Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Religion, Here and There

There were a couple bits of interesting religion news from around the globe today. They're related in that they both show the changing face of religious belief in countries half a world apart.

First up, via USA Today and Pharyngula, is the latest Pew report on religious belief in the United States. The numbers are interesting (see the chart at Pharyngula - PZ had better luck putting it in the blog format that I have). 78.4% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, with the largest subset being evangelicals at 26.3% (point of order - if there are more evangelicals than "mainline" protestant churches, aren't the evangelicals the "mainliners" now?).
After Christians, the next largest group, at 16.1%, is the nebulous group of "unaffiliated," which includes atheists (all 1.6% of us). Although I appreciate the difficulties inherent in classifying something like religious belief (or lack thereof) in a demographic report, couldn't they do better than "unaffiliated?" It makes us sound like free agents, just waiting on the big club to offer us a new contract. I'm sure that's true for some folks, but not all of them.

Another interesting nugget:

Faith is fluid: 44% say they're no longer tied to the religious or secular upbringing of their childhood. They've changed religions or denominations, adopted a faith for the first time or abandoned any affiliation altogether.
I'd be interested by how "changed religions" is defined. Does it include switching from one flavor of, say, Christianity to another or only switching from one branch of faith to another (or to nothing at all)? In my experience, it's not that common for people to completely change faiths. They may drift from Methodism to Presbyterianism (for example), but not usually from Christianity to Islam. But I could be wrong.

The other interesting story comes from Turkey (via the BBC), where a group of religious scholars it trying to revitalize Islam for a modern world:
The country's powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad.

As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

But the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernise, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam.

It says that a significant number of the sayings were never uttered by Muhammad, and even some that were need now to be reinterpreted.
Turkey is rare in the Muslim world in that it is a very secularized modern state. It's thus not surprising that something like this (one scholar says it "is kind of akin to the Christian Reformation") would happen there first.


Elvis Drinkmo said...

"unaffiliated?" It makes us sound like free agents, just waiting on the big club to offer us a new contract.

Indeed, JDB. That's why I felt so compelled to share the good word of Batman and Captain James T. Kirk with the masses. They're much cooler than Jesus Christ, Abraham, Issac, or Mohammad.

Anonymous said...

You know, I had a professor at WV State a few years ago who went from Catholicism to Judaism! No lie. I never quite understoon. She also enjoyed an 'alternative' lifestyle.

Is that permitted in Judaism?

Myself, I have never 'formally' left the church of my youth, but I have a much broader understanding of the variety of perspectives and the history of religion now. I can see too many parallels between the religious stories to hold fast to one over the other.

I don't think that what we call life just 'happened' and I don't think the universe just exploded into existence. I have no explanation for those events either.

Elvis Drinkmo said...


If you watched more Star Trek, you'd know that humans were part of a genetic experiment by a group of dying aliens called the Preservers who scattered their DNA around the galaxy in order to preserve what was left of their genetics. ;)

Hey, it makes about as much sense as some incompetent and jealous dumbass dropping Adam and Eve down in the Garden of Eden with a slick talking snake.

jedijawa said...

How true Elvis. I just finished going through the latest entries of "Superman is a dick" so I may be a little jaded at present ... and dizzy from laughing so hard!