lazy and that competition leads to better products, be applied to understand religion? Every year I teach my students–both those in my class on economic sociology and those in my class on sociology of religion–about the economistic or the rational choice perspective on religion.
Most people think individual religious behaviors and religious organizations are driven by emotions, theology, and/or tradition. But rational choice theories of religion are modeled are assumptions about human behavior now current in mainstream economics: humans are rational, self-interested beings who seek to maximize rewards and minimize their costs. What makes religion so powerful in motivating human behavior is that most religions promise rewards or punishment in another life. ...
... Talking about religion as a product marketed to buyers and sellers sounds appealing, saying that Methodists and Baptists are just like competing car firms is intriguing, and arguing that martyrs aren’t crazy but rational is counter-intuitive. Ultimately, however, rational choice theory doesn’t provide a comprehensive explanation of individual religious behavior or organizational religious behavior. Do some things about religion resemble market behavior? Yes. That is why I always teach rational choice theory: it provides unique insights into religion. As long as rational choice theory and its assumptions about forward-looking and self-interested behavior are considered alongside other important explanations of religious behavior, I think it makes an important contribution to understanding religion. But rational choice ultimately only tells us some things about religion, not everything, nor even the most important things about religion.
All social analysts–whether paid academics scholars like myself, journalists or readers of this blog–should put rational choice explanations of behavior alongside other perspectives, such as cultural and organizational theories. For example, it was not only competition from new religious movements or community megachurches like Willow Creek that led to the declining identification with religious denominations in America, but also important theological changes within those denominations about the authority of scripture, among other things. Dramatic cultural changes since the 1960s have also changed what people expect from religion–the God some people seek out today may be an authoritative God that expects sacrifice but for many others seek a therapeutic God who provides psychological comfort on demand. ...
The Christian Post: Youth Turned Off by Religion and Politics, Turn Away From Church
... One of the most surprising findings from the data they collected, Campbell said in a March 13 interview with The Christian Post, was that people are driven away or toward religious involvement because of their political leanings. In particular, those who are politically conservative, or Republican, are more likely to become churchgoers and those that are politically liberal, or Democratic, are more likely to turn away from religion.
This is the opposite of previous understandings of the interaction of religion and politics. Social scientists believed that people first got involved in a particular religion, which then influenced their politics in some way. Increasingly, more studies like Campbell and Putnam's are finding, though, that politics is more likely to determine religion than religion determine politics.
Campbell likes to use the image of a "brand" from marketing. The Republican brand has been increasingly associated with religion and social conservatism due to the influence of the Christian Right, a social movement which has been a part of the Republican coalition since the 1980s. Moderates and Democrats are uncomfortable with that brand and seek to not be identified with it.
"A lot of what goes on in politics is not so much people thinking through political positions but it's sort of a visceral reaction you have to a brand, whether it be Republicans or Democrats," Campbell said. ...
... "Anything you might say about the general population, double it or square it when you talk about the young," Campbell said.
Since young voters are more likely to be politically liberal, especially on the issue of gay rights, they have been driven away from the church by the perception of a close association between religion and Republican politics.
To young adults, Campbell and Putnam write, "'religion' means 'Republican,' 'intolerant,' and 'homophobic.' Since those traits do not represent their views, they do not see themselves – or wish to be seen by their peers – as religious." ...
... "The reason this is important for clergy is these are not people who are lost completely to religion. It's almost like they're an untapped constituency, or untapped market, that could be brought back to a different kind of religion, or a religion that they thought was stripped of politics," Campbell argued.
There is a trend among nondenominational evangelical congregations that attract younger Christians to avoid involvement in politics. Campbell believes that the pastors of these congregations understand more intuitively what his data is showing more crudely – that young people dislike their religion mixed with politics.
And yet, it seems to me, that the vision of many in the PCUSA world is to offer a very political left version of the church as the alternative to the Christian Right. It is just a different "brand" of the uholy elevation of politics to the center of church's agenda. Stripping the church of all political reflection seems a bit too far to me, but with each passing month I'm more and more persuaded that the future lies in a church that integrates daily life with God's mission in the world, and includes people of all politcal stripes wrestling together through the issues that confront us.
The stern warning issued from the pulpit was directed at the tourists — most of whom had arrived late — a sea of white faces with guidebooks in hand. They outnumbered the congregation itself: a handful of elderly black men and women wearing suits and dresses and old-fashioned pillbox hats.
"We're hoping that you will remain in place during the preaching of the Gospel," a church member said over the microphone at this Harlem church on a recent Sunday morning. "But if you have to go, go now. Go before the preacher stands to preach."
No one left then. But halfway through the sermon, a group of French girls made their way toward the velvet ropes that blocked the exit. An usher shook his head firmly, but they ignored him and walked out.
The clash between tourists and congregants plays out every Sunday at Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the oldest black church in New York state. It's one of many Harlem churches that have become tourist attractions for visitors from all over the world who want to listen to soulful gospel music at a black church service. With a record number of tourists descending upon New York City last year, the crowds of foreigners are becoming a source of irritation among faithful churchgoers.
To preserve the sanctity of the service, pastors struggle to enforce strict rules of conduct. But the reality is that these visitors are often filling church pews that would otherwise remain empty — and filling the collection basket with precious dollar bills.
"Our building is in need of repair," church member Paul Henderson said after the service. "We need assistance. They're helping to sustain us." ...
Pew Internet: Speaking the language of the next generation
Director Lee Rainie will address the annual conference of the National Religious Broadcasters. He will focus on the media habits of Millennials and GenX and how their patterns of gathering and creating information are different in the digital age.
Economist: Holy relevance
Faith can influence economic behaviour—but not always directly
AS PROTESTANT Europe, in its own eyes virtuous and thrifty, wrestles with the debt problems of the continent’s Catholic and Orthodox countries, the idea that religious affiliation may influence the way people save, work and spend is more appealing than ever. The toppling of Arab tyrants has lent urgency to a similar enquiry: do Islam and Islamism permit the legal and social conditions that make for prosperity?
Clearly many modern religious leaders have strong ideas about economics. In western Europe, organised Christianity often acts as a modest voice in the ranks of the egalitarian left. This month’s anti-banker protests in London initially found a friendly base for their tent city at Saint Paul’s cathedral. (In recent days, Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, has asked them to leave, while acknowledging that they had raised important issues.) In America religious voices both praise and decry the capitalist order. Also on the borderline between economics and ethics, many religious leaders have taken up the cause of climate change, and urged people to change their behaviour—though this week an Australian cardinal, George Pell, bucked that trend by addressing a group of climate-change sceptics in London.
But all the most interesting theories about religion and behaviour refer to unconscious influences. The best-known was devised by Max Weber, a father of modern sociology, who drew a connection between the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Noting that Protestant parts of Germany were doing better (in the 19th century) than Catholic ones, he thought the “inner loneliness” of Protestants—who can never be sure if they are saved in the eyes of God—made them work harder. Unlike many other forms of faith, Protestantism has no mystical rite to absolve sin.
Sascha Becker, a professor at Britain’s Warwick University who tests Weber’s theories against real life, says the German thinker was both right and wrong. Protestant Germany did prosper, but not because of theology or psychology. ...
There is new blog in the Blogosphere devoted to the intersecion of sociology and Christianity. Be sure to visit Black, White and Gray: Where Christianity and Sociology Meet. I've added it to my regular reading list.
Huffington Post: Church Attendance Falling Among Less-Educated Whites: Study
While overall church attendance has declined slightly in the United States in recent decades, a new study says attendance at religious services among white Americans who did not go to college has fallen more than twice as quickly as it has among more highly educated whites.
The study, released Sunday by the American Sociological Association, draws on decades of data from the General Social Survey and the National Survey of Family Growth to conclude that "moderately educated whites," defined as people with high school degrees, attended religious services in the 1970s at about the same rate as whites with degrees from four-year colleges. In the last decade, however, they attended much less frequently.
“Our study suggests that the less educated are dropping out of the American religious sector similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” says researcher W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.
The research shares some conclusions with a recent study by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor whose findings contradicted the common myth that less-educated people are more religious. That study, released in early August, concluded that a college degree does not make a person less religious, but that more education does make people more accepting of the validity of religions other than their own. Both studies used data from the General Social Survey, which is an ongoing survey of American' attitudes and behaviors that began in 1972. ...
Modeled Behavior: Do the Amish use Facebook?
The relationship between the Amish and technology is not so absolutist as most probably imagine. A recent article on the use of Facebook among Amish teens illustrates the complex, varied, and surprising ways in which the so-called Plain People interact with technology:
There are no statistics to show how many Amish are on Facebook, the social networking site used by an estimated 500 million people worldwide. But some, in a community that shuns electricity in their homes, won’t buy cars and maintains traditional garb, say the number of Plain kids using Facebook — often logging on via their cellphones — appears to be increasing….
For now, the reaction to Facebook in Amish communities ranges from preaching against it directly to being completely unaware of it:
The Amishwoman at the stand near Gap said one local minister actually did preach against Facebook in recent weeks. Others, she said, are vaguely worried, aware that it’s happening but unsure how many are involved. And they’re also hampered by the fact that many older Amishmen and women simply don’t know what Facebook is.
From Gil Rendle's Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches
For the moment it is sufficient to note that over time in a difficult environment where it has been increasingly hard to operate from strength, it is natural that our mainline denominational identity and stories have become both safe and weak. Our stories, our identities, become safe and weak because we have learned to tell only the more comfortable, less challenging parts of the stories so that we are not demoralized. Consider what happens naturally in an established congregation over time. For example, a congregation tells its story about how warm and welcoming it is to the people of the congregation and how members reach out to one another in times of need. Indeed, the story is quite often true. But this is also a safe and weak story because of what is left unsaid. Missing in this story may be the congregation’s fear of the changed community that now surrounds its building and how it tends not to welcome and naturally include neighborhood people who might join in a worship service. Because it tells only the safe and weak parts of its story in this all-too-common scenario, the congregation robs itself of a future that can come from the strength of remembering who it really is as a community of faith and what can happen in the neighborhood if members of the congregation come to terms with their discomforts and fears. Like local congregations, our mainline denominations have been held captive by the safe and weak stories they have been willing to tell themselves while there is much more that could be said. (13)
And as I read this again this week I also saw this video clip. I think it serves as parable for what Rendle is saying.
Patheos -Progressive Christian Portal: Progressive vs. Emergence Christianity: From Where I Sit
Despite the sharing of conversations, there still are some distinct differences between Progressive Christianity and Emergence Christianity.
... Despite that sharing of conversationalists, however, there still are some distinct differences between Progressive Christianity and Emergence Christianity, at least three or four of which should be mentioned even in so brief an overview as this one. For example, Progressive Christianity pivots on social justice. Social justice is, likewise, a major concern and hallmark of Emergence Christianity, wherever in the Latinized world it may be forming and becoming operative. The difference—and it is, to me, a telling one—is in the underlying approach to the issue.
In dealing with matters of social justice, the Progressive stance and course of action generally are first intellectualized, then politicized, and finally formalized. By contrast, the Emergence posture or approach is far more pedestrian and humble in both its articulation and its delivery. Emergence Christians will defend vigorously their position that as long as some act of social justice has been a matter of "our doing something for them," the act is fundamentally one of enlightened or informed self-interest, if not plain old commonsense. Social justice, Emergence contends, really is—really must be—an exercise in "us helping each other" in whatever way possible here and now because of the bond of commonality that is Christ in all of us. ...
... Almost as remarkable is the way in which the operative approach to Scripture differs between the two groups. The Progressive stance, once again, is far more intellectualized than is that of Emergence. Born in a time of burgeoning Pentecostalism, Emergence Christianity and Emergence Christians are naturally inclined—increasingly so, in fact—toward the approach of communal discernment and direct appeal to the Holy Spirit for explication and direction. Such a stance allows Emergence to be more or less innocent of biblical literalism and far more inclined toward a kind of apophatic or Orthodox actualism.
Authority, for Emergence, is not yet firmly defined or ensconced, whereas for Progressives it tends to be fairly well rooted in situational, critical, and historical analysis. ...
Los Angeles Times: Shifting sands of religion and politics
Americans tolerate a broader array of religious affiliations in their politicians.
... Of the 44 U.S. presidents, all but a handful have been affiliated with a relatively narrow list of traditional Protestant denominations.
Eleven were Episcopalians (12 if you count Thomas Jefferson, whose adult beliefs are a subject of debate), eight were Presbyterians, four were Methodists and four were Baptists. Others included Congregationalists, Dutch Reformed and Disciples of Christ. ...
... But among the leading candidates for this year's Republican presidential nomination, not one is a member of the Protestant denominations that for so long have dominated American political culture.
Two of the potential candidates are Mormons (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.); one is a member of an interdenominational evangelical church (former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty); two others are Catholics (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum). Rep. Michele Bachmann, who says she's considering the race, worships at an evangelical Lutheran church; if elected, she'd be the first Lutheran president.
But no matter who wins from this list, it won't be an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian or a Methodist.
The denominational diversity of the GOP field reflects a trend that has been building for half a century: the decline of the "mainline" churches' size and influence. Among Protestants, evangelical congregations have taken off, and the old mainline denominations have been shrinking. ...
National Geographic: The Birth of Religion
We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.
... At the time of Göbekli Tepe's construction much of the human race lived in small nomadic bands that survived by foraging for plants and hunting wild animals. Construction of the site would have required more people coming together in one place than had likely occurred before. Amazingly, the temple's builders were able to cut, shape, and transport 16-ton stones hundreds of feet despite having no wheels or beasts of burden. The pilgrims who came to Göbekli Tepe lived in a world without writing, metal, or pottery; to those approaching the temple from below, its pillars must have loomed overhead like rigid giants, the animals on the stones shivering in the firelight—emissaries from a spiritual world that the human mind may have only begun to envision.
Archaeologists are still excavating Göbekli Tepe and debating its meaning. What they do know is that the site is the most significant in a volley of unexpected findings that have overturned earlier ideas about our species' deep past. Just 20 years ago most researchers believed they knew the time, place, and rough sequence of the Neolithic Revolution—the critical transition that resulted in the birth of agriculture, taking Homo sapiens from scattered groups of hunter-gatherers to farming villages and from there to technologically sophisticated societies with great temples and towers and kings and priests who directed the labor of their subjects and recorded their feats in written form. But in recent years multiple new discoveries, Göbekli Tepe preeminent among them, have begun forcing archaeologists to reconsider. ...
... As important as what the researchers found was what they did not find: any sign of habitation. Hundreds of people must have been required to carve and erect the pillars, but the site had no water source—the nearest stream was about three miles away. Those workers would have needed homes, but excavations have uncovered no sign of walls, hearths, or houses—no other buildings that Schmidt has interpreted as domestic. They would have had to be fed, but there is also no trace of agriculture. For that matter, Schmidt has found no mess kitchens or cooking fires. It was purely a ceremonial center. If anyone ever lived at this site, they were less its residents than its staff. To judge by the thousands of gazelle and aurochs bones found at the site, the workers seem to have been fed by constant shipments of game, brought from faraway hunts. All of this complex endeavor must have had organizers and overseers, but there is as yet no good evidence of a social hierarchy—no living area reserved for richer people, no tombs filled with elite goods, no sign of some people having better diets than others.
"These people were foragers," Schmidt says, people who gathered plants and hunted wild animals. "Our picture of foragers was always just small, mobile groups, a few dozen people. They cannot make big permanent structures, we thought, because they must move around to follow the resources. They can't maintain a separate class of priests and craft workers, because they can't carry around all the extra supplies to feed them. Then here is Göbekli Tepe, and they obviously did that." ...
... If these archaeologists were correct, these protovillages provided a new explanation of how complex society began. Childe thought that agriculture came first, that it was the innovation that allowed humans to seize the opportunity of a rich new environment to extend their dominion over the natural world. The Natufian sites in the Levant suggested instead that settlement came first and that farming arose later, as a product of crisis. Confronted with a drying, cooling environment and growing populations, humans in the remaining fecund areas thought, as Bar-Yosef puts it, "If we move, these other folks will exploit our resources. The best way for us to survive is to settle down and exploit our own area." Agriculture followed. ...
Jane Jacobs argued decades ago the cities preceded agriculture. It appears she may have been partly vindicated.
This is simply amazing find. I become totally engrossed in it everytime I read about. I suspect it will become the archealogical discovery of the century.
Wall Street Journal: Need Job? Try Church
... Across the nation, local churches and other religious organizations have stepped up their recession-busting efforts with free career workshops, résumé clinics and networking functions. The latter can generate quick leads if leveraged properly since religious-centered networks tend to have very invested members, says Elliot Lasson, executive director of Joblink of Maryland, a job matching service that works with the Jewish community in Baltimore. "It's a community that wants to help each other," he says. But netting results requires effort. ...
London (CNN) – Religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings, a massive new study of cultures all around the world suggests.
"We tend to see purpose in the world," Oxford University professor Roger Trigg said Thursday. "We see agency. We think that something is there even if you can't see it. ... All this tends to build up to a religious way of thinking."
Trigg is co-director of the three-year Oxford-based project, which incorporated more than 40 different studies by dozens of researchers looking at countries from China to Poland and the United States to Micronesia.
Studies around the world came up with similar findings, including widespread belief in some kind of afterlife and an instinctive tendency to suggest that natural phenomena happen for a purpose.
"Children in particular found it very easy to think in religious ways," such as believing in God's omniscience, said Trigg. But adults also jumped first for explanations that implied an unseen agent at work in the world, the study found. ...
The Tennessean: Megachurches grow without building on
Seven years ago, Bethel World Outreach Center was bursting at the seams. Sunday services drew 1,200 people to Bethel’s building at Old Hickory Boulevard and Granny White Pike, and there was no more room in the pews.
So the multicultural church made plans to expand. Those plans failed when neighbors objected.
That turned out to be good news, said Rice Broocks, Bethel’s pastor.
Instead of building a bigger church, Bethel became what’s known as a multisite congregation. On Sunday mornings, the church’s 3,500 members meet in six locations in Middle Tennessee, from Clarksville to Murfreesboro. Bethel members also have begun meeting in the suburbs of Phoenix and Dallas, trying to re-create what they experienced when attending services in Nashville.
It’s part of a movement among megachurches to expand their reach across state lines. Several Middle Tennessee churches are expanding to locations around Nashville, into Kentucky and beyond.
“We have a desire to take our brand and expand it,” Broocks said.
For Bethel, their brand comes down to what he calls the three Ds — diversity, devotion and discipleship. When Brooks became pastor at Bethel in 2000, the congregation was mostly white. Today, about 60 percent of the church is African-American or from other ethnic backgrounds. ...
Detnews.com: 'Social Justice' is a complex concept
A column by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, a Catholic writer for the Washington Post, makes the claim that "Catholic social justice demands a redistribution of wealth." He went on to say that "there can be no disagreement" that unions, the government and private charities should all have a role in fighting a trend that has "concentrated" money into the hands of the few. In this conjecture Stevens-Arroyo confused the ends with potential means.
What Stevens-Arroyo is promoting is an attenuated and truncated vision of "social justice" that has fostered a great deal of injustice throughout the world. This path, he should know, has been decisively repudiated by the Church.
He also betrays a strange split in thinking common to those on the religious left, who are quick to denounce the profit motive and commercialism. Yet, they seem to think that the key to happiness is giving people more stuff — by enlisting the coercive power of government. This perverse way of thinking holds that "social justice" demands that we take money from those who have earned it and give it to those who have less of it. That's not social justice; that's materialism.
A friend and colleague, Arthur Brooks, a social researcher who is now president of the American Enterprise Institute, has shown that what makes people truly happy is a system that "facilitates earned success among its citizens and does not create disincentives to achieve or squash ambition." That's the market economy.
The incredible growth of economies in places like China and India isn't happening because wealth was being shifted around, but because wealth is being created....
His point about the implicit materialism of the left, and many religionists, is important. While condemning consumerism they say that justice is poorer people being able to buy more stuff. Human beings are not so many cattle to be fed and sheltered. People were made for stewardship, for being participants in an interdependent community of production, trade, and generosity.
New York Times - Economix: A Conversation With Eduardo Porter
(I'm not saying I endorse everything Porter is saying but it is an interesting discussion.)
Eduardo Porter and I were colleagues on the economics beat at The New York Times several years ago, and he is now a member of the editorial board. He’s also the author of the recent book “The Price of Everything.” Our conversation, the latest installment of this blog’s Book Chat series, follows:
Q. Let’s start with an unusual topic for a book on prices: religion. You suggest an economic framework for thinking about religion. The costs of religion are time (in church, praying and the like) and behavior restrictions (against what you can eat, whom you can marry and the like). The benefit — or at least one benefit — is the fact that religious people report being happier on average than nonreligious.
It’s a big gap, as you write. The average happiness gap between someone who goes to church weekly and someone who never goes to church is as large as the average happiness gap between the richest 20 percent of Americans and the poorest 20 percent.
Does this mean that nonreligious people and marginally religious people should, for the sheer sake of earthly satisfaction, consider becoming more religious?
Mr. Porter: No.
Religious belief contributes to happiness and well-being by providing social glue to bond groups together. The investments required to participate — from dietary restrictions to, in some societies, mutilation — wall religious groups off from the rest of society, protecting their investment from uncommitted free riders. The rules might contribute to happiness as they lead believers to drop unhealthy behaviors, like alcohol abuse. More importantly, the walls foster trust and solidarity, which allow mutual support networks to emerge. And the enclosed nature of the system reinforces collective belief sets –satisfying believers’ need to belong.
But religion does not guarantee higher well-being under any circumstance. Religious belief helps people cope with sudden unemployment. But divorce can distress believers much more than non-believers. Devout Americans aren’t happier than their secular fellow citizens just because religion confers some benefits in terms of mutual support and insurance. Secular Americans also suffer from being marginalized in a predominantly believing nation. When was the last time an atheist ran for high office in the United States?
Mostly, adherence to a religious faith is not a matter of individual choice. More often it is a decision taken by our forebears before we were born. Fortunately for the secular, there are other ways to improve one’s happiness. Higher income is associated with higher happiness. So are more free time and emotional attachments. Surveys may suggest that religious Americans are happier than those of a secular disposition. But surveys also suggest that Danes, a bunch of heathen unbelievers by American standards, are happier than Americans. And this is despite being poorer.
One thing to keep in mind is that the benefits conferred by religion have little or nothing to do with the specific nature of the religious belief. It’s all about creating a walled garden with onerous rules of behavior that will allow trust to flourish inside. This presumably could be achieved through a secular belief set. Though maybe that would amount to inventing a new religion.
Q. Perhaps the single most uncomfortable topic involving prices is the idea that you can put a value on a human life. As you note, the E.P.A. has valued a human life at $7.5 million. People just instinctively recoil. How can you persuade someone that this framework is actually a useful one?
Mr. Porter: This kind of evaluation is more common than we care to admit. ...