Archive | February 2012

Ghandi – Seven Blunders of Human Society

Via Lists of Note:
In October of 1947, Mohandas Gandhi gave a piece of paper to his visiting grandson, Arun Gandhi, upon which was written the following list — a list he said contained “the seven blunders that human society commits, and that cause all the violence.” The next day, Arun returned home to South Africa, never to see his grandfather again. Gandhi was assassinated three months later.

Note: The same list was originally published by Gandhi in his journal, Young India, in 1925. It was titled, “Seven Social Sins.”

(Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, & Marriott; Image: Gandhi, via Wikimedia.)

Wealth without work.

Pleasure without conscience.

Knowledge without character.

Commerce without morality.

Science without humanity.

Worship without sacrifice.

Politics without principles.

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Muslims pass on faith to children at higher rates than Christians

The following press release is taken from the Religion & Society Programme website. My only reaction is… “well, duh…”

Muslims pass on faith to children at higher rates than Christians

14 February 12

Muslims in England and Wales are practising their faith and passing it on to their children at much higher rates than any other religion, including Christianity, a study shows.

A study just published on-line by the journal Sociology says that the proportion of adult Muslims actively practising the faith they were brought up in as children was 77%, compared with 29% of Christians and 65% of other religions.

The study, by academics from Cardiff University, also found that 98% of Muslim children surveyed said they had the religion their parents were brought up in, compared with 62% of Christians and 89% of other religions.

The team analysed data from the Home Office’s 2003 Citizenship Survey data, using 13,988 replies from adults and 1,278 from young people aged 11 to 15.

In the study the researchers, from Cardiff’s School of Social Sciences and Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, suggest reasons for the higher rate of transmission of religion. “There is more involvement of Muslim young people in religious organisations,” they say. “It is well known that there is considerable supplementary education for Muslim children such as the formal learning of the Qur’an in Arabic.

“The apparently much higher rates of intergenerational transmission in Muslims and members of other non-Christian non-Muslim religions are certainly worthy of further exploration and may in fact pose a challenge to blanket judgements about the decline of British religion.

“These higher rates might suggest support for the theory that for minority ethnic populations, religion can be an important resource in bolstering a sense of cultural distinctiveness.”

The research team was Professor Jonathan Scourfield, Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Asma Khan, Dr Sameh Otri, Dr Graham Moore and Dr Chris Taylor. The paper is entitled ‘Intergenerational transmission of Islam in England and Wales: evidence from the Citizenship Survey’ and Sociology is published by the British Sociological Association.

Professor Scourfield later said of the research: “Muslim children tend to lead busy lives, often attending religious education classes outside school three or more times each week on top of any other commitments they have.

“They typically learn to read the Qur’an in Arabic. They also learn a great deal about their faith from parents and other family members. Religion can have an especially important role for minority communities in keeping together the bonds between families from the same ethnic background.”

End 

Read a BBC Wales feature on the research here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17023858

Access the Sociology article from here: http://soc.sagepub.com/content/early/recent

Read a brief summary of the projcet here: http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/research_findings/featured_findings/how_do_british_muslims_transmit_the_faith_to_their_children 

Notes:

The researchers studied the answers of 13,988 to the 2003 Home Office Citizenship Survey (HOCS) to the questions:

1. ‘Thinking of your childhood, were you raised according to any particular religion?’

2. ‘Which religion was that?’

3. ‘Do you actively practice any religion now?

4. ‘Which religion is that?’

These answers allowed the researchers to relate the religious practices of adults (broken down by religion, location, education and social class) to their upbringing in a faith or by atheists. The researchers had responses from people with various religions including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs. For their study they created four categories: Muslim, Christian, Other, No religion.

The researchers also examined the responses of 1,278 young people to an accompanying 2003 survey, the Young People’s Survey, carried out at the same time as the HOCS, in which they answered the questions:

1. ‘Do you have a religion?’

2. ‘Which religion is that?’

These answers were then linked to the response their parents gave in the HOCS to enable researchers to relate the religion of the young people with the religious upbringing of their parents.

The Cardiff research project is entitled ‘Religious nurture in Muslim families’. It is part of the Religion and Society programme, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council. The website for the project is: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/research/researchprojects/religiousnurture/ and information about the Religion and Society Programme can be found on-line at http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/.

Thomas Kuhn compares scientists to the typical character of Orwell’s 1984

I have recently finished reading Thomas Kuhn’s famous “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. You may wonder what I have been doing reading this, but a glance at this previous post should give you some idea. The following passage came near the end of the book and as I am major fan of 1984, and the boyfriend of a chemist, I couldn’t resist sharing:

“When it repudiates a past paradigm, a scientific community simultaneously renounces, as a fit subject for professional scrutiny, most of the books and articles in which that paradigm had been embodied. Scientific education makes use of no equivalent for the art museum or the library of classics, and the result is a sometimes drastic distortion in the scientist’s perception of his discipline’s past. More than the practitioners of other creative fields, he comes to see it as leading in a straight line to the discipline’s present vantage. In short, he comes to see it as progress. No alternative is available to him while he remains in the field.

Inevitably those remarks will suggest that the member of a mature scientific community is, like the typical character of Orwell’s 1984, the victim of a history rewritten by the powers that be. Furthermore, that suggestion is not altogether inappropriate. There are losses as well as gains in scientific revolutions, and scientists tend to be peculiarly blind to the former. [… to footnote] Because science students “know the right answers”, it is particularly difficult to make them analyse an older science in its own terms.”

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1969. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Second ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, p. 167.

The Place of Religion in the Public Square: Schools, Symbols and Secularists

I read the following in a mailing that I received from the AHS – The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.

Bishops Demand “Public Faith”

This week, three bishops are leading calls for the Church of England to make a public statement which defends the right of Christians to wear a cross. They have signed a motion condemning the “silencing” of outward displays of Christianity in Britain, and a “growing trend” towards the “restriction of religious liberty” which is to be debated at the Church’s national assembly.

The motion cites “ludicrous” cases of Christian practices and symbols being forbidden, saying attempts to scrap prayers at council meetings and to ban employees from wearing the cross could ultimately lead to religion being confined to the home. Read more about this story here.

What is publicly permissable is not always professionally appropriate – this is the key point which the motion fails to recognise. Leading a communal prayer in a church is an expression of public freedom – leading a communal prayer in a council meeting, with no reason to presume that everyone present wishes to pray along with you, is professionally inappropriate. No one would give a second glance to a person wearing a cross in public – but if that person happens to be a schoolteacher, with a responsibility to provide students with an education free from personal bias, then they have no business wearing it at work.

While the necessity to restrict religious expression may vary from one profession to the next, it remains a question of professional etiquette, NOT an attack on public freedom. Discriminating the attire and behaviour of employees is an essential part of any successful workplace…

…that’s why you can’t play your tambourine in the office.

I’m afraid I have to take issue with some of this. As regards communal prayer at council meetings – spot on. Of course people who do not wish to pray should not be made to sit through this. And what business does a secular council have bringing prayer in anyway? And what is with this assumption that one person’s prayer will work for another? If people want to pray at council meetings, they are welcome to. But communal prayers seem entirely inappropriate.

What I take issue with is the stance on the wearing of religious symbols. How does wearing an item of jewellery or some specific type of clothing mean that your teaching suddenly has bias? Really… how does it? So children can look at you and assume that you might have a personal stance… it may even provoke them to ask you about it. But that doesn’t mean that they are being taught the teacher’s own personal opinions. This is just utter nonsense. Many people who wear crosses don’t wear them for religious reasons anyway… they look cool, thanks to years of vampire movies and goth culture.

Do religious symbols cause offense?

Boiling it down to basics – if you don’t believe in the efficacy of a symbol, or in the belief system which it represents, why should it offend you? Or if you are an atheist parent worried that your child might see a cross, ask about it and then be converted… would you remove all crosses from public media, buildings, etc? Maybe you would… but surely that says more about your confidence in your own ability as a parent than about people’s right to wear what they want.

I somehow feel the reaction would have been a bit different if the teachers in question were wearing those atheist “A” pin badges, or an evolution t-shirt or something. Then they would be hailed as a hero for taking a stand against the unjust system and professing the truth. But maybe that is just me being judgemental.

I can understand an employer stepping in to tell a member of staff to take off a necklace with a severed head on it… or to stop wearing a t-shirt with swear words on when they are teaching children. But this is just a matter of common sense. A cross… that’s not offensive. A Qur’an in the classroom… that’s not offensive. A t-shirt which says ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Dharma Dude’, “Manchester United’ or ‘Vote Conservative’ isn’t offensive. One which says ‘All homosexuals burn in hell’ is. It’s all about degrees.

But bringing things back to rather bias… perhaps you think that religious issues should be kept out of the classroom? Well.. yes… except where they are taught in Religious Studies, Philosophy, History, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology etc. Religions are social facts and should be taught as such. They are part of history, part of culture… part of many, many people’s lives and simply must be studied. Should a teacher put their own spin on it and/or tell children about their own faith/lack of faith? Well… no, not generally. However, in real life things are not that simple. But what if the children ask? Is it better that they lie? Or just keep deflecting questions? You tell me…

Sorry. Rant over.

How to be an academic failure

This week I have come across two articles on how to not go about being an academic.

One of these is about how we need to learn to unlearn a lot of the things we learn as undergraduates: Undergraduate Baggage?

The other is absolutely hilarious – a tongue in cheek guide for beginners on how to guarantee becoming an academic failure.

Catholic and Evangelical Reponses to the New Age

According to Daren Kemp, Christians were “among the first to recognise the existence of a New Age movement.” In the 1970s, Christian critiques of the New Age “did much to disseminate knowledge among the general public” (2004:133) and to some extent this is still the case today, where many Christians “have only second-hand knowledge of [New Age]” (Kemp, 2007:462). In this post, I aim to critically compare two contemporary Christian responses to New Age – the official Roman Catholic report Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age[JCBWL] (2003), and John Newport’s evangelical study, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview (1998). These texts were chosen because they are notably absent from Saliba’s (1999) excellent study of Christian responses to New Age and because of their extensive attention to the writing of prominent scholars of New Age.

It is worth acknowledging that, due to the interdenominational nature of the evangelical movement, it is not possible to find a document comparable to JCBWL, which delineates the official position of the church. Newport’s text cannot be assumed to speak for all evangelical Christians (just as that there will be Catholics who do not subscribe to JCBWL). Discussion of each text focuses on four main themes: the motivation/perspective of the authors; perceived positive aspects of New Age; negative assessments of New Age; and proposed methods for Christian engagement with New Age.

Before commencing this discussion it is necessary to define what I mean when I refer to New Age. The Catholic document defines the New Age Movement as “a multifaceted cultural tendency” which is “spread across cultures, in [many varied] phenomena”. Expressing concerns to not refer to a New Age “religion” the report states that New Age is not so much an organised “movement” as “a loose network of practitioners(ibid). The authors recognise that they are dealing with “very complex and elusive phenomenon” and acknowledge that many New Agers abjure the New Age label (ibid). Whilst Newport’s title refers to a New Age Movement, most of his discussion is based around a clash of worldviews which he defines as “vision[s] of life and the world that help us to make sense of life [… and are] rooted in beliefs that are ultimate in character” (1998:41). For Newport, New Age expresses “diversity and fluidity in membership” and is characterised by an emphasis on personal transformation and universalisation of religion (ibid:35-39). These understandings of the New Age are generally in agreement with current scholarship. George Chryssides, for example, declares that “the [New Age] is certainly not a religion”, as individual interests tend to exceed any single religion and reject a “single religion[‘s claim to a] monopoly of answers to spiritual questions” (2007:19-20). And Christopher Partridge confirms both reports’ attempts to present a unified New Age by acknowledging that despite a “lack of homogeneity […New Age] worldviews do connect at certain points” (2007:232). Many subtle criticisms could be levelled at this broad delineation of New Age, however for my purposes it should suffice to acknowledge the broad agreement between both documents and current scholarship.

Kemp describes the Catholic report as “unprecedented […] in its objective and well researched approach to [New Age]” (2003:196.n.1). Even a cursory glance at the text reveals that it is not simply repeating the “second-hand paranoia” of a similar statement issued by the Irish Theological Commission in 1994 (see Kemp, 2007:462). The writers are aiming at reliability and objectivity, claiming that their intent is to provide “reliable information on the differences between Christianity and [New Age]” and that ““it would be unwise and untrue to say that everything connected with the [New Age Movement] is good, or […] bad”. Similarly, although approaching his book “from an evangelical perspective,” Newport admirably desires to “give both Christians and [New Age] advocates alike a better understanding of both sides” (1998: xv) and states that “there is value in dialogue” (ibid:51).

However, it is unlikely that the ideals of both texts will be attainable. JCBWL clearly defines its audience as “those engaged in pastoral work” with the intent “that they might be able to explain how the [New Age Movement] differs from [Christianity]”, whilst Newport’s motivation is to “provide a basis of study for churches, colleges, seminaries and lay people” (1998: xv). These religious biases inherent in the texts will understandably limit their objectivity.

Except for a section entitled A Positive Challenge, JCBWL has little to say on the positive aspects of New Age. This states that: “The search which often leads people to the [New Age] is a genuine yearning […]”, and identifies positive New Age “criticisms of ‘the materialism of daily life, of philosophy and even of medicine and psychiatry; [… and] the industrial culture of unrestrained individualism” (citing Massimo Introvigne, New Age & Next Age (2000), p. 267). However, it has previously been stated that the attraction exerted on some Christians by these criticisms/themes “may be due […] to the lack of serious attention in their own communities for themes which are actually part of [Catholicism]”. Therefore any positive affirmations made about New Age seem to be implicit affirmations of Catholicism.

Newport also highlights numerous positive aspects of the New Age Movement in his attempted dialogue: Various alternative medical practises promoted by New Age are praised (1998:52) and the New Age theme of spiritual transformation is seen as a sign of God (ibid:604). The New Age is even used as a criticism of Christianity, with Newport highlighting three key accusations posed by the New Age Movement (ibid:51-52), and acknowledging that Christianity “has not been, as a whole, ecologically sensitive” (ibid:309). However, as was the case with JCBWL, Newport contends that these positive aspects are only “half right” and that they “can be found in biblical spirituality – [… their] proper context” (ibid:142). The apparent reluctance of both texts to ascribe anything positive to New Age in its own right seems to be due to a fundamental conceptual issue on the part of the authors.

Considering JCBWL, this issue is encapsulated in two key factors. New Age is understood to be a result of “the growth and spread of relativism, along with an antipathy or indifference towards the Christian faith”, and “represents something of a compendium of positions that the Church has identified as heterodox”. This view is compounded with a statement from Pope John Paul II, defining New Age as “only a new way of practising gnosticism” (Kemp, 2003:162). Thus New Age is seen as fundamentally incompatible with Christianity, making it “[im]possible to isolate some elements of [New Age] religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others”. Throughout the report, various attributes of New Age belief are systematically debunked. New Age health practises are defined as “an Eastern formula in Western terms”; the “real” distinction between Creator and creation has apparently been “wrongly” conceived by New Age; and New Age views on the perfectibility of humanity are identified with Nietzsche. This systematic condemnation based around dogmatic issues (Saliba, 1999:141) is unsurprising, given the supposed incompatibility of New Age and Christianity.

The issue in Newport’s text is different, but results in a similar treatment. Newport writes:  “the [New Age] worldview predict[s] that it will replace modernism, or secular humanism, and what New Agers call the outdated, propositional, non-fulfilling, compromising biblical worldview” (1998:597). The New Age is therefore identified with the biblical worldview’s opponents who have been “undercut[ting] its dominance” since the seventeenth century (ibid:597). Newport is arguing on one side of this dichotomy and thus readers should be unsurprised at his unwillingness to ascribe positive affirmations to New Age in general. Newport systematically considers various aspects of the New Age worldview and either defines these elements as already present (more authentically) in Christianity, or as incompatible with it. However an additional undertone, identified by Saliba in other evangelical writings, is a “fear” that New Age poses a “serious threat to Christianity” (1999:45): New Age is described as catching unsuspecting Christians (Newport, 1998:xv); “cross[ing] taken-for-granted boundaries and infiltrat[ing]” Christian groups (47); and “hijack[ing] various images, practises and insights” (51). Such language is notably absent from the Catholic report, and suggests that Saliba’s conclusion that Catholic responses “are less hysterical in tone than many of the responses that have stemmed from […] evangelical sources” (1999:176) carries some weight.

Whilst the negative emphases of both documents cannot be denied, they do offer some positive advice for Christians encountering New Age. Catholics are cautioned to “look for the marks of genuine Christian spirituality” but, as in Newport’s book, are encouraged to promote “care for the earth as God’s creation” and to “make the most of the riches of the Christian spiritual heritage”. JCBWL emphasizes that the best thing individual Christians can do is “offer a good, sound presentation of the Christian message” (ibid) rather than point out the faults of New Age beliefs, which Newport describes as not “unlike a commitment to witness (1998:598-9). Thus it seems that the encounter with New Age can serve to strengthen the faith of some Christians, but can prove a stumbling block for those who may not realise “that the [New Age] worldview is contrary in most of its teachings to a basic biblical perspective” (ibid:xv).

Whilst neither of the documents briefly discussed here can be considered definitive in their representations of Roman Catholic and Evangelical responses to New Age, they do provide an interesting comparison. Both responses are well researched, and admirably aim at constructive dialogue. However, it appears that due to their distinct conceptions of New Age as irreconcilable with Christianity, both reports are only willing to see positive aspects in New Age if these are already representative of Christianity. At times, Newport’s text unfortunately confirms Saliba’s conclusion that evangelical responses are generally “a process of self-affirmation” which tend to degenerate “into a senseless diatribe or an emotional harangue” (1999:77), and JCBWL, “while eager to promote the approach of dialogue adopted by Vatican Council II, frequently end[s] up taking an apologetical and condemnatory stance which does not contribute to dialogue” (ibid:176). These documents are, however, an encouraging development from earlier writings which were generally “marred by misunderstandings and apprehension” (ibid:28).

References:

  •  Chryssides, George D., 2007. “Defining the New Age” in Daren Kemp and James R. Lewis (eds), Handbook of New Age, Leiden/Boston: Brill, pp. 5-24
  •  Kemp, Daren, 2003. The Christaquarians? A Sociology of Christians in the New Age, London: Kempress Ltd.
  •  Kemp, Daren, 2004. New Age: A Guide, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
  •  Kemp, Daren, 2007. “Christians and New Age” in Daren Kemp and James R. Lewis (eds), Handbook of New Age, Leiden/Boston: Brill, pp. 453-472.
  •  Newport, John P., 1998. The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue, Cambridge/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.
  •  Partridge, Christopher, 2007. “Truth, Authority and Epistemological Individualism in New Age Thought” in D. Kemp and J. Lewis (eds), Handbook of the New Age, Leiden: Brill, pp. 231-254.
  •  Pontifical Council for Culture/Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 2003. (JCBWL) Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age.”.
  •  Saliba, John A., 1999. Christian Responses to the New Age movement: a critical assessment, London: G. Chapman.