Religion Trends Archive

You'll find articles about this subject in each of the items listed, even if the term does not necessarily occur within the headlines or descriptive text.

Religion ‘not that important’ to growing number of Americans

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.

Jedi Force is waning in Canada; and other religion news briefs

Jediism losing followers
The Force is waning in Canada. New census data released by Statistics Canada shows people identifying themselves as Jedi in the 2011 National Household Survey dwindled from a peak in 2001 of more than 20,000 to a about 9,000 — a figure too small to be statistically relevant.

Also inside: Religion in the Canadian Census; Scientology; Narconon; Santa Muerte; and the Twelve Tribes. In other Religion Briefs: David Bowie; French report on sects; FLDS; Paganism; and Christian hypocrisy…

The Jedi religion started as a joke between friends, but real-life Jedis are serious about their faith explains Maha Vajra, the self-described Grand Master of the Canadian Order of the Jedi in a recent interview.

They see the Star Wars films as inspirational and fantasy parables, in much the same way other religions use fantastic stories to glean morals, Canadian Press writes.

Jediism is the study of the philosophies largely borrowed from Buddhism and Daoism in the Star Wars film series, Vajra said in an interview from St-Raymond, Que.

“What we do is what the masters of Jediism in the movies explain: self-mastery, responsibility, practising virtues like compassion, charity, (and) forgiveness, in everyday actions. This is what Jediism is.”

The religion has followers in other countries as well, where numbers also fluctuate.

Census takers have not always been pleased with Jedi-related pranks. In Australia, Star Wars fans circulated an e-mail saying the government would be forced to recognize Jedi as an official religion if at least 10,000 people named it on the census.

When made aware of the campaign, the statistics agency announced that respondents faced a fine of AUS $1,000 ($540) if they were found to have given false information.

Still, some 70,000 Australians declared themselves to be Jedis, and it appears none of the were fined.

By the way, among the oddest Jedi-related news stories archived at Religion News Blog are these ones from England:

Man dressed as Darth Vader spared jail for attack on founder of Jedi church
Jedi church founder thrown out of Tesco for refusing to remove his hood

Oh, by way of consolation: Jedis still outnumber Satanists (1,050), and Scientologists (1,745).

Jediism has no founder, no official structure, and no official doctrine.

More religion news from Canada’s census
Here’s how Statistics Canada defines religion:

Religion refers to the person’s self-identification as having a connection or affiliation with any religious denomination, group, body, sect, cult or other religiously defined community or system of belief. Religion is not limited to formal membership in a religious organization or group. […]

Persons without a religious connection or affiliation can self-identify as atheist, agnostic or humanist, or can provide another applicable response.

Christianity is still the largest religion in Canada, with Roman Catholics making up the largest religious group.

Nearly one-quarter of the Canadian population, some 7.8 million people, claimed no religious affiliation in 2011, up from 16.5 per cent in 2001. Matter of fact, the percentage of people who do not feel aligned with an organized belief has nearly doubled over the past two decades.

But the Canadian Press quotes Morton Weinfeld, a sociology professor at McGill University in Montreal, as saying that the arrival of religious immigrants has worked to offset the country’s growing secular population.

Scientology in Canada
Say… did you notice the Scientology gang now has 1,745 victims followers in Canada? That’s up from 1,525 in 2001.

Not all that impressive for a movement that says it’s the fastest growing ‘religion’ (their term) in the world. Then again, the Church of Scientology has never been good at numbers or facts.

Wikipedia entry: Scientology in Canada

Narconon Oklahoma under oversight
Speaking of Scientology: The Governor of Oklahoma has signed a bill requiring oversight of Narconon Arrowhead and other drug rehab organizations.

Narconon — a Scientology front group based on the quackery taught by the cult’s founder, fantasist L. Ron Hubbard — is in a heap of trouble in various states.

The McAlester News-Capital reports

Former Narconon Arrowhead President Lucus Catton said he was involved with Narconon Arrowhead and Scientology for more than 12 years before he was “excommunicated” for questioning the program and the church. […]

“ I decided that the entire Narconon program is based on fraudulent practices.”

And WSB radio says

Embroiled in state licensure revocation proceedings, civil lawsuits and criminal investigations, the Scientology-affiliated drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization known as Narconon faces new allegations of credit card fraud.

The Vatican vs Saint Death
A senior Vatican official has condemned the cult of Santa Muerte, or Holy Death, in Mexico as “blasphemous”.

Speaking in Mexico City, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said worshipping Santa Muerte was a “degeneration of religion”.

Cult of Christianity vs Bob Dylan
A communal religious movement known as The Twelve Tribes is trying to recruit Bob Dylan fans.

Twelve Tribes trying to recruit Bob Dylan fans

Johnny Lambo, at Vice.com, is rather creeped out by it, but thinks the group’s followers are “essentially Christians who take the Bible literally” — though he does pick up on the fact that “they’re pretty open about being racist, antisemitic, sexist, and homophobic.”

In fact the group’s aberrant and heretical teachings identify it as, theologically, a cult of Christianity. Sociologically, there are cult-like elements as well, including the high level of control leveled over the group’s followers.

Note that this cult (which says it isn’t) has also been spotted at Greatful Dead concerts — and its members even go after Christians.

The Doomsday Prophets on Main Street
Research resources on the Twelve Tribes

Roundup of Religion Stories
From Dylan to Bowie: David’s Bowie’s latest music video may be too anti-religion for YouTube.

The latest report (in French) by Miviludes, the French religious sect watchdog, says the organization has registered over 2,300 referrals in 2011, an increase of 25% compared to 2010, and that this trend continued last year with an increase of 22% over the first eight months of the year compared to the same period in 2011.

But the organization notes (French) the increase may merely be due to the fact that more people are familiar with Miviludes and its growing website. [Google translation]

The Los Angeles Times has another story about what life is like for young people after they have escaped the clutches of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the “breakaway sect of the Mormon Church that practices polygamy, dictates almost all aspects of people’s lives and casts women into subservience.”

Sect members who escape their compound are largely invisible to society, and are often without birth certificates or Social Security numbers.

Sect members who escape their compound are largely invisible to society, and are often without birth certificates or Social Security numbers.

“They’re akin to a refugee population, except they were born in the U.S.,” said Shannon Price, director of the Diversity Foundation, a nonprofit that specializes in offering financial aid and scholarships to 400 polygamist children.

As pagans mark one of the most important weeks in their calendar, Pentagram — Britain’s oldest pagan society — explains what paganism is all about.

We’ve got some research resources on Paganism at Apologetics Index, including an article that may help Christians evaluate whether they should seek a dialogue with pagans.

A new report from Barna Group, a Christian research organization, indicates that most of today’s Christians are more like the Pharisees than Jesus.

After surveying 718 self-identified Christians from a variety of denominations, Barna’s researchers found only 1 in 7 Christians manages to hold Christ-like beliefs and also act in Christ-like ways.

Barna Group President David Kinneman says

“This research may help to explain how evangelicals are often targeted for claims of hypocrisy; the unique ‘sin’ of evangelicals tends to be doing the ‘right’ thing but with improper motives.”