Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Church-state Relationships Around the World

The Pew Forum has released a report on church-state relationships around the world.  The complete report is here.  The report is nicely conceived and has several useful graphics and appendices.

They partition nations into four categories:  (i) those with official state religions, (ii) those with a preferred or favored religion, (iii) those with no official or preferred religion, and (iv) those that are hostile to religion, with the distribution of countries in these categories being 22%, 20%, 53%, and 5%, respectively.

Countries from the Middle East and North Africa are common in category (i), with Islam the most common official state religion in those countries.  European countries are prominent in category (ii), with Christianity the most common favored religion.

This is a nice resource for researchers and students alike.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Impact of ATMs on Churches

James Hudnet-Beumler, Professor of American Religious History at Vanderbilt University, wrote an article at Real Clear Religion that describes how ATMs impacted church fundraising in the U.S.  Here is an extended quote:

There are two interesting dimensions of this appearance of ATMs and churches to consider. One is the strong affinity between cash and conservative evangelicals. For many evangelicals debt is a form of bondage – a message conveyed through conservative radio financial guru Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to tens of millions of his followers on AM radio each week in his call-in programs. Ramsey teaches how to “dump debt, budget, build wealth and give like never before!” The building of wealth is a corollary to eschewing debt and it makes Christians free, in Ramsey’s view to be godly. 
The point is, money isn’t just a fungible means to various ends, it is sacred to these believers.
The second dimension for consideration in the appearance of ATMs in the lobbies of evangelical churches is that they signaled something by their very presence: America was in fact becoming a cashless society. The debit card that people carried in their wallet could be just as good as cash anywhere else, but in the sanctuary, cash was the appropriate offering.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

500th Anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses

Martin Luther penned his 95 theses five hundred years ago--though there's actually no contemporary historical evidence that he nailed them to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The Research on Religion podcast has another episode on Luther and his 95 theses, this one on Luther's historical setting and impact with Emily Fisher Gray.  The Pew Forum also has done a survey of American Protestantism 500 years after Luther.  The results suggest that Protestants are still fairly split on various ideas including the role of works and the role of the Bible, see here and here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Religious Digital Currencies

BitCoen is set to launch next month as the first ever international Jewish currency.  A Buddhist currency, Karma Tokens, is also in the works.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How Much do Catholic Priests Make?

According to a new national study, the median total taxable income for Catholic priests in the U.S. is $45,593.  This amount has risen about 9% during over the last two decades.  The taxable income includes salary, housing allowances, Mass stipends, stole fees, and bonuses.

Interestingly, this average taxable income is much less than $75,355 median income for full-time Episcopal priests, though of course the component parts of Episcopal priests' income differ from those of Catholic priests.  Episcopal priests can be married, but Catholic priests are unmarried except for rare cases of when a married priest from another denomination switches to Catholicism.

See more details here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why New Religious Movements Fail

There is a very accessibly and nicely written article in the Atlantic on the difficulties faced by new religious movements.  Here are some excerpts.
State persecution, aided by religious authorities, is in fact a major reason why new faiths fail in parts of the world where government polices religious doctrine. . .
[P]erhaps the biggest reason that new faiths like Scientology, Raƫlism or Millah Abraham have failed to take off is the lack of state sponsorship. . .
Today, though, it is difficult to imagine that any new faith movement will get the boost of having a powerful state patronize the religion and fund its spread. In large part that’s because global norms have changed and—with the exception of a country like Saudi Arabia—few powerful states see it as their role to sponsor any faith, let alone a new faith. It’s also because there’s much less conquest today, meaning it would be unlikely that even a powerful country that adopted a new faith would be able to spread it by force.
The state and religious regulations are prominent in the article.  The article actually begins with the ongoing account of a new religious movement in Indonesia that is facing stiff persecution as it attempts to grow and thrive.  So religious regulations can stamp out new religious movements that might otherwise grow into new religious traditions.  Ironically, however, the state also has played a role in fostering that transition into a religious tradition.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Church of CrossFit

...as seen through the eyes of a pastor.  See here for the write-up.  Some quotes from the article:
While The New York Times has interpreted CrossFit’s desire to prepare its athletes for the “unknowable” as some kind of warped preparation for Armageddon, I see its goal more charitably. Life is filled with unknowns. Any activity that helps prepare us for those unknowns, either physically or psychologically, can be good. Even the risk and extreme physical exertion that CrossFit is so often castigated for can be good. How else do you become a more capable person apart from pushing yourself; even if it hurts? And who of us hasn’t grown through past painful experiences? 
Perhaps this is why CrossFit has attracted so many souls; people inherently know that in order to find more life you’ve got to give something up. 
Watching CrossFit athletes that day, I was struck by how their modus operandi was very much like mine; as a spiritual leader and pastor, only they seemed to be doing it better. Their community was strong, real and filled with encouragement and openness; I saw a 15-year-old young woman tossing a medicine ball back and forth with a 62-year-old man. At the end of the workout there was applause and high-fives all around. These people really cared for each other … often in the most trying physiological circumstances.
So is CrossFit a religion?  Is it a substitute for religion?  A complement?  Something else entirely?