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.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Ukranian Orthodox Church

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is part of the Eastern Orthodox communion.  For centuries it has been organized under the Russian Orthodox Church, but with tensions between Russia and Ukraine continuing to increase, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has sought to sever its Russian connection.  The Ecumenical Patriarch leader for the Eastern Orthodox communion, Bartholomew I, supported the split and yesterday made an official decree granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church its independence from the Russian Orthodox Church.  See this NY Times article.

Splits can happen for many reasons.  In the U.S.A., which has a strong separation of church and state, schism happens primarily for doctrinal reasons.  But in this case, the split is about the climate of national politics, not religious teachings.  Ukrainians are very critical of their treatment by Russia and see this as a step towards greater independence from Russia.  For that reason, they refer to this split not as a schism but as an alignment that assures independence.

The desire to gain this independence goes back thirty years to when Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union.  But it finally happened yesterday.

There may still remain some conflict as this historical event plays out.  For example, there may be some conflicts over ownership of church properties.  The religious leaders have made their move, supported by the political leaders.  We will see if judges will be required to make moves as well.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Predicting the Developments in American Religion in 2019

Several scholars, faith leaders, and others offer their predictions for what to expect among various religious groups in the U.S.A. in 2019.  See this post at the Religion News Service.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Top Ten Religious Liberty Developments in 2018

Religion Clause provides the list here.  The list is USA-centric.  It includes Supreme Court decisions, mass shootings, and a travel ban.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Catholic Exorcism in America

The Atlantic has a thoughtful article on Catholic exorcism. There are several interesting facts reported in the article.  One is that rates if belief in demonic possession are still high in the United States;  about half of Americans believe demonic possession is real.  Another is that there is demand for exorcist services;  the official exorcists for Indianapolis has received 1700 requests in the year 2018, more than he has received in any earlier year.  Another is that that are many more known Catholic exorcists in the United States now than several years ago, and new exorcists are being trained.  But what the article does best is provide an in-depth perspective of a particular person who received an exorcism.  The focus is on Catholic exorcism, but exorcisms occur in other denominations in the United States.  The Episcopal Church, for example, still maintains the practice.

There are several other interesting elements.  A key issue in exorcism is identifying whether a person's condition is demonic possession or some other ailment, such as schizophrenia.  Exorcists have procedures they follow to determine if the case involves demonic possession, and then an exorcism is only performed if the evidence warrants it.  Another key issue is efficacy.  Sometimes the exorcism takes place over several sessions with an exorcist, and knowing whether the exorcism has been successful can be difficult to discern during the process.

Many members of the Catholic church, including many priests, do not believe in possession or in the efficacy of exorcism.  Perhaps this is a reason why there are actually very few exorcists relative to the size of the American Catholic population.  I wish the author would have spent more time exploring this idea.

Read to find out the author's best explanation for the rising demand for Catholic exorcisms.  The explanations relate to our understanding of the processes of secularization and forces that might work against secularization.

If you are interested, you can read more about Catholic exorcism at the web site for the International Catholic Association of Exorcists.  There are also several books that you can find on amazon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wild Wild Country

I highly recommend the documentary Wild Wild Country.  (available on Netflix).  Here's how the six-part series is described on imbd:
When a controversial guru builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, it causes a massive conflict with local ranchers. This docuseries chronicles the conflict, which leads to the first bioterror attack in the United States and a massive case of illegal wiretapping. It is a pivotal, but largely forgotten, time in American cultural history that tested the country's tolerance for the separation of church and state.
Just watching the first two episodes alone provide a terrific insight into many of the ideas and topics from class.  You will get fresh insight into why people are drawn to new religious movements and how those movements encounter tension with their surrounding environments.  The creators of the documentary do an excellent job of letting both members of the group and members of the surrounding community provide their sides of the story.

Watching the series is not required for the class, but it is a great opportunity for you to see how many of the ideas we have discussed come to life in the real world.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Should the Government Collect Donations on the Church's Behalf?

Monetary donations to churches in the USA are made voluntarily and directly to the churches.  As a consequence, if a member of a church wants to skimp on her donations, she can easily do so, and it is difficult for a religious leader to know if the person donated a fair or proper amount.  Our economic senses should be tingling here.  There's a clear free-rider problem, and we should expect there to be quite a bit of free riding (or easy riding) as people hold back on contributing proper amounts.

Hence, the "church tax."  Under a church tax, the government works in tandem with religious groups in the collection of donations.  The proper donation amount (e.g., a particular percentage of income) is taken directly out of the person's paycheck, given to the government, and then passed from the government to the church.  The government already acts as a tax collection agency for itself because it removes regular government taxes from paychecks, but with a church tax, the government also becomes, in effect, a tax collection agency for the church.

By having the government collect the donations straight from paychecks, the church is able, in theory, to receive much larger donations from those persons that are skimping in their donations.  For one, the government can just take the donation directly, bypassing altogether the individuals' temptation to free ride.  But if a Catholic individual claims to not be Catholic to become exempt from the tax, then the government can report that claim to the church, and then the church can without religious services from that individual.  Read an earlier post about the church tax in Germany here.

Why bring this up?  Two reasons.

First, this is a form of government intervention in religion, and we will soon be discuss government interventions in religion in lecture.  So this is a opportunity for you to learn about actual church-state religions around the world.

Second, just last month, Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala, Uganda, asked the Ugandan government to institute a church tax for Ugandan Catholics.  Read the story here.  The Archbishop had the German church tax in mind when making this request.  Identify the reasoning for the Archbishop's request for the church tax, but also identify the reasoning used by those who dislike the request.

Do you think that instituting a church tax in Uganda is a good idea?  Why or why not?  Will instituting help the Catholic Church in Uganda?  Or will it hurt?  What might be the effects of a church tax in the short run?  What might be the effects in the long run?