Post Labor Day Roundup

The short week is a good time to round up a few pieces of interest from around the web. All of these are worth looking at if you have a few minutes. Check out the excerpts and links below:

1. Writing in the Wall St. Journal, Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson, the co-directors of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, find fault with a few recent survey results from the Barna Research Group on religious issues, the latest indicating that American women are falling away from religion.

The national news media yawned over the Baylor Survey’s findings that the number of American atheists has remained steady at 4% since 1944, and that church membership has reached an all-time high. But when a study by the Barna Research Group claimed that young people under 30 are deserting the church in droves, it made headlines and newscasts across the nation—even though it was a false alarm.

Surveys always find that younger people are less likely to attend church, yet this has never resulted in the decline of the churches. It merely reflects the fact that, having left home, many single young adults choose to sleep in on Sunday mornings.

Once they marry, though, and especially once they have children, their attendance rates recover. Unfortunately, because the press tends not to publicize this correction, many church leaders continue unnecessarily fretting about regaining the lost young people.

In similar fashion, major media hailed another Barna report that young evangelicals are increasingly embracing liberal politics. But only religious periodicals carried the news that national surveys offer no support for this claim, and that younger evangelicals actually remain as conservative as their parents.

Given this track record, it was no surprise this month to see the prominent headlines announcing another finding from Barna that American women are rapidly falling away from religion. The basis for this was a comparison between a poll they conducted in 1991 and one they conducted in January of this year.

The reporters who ran with this story ought to have wondered why this change wasn’t picked up sooner if it was going on for 20 years. Many national surveys have been conducted during this period—in fact the Barna Group has been doing them all along. Did the organization check to see if its new results were consistent with its own previous data or with the many other national surveys widely available? There is no sign that it did. If it had, it would have found that its findings about women are as unfounded as previous claims about young people deserting the church and young evangelicals becoming liberals.

Read the rest for the polling data Stark and Johnson marshal in support of their argument.

2. I linked to this at the end of my post last week, but I think New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s advice to journalists writing about religious beliefs they don’t share deserves a wider circulation. One important excerpt:

First, conservative Christianity is a large and complicated world, and like other such worlds — the realm of the secular intelligentsia very much included — it has various centers and various fringes, which overlap in complicated ways. Sometimes teasing out these connections tells us something meaningful and interesting. But it’s easy to succumb to a paranoid six-degrees-of-separation game, in which the most radical figure in a particular community is always the most important one, or the most extreme passage in a particular writer’s work always defines his real-world influence.

2. Joe Carter at First Thoughts draws attention to a recent AP article reporting the benefits of China’s “one-child policy” for girls. With dismay, Carter notes: “You have to wade through fourteen paragraphs before you’ll find any hint that maybe something might be wrong with this girl-empowering ‘one-child policy.’” The post ends with an eye opening quotation from the article, followed by an arresting final paragraph from Carter:

Still, 43 million girls have “disappeared” in China due to gender-selective abortion as well as neglect and inadequate access to health care and nutrition, the United Nations estimated in a report last year.

Yin Yin Nwe, UNICEF’s representative to China, puts it bluntly: The one-child policy brings many benefits for girls “but they have to be born first.”

That last line would not only have made a fitting headline for the AP’s article, but also a good stopping point. Instead, the article continues for another 24 paragraphs, highlighting the “benefits” to those who were lucky enough to make it out of the womb alive.

4. Finally, Carl Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, respectfully outlined a few major differences between Protestants and Catholics, including their different views on tradition and authority. An excerpt:

Ask a thoughtful Protestant about where Protestantism and Catholicism most significantly diverge, and it is likely that they will mention the closely related areas of tradition and authority. Now, Protestants tend to be very suspicious of any talk of tradition as playing a role in theology as it would seem to stand somewhat in tension with the Reformation’s view of scripture alone as the authoritative basis for theological reflection. In fact, the Reformation itself represented a struggle over two types of tradition, that which scholars call T1, tradition based upon scripture as the sole source of revelation (the position of Protestants such as Luther and Calvin, and of some pre-Tridentine Catholics) and that which they term T2, tradition based upon two sources, namely, scripture and an oral tradition mediated through the teaching magisterium of the Church. This latter was arguably the position codified at the Council of Trent, although it would seem that the boundary between T1 and T2 is in practice often blurred, and very difficult to define in any formal or precise sense; nevertheless, as a heuristic device the distinction is useful and it is really only as Protestants come to understand exactly what the Catholic view of tradition is (i.e., T1 plus T2) that they can come to properly understand how tradition (T1) does not subvert the notion of scripture alone.

Read the whole thing for more on this and other important differences.

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