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.

Orthodox Anglicans skate around schism at conference

Religion reporters have been tracking the slow disintegration of the Anglican Communion since 2003 with one word itching away at the tips of their typing fingers — schism. We don’t get to write history with a capital “H” that often and the few times we do can be career high points. So the prospect of covering an event where you can draw parallels to the Great Schism of 1054 (east-west back then, north-south now, etc) is tempting. In the meantime, though, even a hint of a schism is enough to land the term in a story. But it has to have the right packaging — adjectives such as “potential” or “looming” or something else — to indicate the big kaboom has not actually happened (or at least not yet). So we can scratch the itch a bit, but not too much.

Covering the current orthodox Anglican conference GAFCON in Jerusalem, the Daily Telegraph has scratched at that itch really hard with a story headlined “Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality.” It took a 94-page guidebook for “a pilgrimage to a Global Anglican future” as proof that Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinole and his allies have finally cut their ties to the Anglican Communion. “Hardline church leaders have formally declared the end of the worldwide Anglican communion, saying they could no longer be associated with liberals who tolerate homosexual clergy,” it wrote.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 28 Oct 2005/Antony NjugunaWell, up to a point, as our news story reports. The guidebook, entitled “The Way, The Truth and The Life”, goes to the rhetorical brink of schism … and stops. “There is no longer any hope … for a unified Communion,” Akinola writes. “All journeys must end some day.” He gives no road map for the future.

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.

Southern Baptists hold meet amid falling baptisms

SBC President Frank Page and President George Bush, 11 Oct 2006/Larry DowningAmerica’s largest evangelical denomination, the 16-million strong Southern Baptist Convention, is holding its annual meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday and Wednesday against the backdrop of a decline in the number of yearly baptisms.

This is serious stuff indeed for a group that places much emphasis on the conversion experience, the acceptance of Jesus as a person’s savior and the rite of passage that goes with this acceptance: a public immersion in water or baptism.

In April the SBC released its latest baptism numbers — figures it tracks closely, underscoring the importance attatched to them.

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.

Interfaith talks on agenda in Mecca, Rome and London

Saudi King Abdullah (r) and former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 4 June 2008/Ho NewThere were interesting words on interfaith dialogue from Mecca and Rome today and London yesterday. Efforts to improve contacts and understanding among the main monotheist religions have been gaining steam recently and we’re starting to see some concrete steps. But, as a meeting in Mecca showed, the road ahead could still be quite rocky.

The Mecca meeting, organised by the Saudi-based Muslim World League, is supposed to draw up guidelines for the inter-faith dialogue that Saudi King Abdullah says he wants with Christianity and Islam. “You are meeting here today to say to the world with pride that we are a fair, honest, humanitarian and moral voice, a voice for living together and dialogue,” the monarch said in a high-minded speech.

But former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the few prominent Shi’ites at the conference, rained on his parade with broadsides against the United States and Israel. But he also said: “To have a dialogue with other religions we need to start talking among ourselves. The call needs to be directed at ourselves first of all, and all the sects need to agree on shared points. As a Muslim and a Shi’ite … I say the things we agree on are many.”

NYT has second thoughts about “Sharia smear” on Obama

New York Times front page, 1 June 2008Thank you, Clark Hoyt. The public editor (ombudsman) of the New York Times has torn apart Edward Luttwak’s op-ed piece on Barack Obama supposedly being a Muslim apostate, right in the Grey Lady’s pages. In his Public Editor column on Sunday, Hoyt called it “a single, extreme point of view” and said the NYT should not simply publish opinion pieces based on patently false facts. We blogged about this last week when a leading Muslim scholar refuted Luttwak’s article. Luttwak is a military historian and  conservative analyst of strategic issues who has advised the U.S. military, National Security Council and State Department. He lists his fields of expertise as “geoeconomics, strategy and national strategies and military policies” but not Islam.

“The Times Op-Ed page, quite properly, is home to a lot of provocative opinions,” Hoyt wrote. “But all are supposed to be grounded on the bedrock of fact. Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture.”

Hoyt said he consulted five Islamic scholars at U.S. universities and “all of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.” When the Times asked Luttwak to defend his view, he sent them an analysis of it by an unnamed scholar of Muslim law. He disagreed with Luttwak so strongly that he wrote to him: “You seem to be describing some anarcho-utopian version of Islamic legalism, which has never existed, and after the birth of the modern nation state will never exist.”