FaithWorld

Americans sharply divided on Hollywood influence– Pew survey

oscars-2.jpgAmericans are sharply divided on the influence of Hollywood — for good or bad — and unsurprisingly this “culture war” division tends to follow religious faultlines.That is one of the many findings of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s massive “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” The second part of this detailed survey, based on interviews with over 35,000 U.S. adults last year, was released on Monday.

For our story on its “culture war” findings look here.

The survey asked Americans if Hollywood “threatened” their values: 42 percent said it did, 56 percent said it did not.

Hollywood has long been a target of U.S. conservatives, many of whom regard its main movers and shakers as hardcore liberals (or worse) and its movie industry as corrupting.

So it comes as no surprise that most U.S. evangelicals agreed that Tinsletown goes against their grain though not by the overwhelming margin one might have assumed: 53 percent saw it as a threat but 45 percent did not.

The stoutly conservative Mormons regard Hollywood and its ways with the most suspicion among U.S. religious groupings with 67 percent agreeing that it threatens the things they hold dear.

Are U.S. atheists from Venus and Mormons from Mars?

Barack Obama, 15 June 2008/John GressIs the Democratic Party really “Godless” and are Republicans really righteous?

Far from it, though there are findings from the monumental U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life which could be used perhaps to make such arguments. You can see our main story on the survey here and the survey itself, which was released on Monday, here.

On partisan affiliation for example, the survey found that Mormons were the most staunchly Republican religious group in America with 65 percent of those polled indentifying with or leaning towards that party.

Some U.S. atheists seem to be confused, Pew survey shows

Christopher Hitchens, 14 Sept 2005/Shannon StapletonThere seems to be some confusion among self-described U.S. atheists, at least according to the second part of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s monumental “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” that was issued today.

It found that 92 percent of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit, with 71 percent of those surveyed saying they were “absolutely certain” on this score.

Curiously, more than one fifth — 21 percent — of those who counted themselves as atheists said they believed in God while eight percent expressed absolute certainty about this state of affairs.

Evangelicals debate competing for souls at Beijing Olympics

Cross-like supports for pole valuting at the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open, 22 May 2008/David GrayBesides the usual Olympic sports, another competition seems to be shaping up for the Beijing Games in August — evangelisation. Christian organisations are debating whether they should use the Games as an opportunity to spread the faith among the Chinese during those weeks. China seems determined to control religious activity during the Games and allow only religious services for foreigners attending the Games. But doing covert missionary work in difficult areas — usually Muslim countries — is a challenge some Christian groups relish.

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) discussed this recently with an article entitled “Should Christians Evangelize at the Beijing Olympics?” The prominent U.S. evangelist Franklin Graham angered some fellow evangelicals by saying they should not go to China and preach outside approved channels. But groups such as 4 Winds Christian Athletics disagree. They want athletes competing in Beijing to speak about their faith during interviews. The group’s head, Steve McConkey, said: “Christians should use caution and do as God leads.”

Carl Moeller, head of the Open Doors U.S.A. group defending persecuted Christians worldwide, told Mission Network News: “We’re actually encouraging travellers to the Olympic Games to call Open Doors, to visit Open Doors and to get from us some materials that are specifically designed for evangelism during the Olympic Games. We feel like evangelism during the Olympic Games will be a tremendous opportunity.” At the bottom of the story is a link to the Open Doors U.S.A. website saying: “If you’re traveling to ChMarathon runners pass the National Olympic Stadium in Beijing, 30 April 2008/Jason Leeina for the Olympics and would like helpful tools to share your faith during the games, click here.

Obama’s oratory and American civil religion

Senator Barack Obama at the College of Southern Nevada, 27 May 2008/Steve MarcusThere’s been so much emphasis on Barack Obama’s “pastor problems” and his quitting his church that a key religion element in his campaign gets overshadowed. Obama isn’t just a polished speaker. He’s shown he’s fluent in the language of American civil religion, the non- denominational set of beliefs that has been a source of inspiration for great U.S. orators like Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.

Andrea Useem has posted an interesting analysis of Obama’s oratory on her Religion Writer blog. Taking his speech in St. Paul at the end of the primaries as an example, she noted that he didn’t make any direct references to God. “But in speaking about hopes and aspirations as a defining political force, he somehow tapped that vein of civil religion, implying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the greatest campaigns are those based on the inner human spirit.”

By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s “message of grit and sweat and labor obviously resonates with the ‘hard work’ ideal of America, but at the same time, that message may be too leaded, too rooted, to soar into the realm of inspiring political rhetoric.”

Benedict is a liberal, according to traditionalist bishop

Pope Benedict XVI at his weekly general audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican, 4 June 2008/Dario PignatelliPope Benedict is “an absolutely liberal pope.” The United States is “founded upon Masonic principles of a revolution, of a rebellion against God”.

It is clear that the man who made these comments has lost some connection to reality. If I told you he had been the target of a Vatican charm offensive in recent years, you might think I had lost a link to reality, too. However, it shows how strange the relationship between the Vatican and the schismatic traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X has become that its head, Bishop Bernard Fellay, could utter the words quoted above.

Fellay, whose SSPX movement champions the traditional Latin Mass and wants the Roman Catholic Church to turn the clock back to before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), thought its star was rising after the election of Pope Benedict three years ago. Benedict has gone a long way to accomodate the SSPX’s liturgical demands, bringing back the Tridentine Mass despite the fact very few other Catholics were asking for it. He has agreed to a new Latin Good Friday prayer that restored traditional phrasing even though it was offensive to Jews (and still not enough for the SSPX). Even Benedict, for all his conservative views, refuses to roll back the reforms of Vatican Two wholesale.

Soundbites but no solutions in French “virginity lie” case

A bride waiting for her wedding, 14 Feb 2008/Shannon StapletonThe “virginity lie” case gripping France for the past two days has given French politicians the opportunity to indulge in one of their favourite pastimes — expressing indignation. There’s been much more heat than light in this story since it broke last Friday.

If you haven’t been following it, the story is about a French Muslim couple who got their marriage annulled after the husband complained the wife was not the virgin she had claimed to be. Since he could not have cited either religion or the traditional Muslim preference for virgin brides as valid reasons for annulment, the husband’s lawyer argued the wife had lied about an “essential quality” necessary for the marriage. Under French law, a marriage can be annulled if, for example, one partner found out only after the wedding that the other had lied about a previous marriage or a criminal record.

Politicians, feminists and human rights activists immediately demanded the ruling be overturned. The critics vied to issue the most ringing denunciation. “A real fatwa for women’s liberation … (like) a ruling handed down in Kandahar” was a memorable one from Fadela Amara, the state secretary for urban affairs who comes from an Algerian Muslim family. Here are many more in French. By Monday, Justice Minister Rachida Dati — another cabinet member with a North African Muslim background — was flip-flopping. After originally defending the ruling as a means of helping a woman get out of an unwanted marriage, she decided on Monday to ask a public prosecutor to launch an appeal.

Muslim scholar responds to “Sharia smear” against Obama

Obama speaks at First Congregation/Carlos Barriaal United Church of Christ in Mason City, Iowa, 16 Dec 2007Two recent op-ed articles in the United States presented Barack Obama as a “Muslim apostate” according to “Muslim law as it is universally understood.” Since Muslims were bound to see him as an apostate, they argued, the potential next president could be seen as “al Qaeda’s candidate” because Islamists could whip up popular anger in the Muslim world by portraying him as a turncoat heading a Western war against Islam. He also risked assassination, one suggested, because Muslim law considers apostasy a crime worthy of the death sentence and bars punishment for any Muslim who kills an apostate.

There were many generalisations about Islam in these two articles, one by Edward Luttwak in the New York Times and the other by Shireen K. Burki in the Christian Science Monitor. There is no one code of Muslim law, as Luttwak (who is a strategic analyst not previously known for his mastery of Islamic jurisprudence) or Burki (who we’re told “studied Islam at school” in Pakistan) want unsuspecting readers to believe. Few Muslim countries have death for apostates on their books, and even fewer actually carry it out. This is not meant to defend any law about apostasy, which is an individual right, but just to state a few facts.

Most important of all, Obama never tires of saying that he is a committed Christian and has never practiced the religion that his father (who left his son when he was 2 years old) no longer practiced either. The fact these articles appeared amid an “Obama-is-a-Muslim” whispering campaign in an election year makes a good case for suspecting they may have been motivated more by political strategy than legal scholarship. A lot of the 368 comments on Luttwak’s article assume that’s the case. Call it the “Sharia smear.”

Blair – religion to be as important as 20th century ideologies

Tony Blair with a model of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 11 Dec 2007/pool“Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st Century as political ideology was to the 20th Century,” Tony Blair said on Thursday in a statement before Friday’s launch in New York of his new Faith Foundation to improve understanding between different religions and fight global poverty by mobilizing people through faith.

Blair is not the first person to talk about how important religion is and will be in the 21st century. Decades ago, the late French writer André Malraux reportedly went so far as to issue a wonderfully Gallic sweeping statement: “The 21st century will be religious or it will not be.”

Even if British understatement isn’t what it used to be, Blair’s comment is really quite bold. The main political ideologies of the 20th century were communism, Nazism and fascism. They rallied huge masses of people, justified totalitarian regimes and imposed skewed views of the world on whole populations. When communism collapsed across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union following the fall of the Berlin Wall, millions of people felt that they had been liberated.

British Muslim TV channel to air inter-faith game show

Islam Channel logoThis could be very interesting … or maybe a flop. Islam Channel, a British Muslim TV channel broadcast on satellite and webcasts, plans to host a weekly religion quiz show called “Faith Off” from mid-June. It’s meant to promote better understanding among religions by pitting teams from different faiths against each other. As the Guardian‘s religion correspondent Riazat Butt put it, the show will pit “Jews against Muslims, Sikhs against Christians and Hindus against Buddhists, with contestants competing for cash prizes.” Sounds like an interesting idea, but I don’t know if it will make great TV.

Like all quiz shows, its success will depend on how well it’s presented, how interesting the questions are and how knowledgable the contestants are. But one of the recurring religion stories you see is the survey about how little many people know about their own religion. In fact, they’re hardly news anymore.

So I wonder how well contestants will do even with questions about their own faith, let alone anything dealing with another religion. And what about issues where there are differences of opinion within one religion? If the producers weed out all the difficult and contentious questions, is there enough left to make a lively and challenging show?