Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pew Research Center Report on Church Taxes in Western Europe

The Pew Research Center published today a report on Western Europeans' views about church taxesThe pdf is here.  In several countries, the government collects the church tax on behalf of officially-recognized churches, thereby helping, in theory, those religious groups overcome the free-rider problems associated.  People may still opt out of paying the church tax by officially deregistering from their church, and more and more people are doing so.  But questions remain about the popularity of this system, and this report summarizes the results from a survey on public attitudes towards the church tax.

From pp. 6-7 of the report:
There is evidence that some Europeans are leaving the church tax system, but there does not appear to be a mass exodus. The survey finds that between 8% of adults (in Switzerland) and 20% (in Finland) say they have left their church tax system. And, in several countries, one-fifth or more of current payers describe themselves as either “somewhat” or “very” likely to opt out in the future.
At the same time, majorities still support the tradition of paying taxes to religious institutions. Indeed, in six Western European countries with a mandatory tax on members of major Christian churches (and in some cases, other religious groups), most adults say they pay it. The share of self-reported church tax payers in these countries ranges from 68% of survey respondents in Sweden to 80% in Denmark, while no more than one-in-five in any country say they used to pay but have stopped. 
In addition, among those who say they pay, large majorities describe themselves as “not too” or “not at all” likely to take official steps to avoid paying the tax in the future, including nearly nine-in-ten in Denmark and Finland.
That so many people currently pay the church tax helps us understand why the practice remains widespread and is likely to continue for many years into the future.

Monday, April 29, 2019

USCIRF 2019 Annual Report

The USCIRF released its latest annual report today.  The 234-page pdf can be found here https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2019USCIRFAnnualReport.pdf.  The 60-page abridged version is here https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2019USCIRFAnnualReport_KeyFindingsAndRecommendations.pdf.

The countries recommended for the Tier 1 "Country of Particular Concern" designation are Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.  These are the most egregious religious freedom violators.

The countries recommended in Tier 2, where there are still serious violations, though falling short of the CPC designation, are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.

ISIS, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Houthis, and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham were recommended for the "Entity of Particular Concern" designation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Brewery Church

Castle Church Brewing Community is both a Lutheran church and a brewery.  Though there is no beer during worship, after the worship they enjoy "frothy fellowship."  It's another example of the creativity we observe in religious innovation.  But is this an innovation that will survive and thrive?

Trinity Church and its $6 Billion Portfolio

A few days ago, the NY Times published an article about a particular Episcopalian congregation that has a large financial and real-estate portfolio.  Its wealth originated from its land holdings, much of which has become commercial real estate that generates large profits.  The article describes the origins of the wealth, how the congregation deals manages it, and how different people have different views of the wealth.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ethiopian Church Forests

See this nice article and images at nature.com.  These church forests are little pockets of forest and lush habitat built around churches.  They contain some of the last remaining pockets of forest that once covered Ethiopia.  Conservationists and churches are teaming up to preserve this part of their heritage.

Pew Forum Report on Religion, Civic Engagement and Well-being

Earlier today the Pew Forum released a new report titled "Religion's Relationship to Happiness, Civic Engagement and Health Around the World."  Full report in pdf here.

The report does not really report much that is new, but it does provide a nice summary of some well-known statistical patterns across a range of over twenty countries, the U.S.A. included.  For example, people that attend church tend to report higher levels of happiness and tend to be more involved in civic activities than others.

The report classifies people into three categories:  actively religious, inactively religious, and religiously unaffiliated.  It is those in the first category that report higher levels of happiness and civic engagement.  Measures of health show fewer differences.  The actively religious report being in very good health at higher rates and are less likely to smoke or drink, but they do not exercise more.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Buddhism in America

This short JSTOR piece describes what Buddhism was like when it first came to the United States.  For the early Buddhists from Japan, it quickly morphed in some ways into something like American Christianity.  Buddhist temples were built using European-American styles, worshippers sat on pews, music used pipe organs, and more.  In the 1950s, Zen Buddhist critics argued that the practices were too Christian.

There is also a JSTOR piece on today's American-style Buddhism.  According to religion scholar Peter N. Gregory, "American-style Buddhism is defined by six traits: strong lay involvement, a focus on meditative practices, democratic ideals, parity for women, social action, and openness to Western psychology."

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

USCIRF's Standards for Religious Group Registration

This month the USCIRF issued a factsheet about laws pertaining to the registration of religious groups.  The intent is to list some standards to apply when creating such laws in order to preserve religious freedom and uphold the standards of:
USCIRF encourages all countries to develop registration requirements for religious
organizations that meet international human rights standards, protect the right to
freedom of religion or belief, and allow religious communities to acquire and maintain
legal personality.
Find the full factsheet here.  The standards are:
  • Registration of religious groups cannot be mandatory.  (Registration can only be required to confer legal personality and must not be compulsory in order to practice religion.)
  • Legislation cannot contain undue restrictions or other bureaucratic burdens that hinder access to legal personality.
  • Requirements for registration must be precise and defined.
  • Registration laws must be non-discriminatory.
  • Religious organizations must be carefully defined.  (To the extent that religion is defined, the belief in God must not be required.)
  • Registration requirements cannot be onerous or invasive. (Certain thresholds, such as a high minimum membership numbers or lengthy requirements for existence in a state, can exclude particular religious groups.)
  • There must be avenues for appealing denials.