God is Winning  Religion Refuses to Fade Away in a Modern World

NEW YORK, JULY 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Far from fading away in the shadow of modernity and prosperity, religious fervor is, in fact, growing. This is the argument of an article, "Why God is Winning," published in the July-August issue of the magazine Foreign Policy.

The authors, Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft, explain that one of the most recent confirmations of their thesis was the win last January of the Hamas party in the Palestinian elections.

After the election, one supporter of Hamas replaced the flag flying over the parliament with a banner proclaiming Mohammad. Soon afterwards the violent protests in many countries over the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed provided further evidence of the strength of Islamic fervor.

This was not just an isolated incidence, Shah and Toft maintain. "Voices claiming transcendent authority are filling public spaces and winning key political contests," they say.

Religiously-inspired politics has played an important role in situations such as the fight against apartheid in South Africa and the victory of Hindu nationalists in India in 1998.

In the United States, evangelicals have played an increasingly important part in elections in recent years. "Democracy is giving the world's peoples their voice, and they want to talk about God," the article notes.

The strengthening of religion is taking place at a time when democracy and freedom has spread in the world. The opening up of political processes in countries such as India, Nigeria, Turkey, and Indonesia during the past decade led to a much greater influence by religion in political life.

A similar trend has taken place with regard to economic life. Even though poverty is still a serious problem in many countries a lot people are now better off in economic terms. But as the world's population has become wealthier and more educated they have not turned their backs on God. A case in point is the rapid economic development in China, accompanied by a strong growth in religious belief.

Citing data from the World Christian Encyclopedia, the Foreign Policy article points out that the two largest Christian faiths -- Catholicism and Protestantism -- and the two largest non-Christian religions -- Islam and Hinduism -- have increased their share of the world's population in the year 2000 compared to a century earlier.

The four religions together accounted for 50% of the global population at the start of the 20th century. This had risen to nearly 64% by the beginning of the 21st century, and it could rise to nearly 70% by 2025.

Neo-orthodoxy

But the religious upsurge is not evenly distributed, point out Shah and Toft. "Today's religious upsurge is less a return of religious orthodoxy than an explosion of 'neo-orthodoxies,'" they argue.

These groups have in common the ability for good organization and political savvy. They are also quick to utilize new technologies to reach potential believers and translate their numbers into political power. This has been the case with Hindu groups in India, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and the Pentecostals in Brazil.

There are concerns, however, that such groups may be too extreme in their views and that they can also provoke civil conflicts. But even if there are negative aspects to some uses of religious fervor, religion has played a positive role in supporting democracy and human rights in many countries.

Shah and Taft further explained their case in an interview posted on the Web site of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In the text, dated July 18, they note that attention has been focused in recent years on Islam. It is not just an Islamic question, however, and the Islamic question needs to be understood in a broader context of religion in the world.

They also admitted that a number of Western countries, among them European nations, Canada and Japan, are quite secular. Even so, religious debates and groups still play a role in these countries. In Europe, for example, many recent debates on issues such as Turkey's entry to the European Union or immigration, involve Islam and the role of religion in European identity.

In trying to account for the current strength of religion, Shah and Taft opine that a change began in the late 1960s and accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s. In the developing world, the secular leaders and ideologies that promised progress began to fail. This was the case, for instance, in both Egypt and Iran.

The subsequent defeat of Soviet communism accelerated this process, creating a vacuum that religious groups were able to fill. In addition, a number of "prophetic" religious leaders, from John Paul II to Islamic figures, have exercised a large degree of authority and influence over their followers in recent times. The mobilization of religious believers in the United States has also been an important factor in influencing political and social life, with consequences both inside and outside America.

Until recently, however, religion's role in politics was given little weight by analysts. That has changed now and both academic circles and governments are taking religion more seriously.

Global resurgence

Another view of religion in the modern world comes from Ronald Inglehart, chairman of the World Values Survey, and a professor at the University of Michigan. A transcript of an interview with Inglehart at the National Press Club, dated May 8, is also available on the Pew Web site. The most recent values survey, the fifth, is now being carried out, with results to be published next year.

Inglehart underlined the complexity of the situation regarding religion. In many countries religion is declining. But, he continued, "there are more people alive today with traditional religious beliefs than ever before in history, and they're a larger percentage of the world's population than they were 20 years ago."

There was secularization involved with economic changes, although the United States does provide an exception to this process. But the secularization took place mainly in the period of industrialization, and is still going on in some countries. This led to a decline in religion in many countries and the weakening of established religious organizations. In many Western nations, for example, church attendance is down.

The situation has changed, however, in the post-industrial or knowledge-based societies. In these countries there is an increasing debate over issues related to religious values, for example, over the question of same-sex marriage.

So while traditional churches may still face many challenges, there is a greater interest among the population for spiritual questions. Questions of culture and religion, therefore, do have greater weight in today's world.

Inglehart also pointed out that there is a notable difference between the economically advanced countries and the developing nations. The new interest in religion in developed countries is different in that it is less accepting of authority and linked to what is termed new age beliefs. In the developing countries, however, there is significantly more emphasis on traditional religion and this has not changed in recent years. In fact, they are not secularizing and are placing more emphasis on traditional religion.

This divergency in religious attitudes is a possible source of conflict, Inglehart noted. This conflict is not inevitable, but is a potential fault line where it could occur. So globalization has not brought with it greater conformity and convergence in terms of cultural and religious values. A situation that will no doubt be closely studied in coming years.

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Far From Being an Obstacle, Faith Seen as an Aid to Science

Cardinal Martino Addresses Festival in Bergamo

BERGAMO, Italy, OCT. 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Modern science "is a genuine product of a Judeo-Christian view of the world," and not the product of the Enlightenment, contends Cardinal Renato Martino.

When addressing the recent Festival of Science in Bergamo, the cardinal cast doubt on the "now habitual consideration" that science is "the result of the Enlightenment."

"For the great scientists and theologians of the Middle Ages, such as St. Albert the Great, Roberto Grossatesta and St. Hildegard of Bingen, the relationship between faith and science was almost co-natural," the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said.

This is how these "eminent scientists and believers in God the creator" perceived the "universe, … the harmony between these two forms of knowledge," he said. However, "this harmony between science and faith breaks in an age that corresponds more or less to the beginning of the Enlightenment."

In fact, the "aude sapere" -- "dare to think," the programmatic synthesis of the Enlightenment -- presents itself "as the attempt of autonomous reason to deny any authority other than itself," the cardinal explained during his Oct. 10 address, entitled "Science and Faith at the Service of Man."

Precisely to this Age of Reason is dated the "manipulation" of the Galileo Galilei case, "which arose as symbol of an alleged opposition between science and faith, which has led many to uphold" the "incompatibility between both," Cardinal Martino said.

"Instead, modern science is the genuine product of a Judeo-Christian view of the world which has its source of inspiration in the Bible and in the doctrine of the Logos," he noted.

For example, "the characteristic of pagan cosmogony is to present an inevitable cycle of birth-death-rebirth, without beginning or end, and substantially bereft of meaning." This is "a cyclical and non-ending view of time in the cosmos" in which "science was unable to make progress," he explained.

However, science needs "the capacity to investigate the beginning of processes in the universe" and an "adequate notion of time is fundamental for the development of differential and integral calculation."

"It was precisely the lineal and progressive view of the cosmos derived from Christian doctrine which triggers the growth of science, as well as other aspects of human enterprise," Cardinal Martino continued.

However, according to the president of the pontifical council, the idea that the Church and science are foreign to each other "has been exaggerated by the enemies" both of one as well as of the other, he added.

"To make science within theology is frequently the cause of misunderstandings between theologians and scientists," he said. "Among the ideological excesses there have been attempts to weaken an objective reality through a mistaken theory of relativity; attempts to reject the principle of causality through an illegitimate recourse to quantum theories and further approaches that transform the theory of evolution into an ideology, reinforcing the idea of causality and denying purpose to the universe."

"What all these attempts have in common is the desire to create an ideology of science; they seek to give science a task that is outside its objective," the Vatican official warned.

Cardinal Martino recalled that Pope Paul VI "stressed that science does not exhaust the whole of reality, but is a segment of it, of truth that can be proved with scientific procedures," and that "science is sovereign in its field," but "slave in respect to man."

"In other words, scientism must be avoided, still widespread today, which tends to reduce everything to knowledge of the scientific" and "refuses to admit as valid ways of knowledge different from those proper to positive sciences, relegating to the confined of mere imagination both religious and theological knowledge as well as ethical and aesthetic learning."

Since the start of his pontificate, John Paul II "has laid the basis so that science and faith are really at the service of man" and the Holy Father has explained "the positive complementarity of science in relation to other sectors in the perspective of love," Cardinal Martino said.

In this connection, the Pope notes that "the understanding of ourselves and of the universe will attain a moment of genuine wisdom only if we are open to the numerous ways in which the human mind arrives at knowledge: through science, art, philosophy and theology."

"Scientific research will be more creative and beneficial for society when it contributes to unify learning derived from these different sources and leads to a fruitful dialogue with all those who work in other fields of learning," Cardinal Martino said, quoting the Pope.

In any case, and following John Paul II, science -- research and application -- are "a significant _expression of man's lordship over creation," and given that "science and technology are ordered to man, from whom they originate and develop, … the latter find in the person and in his moral values the indication of their end and knowledge of their limits," the cardinal added.

"Science and technology are precious resources when they are at the service of man and promote his integral development for the benefit of all; they cannot, however, indicate the meaning of existence and of human progress," the cardinal emphasized.

This is why "the false notion of a science free of moral values" must be rejected, and why it is "illusory to claim the moral neutrality of scientific research and its applications," he added.

In addition, Cardinal Martino clarified, "science and technology require, because of their own intrinsic meaning, unconditional respect of the fundamental criteria of morality; they must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, of his real and integral good, in keeping with the plan and will of God."

In this connection, "Christian revelation is the real polar star for man" and "the possibility offered by God to be able to find the fullness of his plan of love initiated with creation."

This "is the path to guarantee that the scientific discoveries will be at the service of humanity," the cardinal said. "Man, desirous of knowing the truth, if he is able to look beyond himself and to raise his sight beyond his own plans, is given the possibility to recover the genuine relationship with life, following the path of truth."

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Iraqi Prelate tells of the good that is going on in Iraq

"The Press Has Been Backward-looking," Says Chaldean Bishop

ROME, JULY 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Iraq can now lay the foundations for the country's reconstruction, says Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah.

On a visit to Italy in search of aid to help rebuild Iraq, the prelate pointed to the International School in his diocese as a sign of the country's resurgence.

It is the first English-speaking school to be opened after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It is being built with a capacity for 500 students, "Christians and Muslims, Yazidis and Arabs" and designed "to offer student housing to young people from the neighboring villages," he explained.

"Our school is an attempt to invigorate scientific education, surmounting the obstacles and controls of Saddam's old regime," the prelate added. "This is also the new Iraq. Our goal is to provide free education to all, placing our hopes in God's hands and those of people of good will."

In an interview with AsiaNews, the bishop said that "since June 28 our situation has changed. We have a new government under the auspices of the U.N. I disagree with those who think the 'occupation is over.'"

"I believe that what the Americans did was truly a liberation, the liberation of Iraq. And on this basis the new Iraq shall emerge," the bishop continued.

"The Western press has been unjust toward Iraq. It has focused only on the dark side, on terrorism, killings, car bombs, the cruel images of decapitation," he explained.

"Some went as far as saying violence was justified because it was aimed at the occupiers," the Chaldean bishop said. "Unfortunately, ordinary people are the ones who paid a high price, Muslims and Christians working for the Americans or finding themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time when some car explodes."

For Bishop Al-Qas, opposition "should mean defending the rights of the people, not killing them. If you strike and kill fellow countrymen and women, you are not a resistance fighter; you are a destroyer, a bearer of death."

"The press has been backward-looking, focusing on the negative side of the situation, never talking about the positive things the former Provisional Council did and the present interim government is doing," he said.

"No one showed that, despite the political upheaval, the uncertainties and lack of security, schools reopened" and "the normal academic year ended as one would expect," he added.

Bishop Al-Qas continued: "Under Saddam there was only poverty. Now the economy is slowly reviving thanks to what the government and the Americans are doing. New building sites are opening, new construction is going on. All this is going on in spite of terrorist attacks. How many people paid in blood their commitment to rebuild Iraq? Italians, Japanese, French, Americans, Koreans."

"No one talks about power plants restarting, oil wells reopening, agricultural programs being launched, roads being rebuilt" not to mention the "150 daily newspapers in the country" and the demonstrations which were banned under Saddam, he said.

"Western Europe and pacifists have been blinded to what is going on in our country," the prelate said.

In fact, "something new is sprouting here, a democracy, young, but real, and in need of help," he said. "Now there is no excuse not to help us. Before it could be argued that everything was under U.S. control. Now there is a U.N. resolution and power is in the hands of the Iraqi government."

Still, the "international community must work with us in a concerted way to broaden our political and commercial ties," he stressed.

Asked about the situation of the Church in the new Iraq, the bishop said: "We Christians want to live as full citizens in a secular Iraq. For this reason we are in favor of Iraq's new Constitution. The Shiites back us."

The "overwhelming majority of Shiites, including the grand mullahs of Iraq, do not want an Iranian-style government," he said. "Only one Shiite in four wants an ayatollah-dominated state, one governed by the clergy."

In the present context, the "Church must be forthright and unambiguous," Bishop Al-Qas said. "She must be pro-active and judge things as they happen. As Christians, we are not second-class citizens; we are part and parcel of the nation. Today we must live as Iraqis, work with the government, and work in freedom."

"Under Saddam there were laws that treated Christian unjustly. Yet we were silent, sorry for ourselves and our minority condition," he recalled. "For example, although children born to a Christian mother were automatically considered Muslim, we said nothing. When our schools were confiscated, we just put up with it and taught in churches. It is high time to call what is bad, bad, and what is good, good."

He concluded: "It is most urgent that we bear witness, not only in words, but also in deeds, by living our Christian identity and expressing our Christian values."

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Attracting and Integrating Newcomers across Four Countries

Imagine a single woman in her mid 30s who has attended church for only three months. Let’s call her Nerida. Nerida used to attend Sunday School as a child with her mother. Having not attended church since she was 14 years old, Nerida has returned to church, following a relationship breakdown, at the invitation of her mum. She is not sure about where she stands on orthodox Christian beliefs at the moment, but has appreciated the singing and message, time for prayer as well as the chance to share this experience with others. She is a newcomer to church life and is critical to the future of the Church.

Nerida’s story is the combined story of real people. She could be described as a ‘classic newcomer’. Her perspective is important as newcomers measure the relevance of church beyond its own walls. Does Nerida remind you of anyone you know? What can we learn from Nerida and other newcomers to church life?

The 2001 International Congregational Life Survey (ICLS) provided a unique opportunity to gain a profile of newcomers across different countries. The ICLS was a collaborative effort of four countries: Australia, England, New Zealand and United States. It built on earlier work in Australia in 1991 and 1996. The 2001 survey involved more than 11,000 congregations and 850,000 attenders aged 15 years or over.

A profile of newcomers
Nerida is defined as a newcomer because she has attended her present congregation for less than five years and was previously not attending church regularly elsewhere. There are two types of newcomers: ‘first-timers’ who are attending church for the first time, and the more common ‘returnee’, such as Nerida, who is returning to church life after an absence of years. The level of newcomers is quite similar across all four nations, ranging from 6% to 8%. (New Zealand 6%, Australia 7%, United States 8%).

As a female in her early 30s, Nerida shares some of the common characteristics of newcomers. In all countries newcomers, like other attenders, are more likely to be women than men. Newcomers are also younger than other attenders, although there are significant variations between countries. For newcomers in Australia, 37% are aged 15 to 34, in the US 33%, in New Zealand 29%, and in England 24%. It seems that every country has a different story to tell. Yet despite this interesting variation between countries, in each case, the proportion of newcomers aged 15 to 34 is about double that of non-newcomers.

In all four countries newcomers are more likely to have never married, which is likely to be related to their younger age. It is also significant that the proportions of newcomers who have been divorced, separated, remarried after divorce or who are living in a de facto relationship are dramatically higher in each of the countries compared with other attenders. When Nerida’s relationship broke down, she was devastated.
She felt that everything she understood no longer seemed to make sense. All her social networks were also disrupted. She wasn’t quite sure how, but thought that going to church might be a help.

Newcomers’ connecting with church
As a child, Nerida regularly attended Sunday School. Her mum was the one that encouraged her to come again. While Nerida has some experience of church, there is still a lot to get used to and some things have changed! Many newcomers have experienced church life at some time in their upbringing. When comparing countries, it appears that newcomers in the USA are much more likely to have gone to Sunday school as a child (66%), than in Australia (48%) or England (36%).

The most important catalyst for Australian newcomers to come to church is an invitation from friends or family. They were also much higher than other attenders to say this was the key reason (28% vs 11%). Personal contact is clearly very important, with other influential catalysts for newcomers including invitation from a spouse, contact with the minister. Other catalysts that are more important for newcomers compared with other attenders are contact via activities of the church, rites of passage (such as weddings) and proximity to home.

Newcomers are more likely than other attenders to invite people to church. Close to half of all newcomers say that they invited someone to church. Some 52% of newcomers in the US had invited someone to church in the past year, whereas English newcomers were more reserved with 38% extending an invitation. This may in part be explained by the fact that church attendance rates are generally higher in the USA and that church involvement would thus be seen as a more part of mainstream culture than in other countries.

Newcomers’ experience of church
When Australian and American attenders were asked what contributes to a meaningful worship experience, the things that stand out for all attenders include prayer, congregational singing, the sermon or homily, Communion/Eucharist/Lord's Supper and reading of Scriptures. Leaders seeking to connect with newcomers should note that while these things were important, newcomers in these two countries were also much more likely than others to mention two other things:  contemporary worship and the opportunity to share the worship experience with others.

When considering how culturally different Australia and the USA are (especially in matters of religion), it was surprising how similar the responses were when it came to orthodox Christian beliefs.  For example 81% of Australian and American newcomers believe that Jesus was both human and divine and around 86% believe Jesus rose from the dead. However, while these levels are high, they are significantly lower than other attenders in Australia and the USA, where some 93% hold these views.

Conversion or a moment of faith commitment is also a common experience with newcomers in all countries. Only 27% of newcomers in Australia, England and USA and 24% in New Zealand say they have had faith all their life. (This compares to 37% to 51% of other attenders).

Congregations that attract newcomers
The characteristics of churches that have high levels of newcomers were also analysed and compared across the countries. This study found that features of local congregational life have a far greater relationship with the level of newcomers, than either the faith identity of a church (eg Catholic, Charismatic, Evangelical) or local context. These results were very similar for each country.

This study found that across all four countries there are some characteristics that appear consistently in congregations with higher levels of newcomers. Listed in order of strength, these congregations have higher proportions of attenders who have:
• A strong and growing sense of belonging
• Inviting others to church
• Perception that the church is moving in new directions
• Leadership that encourages attenders’ gifts and skills
• Clear vision to which attenders are committed
• Growth in faith as a result of this church
• Contemporary and uplifting services

It is possible to see how these factors work together. Churches have many ways of contacting people, yet when attenders invite others, this remains, by far, the most successful of them. It also seems that a growing sense of community for all attenders is an important factor that helps new people decide to stay.

Newcomers are more likely to be found in churches where attenders felt that the church is moving in new directions. Similarly, having a clear vision to which attenders are committed is also important. There may be several factors at work here. A church with an intentional statement of vision may have more success attracting newcomers because of its level of planning and care in its programs. It is also possible that confidence among attenders is the important issue. For example, if there is a clear sense of direction for the church, and evidence that people are committed to it, newcomers may have greater confidence to stay and all attenders may have greater confidence to invite others.

Churches that have higher levels of newcomers also tend to encourage the gifts and skills of attenders. It seems reasonable that people who feel empowered at their place of worship are more likely to have confidence in inviting others. But it also makes sense that a church where many of the attenders are freed to contribute to the work of the church is likely to have more success in achieving all kinds of aims, over a church where a handful of staff (or even a lone minister) tackle tasks and attenders are more like passive spectators.

Across all four countries congregations with higher levels of newcomers also have higher proportions of people who informally help others. Such helping includes visiting people in hospital, lending or giving money or possessions and offering emotional support in times of crisis. Perhaps these churches simply have more contacts with people who are open to attending church.

Another discovery was that churches with higher percentages of people beyond their first marriage (separated, divorced, widowed, remarried) or in a de facto relationship were significantly more likely to have a higher percentage of newcomers. This is partly a case of like attracting like. Some people no doubt move in to church attendance in the wake of a relationship ending because of care and support they might find at the church at that time. If other attenders are also in these relational situations, they may be more open and tolerant; this would manifest in a variety of ways.

This study confirms the vital role of the local church in helping newcomers feel welcome, to find a place to belong and to be part of future directions. Do you have any newcomers in your church? If so, they hold clues about how they found your church, what helped them to grow in their faith and to become involved.

Listen carefully to what they have to say.

- Dr Ruth Powell

This article is based on the Research Paper, “Attracting and Integrating Newcomers – An Analysis across Four Countries” by Sam Sterland, Phillip Escott and Keith Castle. It was first presented at the annual conference for the Institute for Social and Socio-Religious Research (ISSR), held in Turin in July 2003. The full research paper can be found on the NCLS website – www.ncls.org.au

The 2001 International Congregational Life Survey (ICLS) was a collaborative effort of four countries: Australia, England, New Zealand and United States. It built on earlier work in Australia in 1991 and 1996. The 2001 survey involved more than 11,000 congregations and 850,000 attenders. In Australia, NCLS Research is a joint project of the Uniting Church NSW Board of Mission, ANGLICARE (Diocese of Sydney) and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

For more information contact: Dr Ruth Powell, NCLS Research: (02) 8267 4394, Fax: (02) 9267 7316, info@ncls.org.au, www.ncls.org.au
 

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