Religion ‘not that important’ to growing number of Americans

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1 in 5 Americans (21%) say religion does not play an important role in their lives, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
nbcwsjpoll
In 1997, when the poll first asked about the importance of faith, 14% answered that religion did not play an important role in their lives.

Religion was not the main focus of the poll, which included such issues as Obama’s approval rating, and what people think about the economy.

The poll’s findings, from 1995 through 2014, can be viewed here.

Note: In 2012 the WIN-Gallup International Global Index on Religiosity and Atheism registered a “notable decline across the globe in self-description of being religious.” The United States of America ranked 8th out of ten countries experiencing a notable decline in religiosity since 2005.

A Harris poll conducted last year showed that 74% of Americans believe in God — down from 82% in 2009.

Speaking of religiosity: 60% of Russians think people in Russia have become more religious over the past 10 years.

Interesting, then, to see this Washington Post blog post: Don’t underestimate importance of religion for understanding Russia’s actions in Crimea.

In her guest post Mara Kozelsky, a historian at the University of South Alabama who studies Crimea in the Russian Empire, explains the importance of Crimea for Russia’s religious identity — a topic which is also the focus of her book, “Christianizing Crimea: Shaping Sacred Spaces in the Russian Empire and Beyond” (Northern Illinois University Press, 2010).

Kozelsky says that

the proprietary sense Russia demonstrates toward Crimea stems as much or more from religious belief as from the memory of war. Religion is one of the intangible elements driving Russia expansion southward, and one of the reasons why Russian citizens, and particularly the Orthodox devout, may not protest their own government’s actions in this particular conflict.

Is a Clinton Township, Michigan business that offers massage therapy and chiropractic operated by a ‘doomsday’ cult leader?

At least 12 parents and siblings of young men and women who have gotten involved with Dr. Craig Stasio, owner and proprietor of the Agape Massage Therapy and Chiropractic, have told local TV station WJBK of their concerns.

The parents say their daughters gave up college and career dreams and that their children have been turned against their own families.

The young men and women all work for Stasio, whom they refer to as “the prophet.” Having left their families behind, they live together in communal housing. Reporters observed some of them praying in an almost trance-like state outside the business during their breaks.

In the course of its investigation, WJBK discovered that in 2008 the State of Michigan Department of Community Health found Craig Allen Stasio in violation for negligence.

Documents show that, among other violations cited, he had a sexual encounter with one of his employees, whom he had asked to give him a massage “so that he could critique her technique.”

The document says Stasio has admitted that once he and the woman were in the massage room together, he engaged in a sexually-explicit conversation and sexual activity that ended in him ejaculating on the floor.

The station says that’s scary information about a charismatic person who surrounds himself with young women who may have been brainwashed.

WBKB does not provide much insight into why Stasio would be considered a doomsday cult leader. It did briefly show some printed material regarding the Christian doctrine of the Tribulation — a biblical concept that is often misinterpreted and twisted.

From the information provided, one can conclude that Stasio’s group is theologically a cult of Christianity. Sociologically it has worrisome cult-like elements as well. 1

Speaking of doomsday cults: victims of Aum Shinrikyo — the Japanese cult behind the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo freeway system (and a host of other crimes) — fear its resurgence.

“We need to keep talking about this as the 19th anniversary of the subway attack approaches because young people are still joining Aleph now,” said Shizue Takahashi, whose husband died in the attack. In January, 2000 the cult renamed itself Aleph in what was seen as an effort to combat ongoing negative publicity.

The cult has a number of splinter groups, of which Hikari no Wa (Rainbow of Light) is — after Aleph — the largest.

Though many deny it, it is believed most followers still worship the cult’s founder, Shoko Asahara, whom they consider to be a reincarnated god.

Last week Makoto Hirata, an ex-Aum member who in 2011 turned himself in to police after nearly 17 years on the run, was sentenced to 9 years in prison for his involvement in three AUM cult-related crimes.

Deutsche Welle says

According to the police, there were no fewer than 11,400 registered religious cults across Japan in 1995, ranging from modern-day soothsayers who claimed they could read people’s fortunes from the shape of their feet to groups that dressed all in white and warned that a previously undiscovered 10th planet in the solar system was about to trigger massive earthquakes and tsunamis.

The number of cults dropped dramatically after the sarin attacks, but police say that numbers have started to rise again. Today, there are an estimated 1,650 cults in Japan.

Nowadays Aum Shinrikyo, which remains under surveillance, has about 1500 followers. But exact numbers are hard to come by, the more since the group had followers outside Japan as well.

Over the years the cult has gotten better at deceptively recruiting young people, who usually do not recognize the warning signs of cults.

Did You Know?

A number of scholars who study what they term ‘new- or alternative religions’ actually came to AUM Shinrikyo’s defense.

EMNR (Evangelical Ministries to New Religions) is a professional membership association for individuals and organizations in ministry to “cults” of Christianity, new religious movements, and world religions.

The ministry’s 2014 Conference is co-sponsored with ISCA, the International Society of Christian Apologetics. (Apologetics — from the Greek “apologia,” a legal term meaning “defense” — is the branch of Christian theology concerned with the intelligent presentation and defense of the historical Christian faith.)

Here are just some of the topics that will be addressed at the conference, which takes place April 4 – 6 in Littleton, Colorado.

  • Same Sex Marriage – The End of Religious Liberty in America?
  • Family Relationships in Buddhism: Some Narratives as Paradigms
  • Evangelicalism and the Word of God
  • Does Mormonism Really Teach That Faithful Mormons Receive Their Own Planets?
  • Cultic Missionary Movements Outside the United States
  • Biblical Propositions Supporting the Trinity
  • Freemasonry: It’s Not Just for Men
  • An Exposition and Refutation of the Key Presuppositions of Contemporary Jesus Research”
  • The Apologetic Power of Sacred Music
  • Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriage Legacy – Past, Present, and Future
  • Contemplative Prayer: Its History in the Church, Its Manifestations in the World Religions, and How It is Bringing the Religions Together
  • Discernment, Deception and Donuts — Alternative Medicine, Bible Diets and the Pursuit of “Optimum” Health
  • … etcetera

Given the fact that Islam is viewed as the “greatest rival system of belief” to Christianity, and that with 1.6 billion adherents, Muslims make up nearly a quarter of the world’s population, it is urgent for Christians to gain a working understanding of the religion.

To that end, last month the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary opened and dedicated a new academic center for the study of Islam, the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam. (H/T Paul Carden)

The discount deadline (April 15) for the Annual Conference of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) in Washington, DC, July 3-5, 2014, is approaching.

The conference program will be varied with numerous sessions pertinent to former members of cultic or other high-demand groups, families, helping professionals, researchers, and others. A track within the program will include sessions addressing aspects of the conference theme of government, human rights, and the cult phenomenon.

There’s a pre-conference on July 2, intended for mental health professionals, researchers, families, former members of high-demand groups, and people interested in educational outreach.

Note this Call for Art, Literary, and Musical Work. One feature of the ICSA conference is The Phoenix Project — an exhibit of ex-cult member art and literary works:

The Phoenix Project Exhibit seeks to reveal the truth of the cult experience and its effects on the individual. It also empowers former members by giving them a time and place to exhibit their work and to tell their story in a way that might not have been allowed during their cult experience. This can be a liberating and empowering experience.

The International Cultic Studies Association, the world’s largest secular cult-information organization, is the primary network of lay and professional cult experts.

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This post was last updated: Apr. 18, 2019