Category Archives: sociology

The New Metaphysicals Post #2

I had posted a few weeks ago about the new book by Courtney Bender called The New Metaphysicals about the current practice of new age in America.

My post received no comments even though it touches on many topics that come up whenever I post on Neo-Hasidism. Specifically, how the narratives of believers and those of historians or scientists do not match. Here is a review of the book by Andrew Perrin dealing with some of the issues from a different angle. First off, when do we say that these new age practitioners are loony? The 1950’s saw all kabbalah, hasidut as off limits and would scoff at negel wasser or Tu beshevat. But now that new age is everywhere and neo-hasidism is everywhere, when can you tell someone that his new explanation is daffy?

Perrin spends more of his time asking about authenticity. There is already a huge anthropology literature showing that practices revived in the 1980’s and 1990’s in the US, Korea, and Japan, are done in the name of authenticity, even when the performer has no claim to authenticity, even if the person has no continuity with the past, the practice did not characterize the past, and the practice is not done like the past. Perrin notes that even if the practitioner investigates the matter, evidence wont change anything because they have a Platonic idea of authenticity. A similar but not identical phenomena has occurred in Jewish law, where tradition (mesorah) is invoked by people with no direct link, only a theological link based on imagined institutional ones, no similar practice to the old country, and an explanation of the practice that flies in the face of the older interpretation.

Perrin’s question to Bender is how can university educated people not know the refutations to their positions and not understand that the very Ivy academies where they received their degrees would not accept this pseudo-science. Perrin concludes that Bender offers a glimpse of how people believe but not why they do and how they reconcile it with the world around them.

Perrin’s own start of an answer is that they think that not everything is known by the official standards of the academy and that they have access to an authentic source of knowledge. It is authentic because it comes from a different source, a truer source, and a truer conception of reality unharmed by empiricism.

The New Metaphysicals offers a peek into a world that I found at once pedestrian and strange, and the information that it gives us about so-called “spiritual but not religious” people is invaluable. The new agers, mystics, yoga instructors, and other metaphysicals whose words animate The New Metaphysicals seem quite foreign at first blush, and it’s to Professor Bender’s enormous credit that she theorizes the milieu without undermining the authenticity claims and struggles in which her subjects engage. At the same time, I found myself wanting more of a critical stance, a more thoroughgoing interrogation of the epistemologies that these subjects espoused.
Authenticity is a constant struggle for Bender’s subjects, amongst whom a common theme is the sense that their metaphysical pursuits offer something more real, more genuine, than the routine life of urban Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Bender conducted her fieldwork. Hans, for example, had developed an extensive theory of ethnic authenticity, applied as “the coloring, the embellishment” of generic shamanism, and had sought vainly for a sufficiently authentic Germanic shamanism to match his ethnic heritage. Along the way, though, he laments the fact that Native Americans, who constitute for him a kind of Platonic ideal of indigenous authenticity, don’t really seem that interested in his shamanic group
I found myself wanting more of this sort of critique. While I admire the self-control that enabled Bender to restrain herself from dismissing her subjects as just plain loony, many of them do go through remarkable rhetorical contortions to make the elements of their narratives fit together adequately. Many of these contortions map onto terrain that has been covered over the past century or so by sociological, anthropological, and cultural theorists agonizing over precisely the same chimerical authenticity that seems to motivate many of Bender’s subjects. Why do these academic critiques not carry the same weight among the metaphysicals?
Philippa, an astrologer, uses recognizably scientific language (gamma rays, matter, Pluto, Prozac, Ritalin, even “a wobble in Mercury’s orbit”) all to establish the reality of the planet Vulcan. Each of these individuals engages in reasoning that strikes me as essentially post hoc, selectively deploying observations, likely random in origin, as evidence for a predetermined conclusion.
I assume that, were Philippa to take her talk to the Astronomy department down the street, the evidence she mounts would be unlikely to convince the faculty there that Vulcan exists. So why the attempt at a common language? Why not just adopt a dismissive attitude toward observational evidence, claiming spiritual, metaphysical space for themselves and leaving material, physical space to the scientists? Bender’s narrative provides great insight into what the new metaphysicals believe and how they engage that belief, but why they believe it and how they reconcile that belief with the outlook of less-metaphysical friends, neighbors, and family, are open questions.
Read the rest of Perrin here.

Nahmanides’ appeal in his introduction to the Humash commentary to the 49 gates of wisdom known only to Moses, the traditions of the Torah as black fire on white fire, and one long name of God, and the scientific traditions known to Solomon and King Hizkiyah serve many of the same functions of undermining the science of the day and creating an alternative authority and authenticity. The widespread use of Nahmanides in late 20th century Judaism has helped foster and coalesces with this deeper authenticity.

So, why does the Jewish community accept pseudo-science? And what are the alternate forms of authenticity?
I know one neo-Hasidic haredi author who writes complete pop-psych but claims he is authentic because he tangentially copies Idel’s footnotes (And mine and Aryeh Kaplan’s and Scholem’s). There authenticity is his claim to know texts, even if not these texts.

How do our Jewish new age practitioners ignore Western canons and also claim Torah authenticity?

There is still much meaty discussion of the book at The immanent Frame- we will return to the book again later in the week.

God is Back —-Part II—-Religious Conclusions and Orthodox implications

Here is the second part of the Guest Post by Benzion N Chinn. It continues from Part I – here. In this part he offers an evaluation of religion as lifestyle coach, and asks about the more intellectual elements. I am less certain about this approach since the book’s point is that 21st century religion is amoral and non-intellectual. Why be religious? It is a good lifestyle, offers meaning, and warm shabbosim.Chinn asks where are the orthodox bikers? In this I think he still bears the limits of the YU ideal.We do not have statistics but there are more bikers than you think- there is Orthodox 12 step for NA, chabad, outreach devoid of torah and mizvot, and as I saw yesterday heavily tattooed Jews worried about the hashgahah on chicken. Finally, the book deals with everything from meditation and spirituality to pentacostals- each part of which deserves its own discussion. Here is Chinn on his own blog has a post “Do some religions make you stupider” discussing one of the playful pages on the book.

Having reviewed God is Back, I would like to follow up with a consideration of some of the implications of its main thesis that an American model of religion, mixing a surface conservative theology with modern notions of community and self help.

On the surface this book is a strike against the New Atheism and their traditional Enlightenment narrative. But before we start cheering in the streets at the coming defeat of Dawkins and company, any serious religious thinker is going to have to sit down with this book and ask some hard questions; are we actually comfortable not just with religion triumphing in the battle for modernity, but the type of religion that is doing so. Is this a battle we can afford to win?

In many respects this book is an ode to Evangelical Christianity, the source for the American model and its most successful practitioners to date. In particular, the new generation of social activist pastors, like Rick Warren and Bishop T. D. Jakes, are given very positive portrayals

Jesus now is a lifestyle couch to teach you how to reach your worldly potential. It is somewhere among the glowing descriptions of Evangelical mega churches, with their comfy seating and sports complexes.

I must admit to having felt slightly queasy. While Evangelicals have certainly proved capable of harnessing modern technology for their own ends, one has a hard time seeing them as having the sort of intellectual sense to confront the modern world in a serious fashion and actually effecting the broader secular culture. These concerns were only confirmed when the authors brought up Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind only to dismiss it as a problem of the past that is quickly being solved. (For this reason I would strongly urge readers to read Noll in conjunction with this book as a necessary corrective.) God is Back is written from a sociology of religion perspective, content to simply describe what it sees, without ever attempting to pass judgment. (Perhaps this explains the willingness to pass on Noll’s concerns. Noll, as someone living within the Evangelical world, does not have the luxury of not concerning himself as to whether his religion is intellectually tenable.)

That being said, the attraction of the American model is precisely its willingness to mix such theological conservatism with tolerance for the individual and downplaying theology in favor of society building. In essence this is an attempt to have one’s conservative cake and eat one’s modernity too. Rick Warren is an excellent example of this with him being caught on both sides of the gay marriage debate. On the one hand, as an Evangelical Christian, he had no choice but to come out and support Proposition 8 yet he likes to brag about his personal friendships with homosexuals and his tolerance for them even to the point of distancing himself from Proposition 8 once it dropped off the map.

Warren along with every leading figure in liberal Evangelicalism have trapped and knotted themselves in finding a politically correct Evangelical response to the question of “is Jesus the sole path to salvation,” saying both yes and no. If Warren and company are going to be representing Evangelicalism then why bother being an Evangelical? Why not simply join mainstream Protestantism and openly consider mainstreaming homosexuality and acknowledging the existence of alternative paths to salvation? That is unless your religious conservatism is simply a pretense to claim some sort of high ground in terms of authenticity.

Looking at Orthodoxy through the lens of the American model puts an interesting twist on the issue of individuality within Orthodoxy. The Modern Orthodox world is woefully ill equipped, at an institutional level, to offer a place for anyone who does not fit into the doctor/lawyer/accountant living in suburbia model. Where are our Orthodox biker gangs or taxidermist societies? (Academia presents its own set of problems.) I am constantly amazed as to the extent that someone with long hair and shorts might just be a deeply religious Christian. Orthodoxy’s emphasis on a uniform, such as a kippah, closes off this possibility. Part of our problem is that we lack the numbers to serve niche markets. The American model of religion suggests that offering one size fits all systems may not just be bad simply as a matter of promoting conformity, but suicidal. I would also suggest that this might be one more reason why Israel is important. Israeli Orthodoxy has shown itself capable of offering niche Orthodoxies.

I can see two ways in which the American model plays to the strength of Modern Orthodoxy, more so than Evangelical Christianity, at the intellectual level and in terms of ritual practice. The Orthodox emphasis on study gives it an integral intellectual element absent from Evangelical Christianity. (This is not to say that all Orthodox Jews are learned or that Evangelical Christianity cannot produce learned individuals.) Even the authors, while they downplay the threat, take it as a given that the society building of the American model cannot hope to survive, in the long run, without an intellectual component. Now Orthodoxy’s intellectual culture can work against itself, in the short term, by hastening the moment of crisis when the intellectual pretenses of the movement crash against the distinctively anti-intellectualism of the American model.

On the flip side a deep rooted intellectual culture may be just the thing to balance out and cover for such anti-intellectualism. Orthodox practice gives an extra dimension to claim the authenticity high ground, unavailable to Evangelicalism, thus opening the possibility of taking politically liberal positions. An Orthodox rabbi could come out in favor of legalizing gay marriage and even pursue an active “don’t ask don’t tell policy” in terms of homosexual Orthodox Jews.

I certainly accept the author’s premise of the success of the American model and the reasons for it. I am less certain as to whether this is something long term. The inherent tensions, if not downright contradictions, in the American model beg this to be an exercise in the power of unforeseen consequences; the most obvious of them being the American model doing itself in after doing secularism the favor of first eliminating the sort of rigorous intellectual faith that might have been able to stand up to a secularist assault. The forces of faith may not have lost the battle for modernity, but that does not mean that religion have won.

God is Back- John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge Part I

Here is the first of several guest posts by diverse authors. This one is by Benzion N. Chinn, former student, who is an ABD in Jewish History at Ohio State. He generally blogs at his own blog Izgad. He reviews God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, which is one of the best introductory books on religion of the last few years. The book written by two journalists from the Economist who provide an easy to read overview of the current state of religion. They show how the secularization theory is dead, but without the technical details of Peter Berger, Jose Casanova, or Talal Asad. The book presents the role of religion everywhere in our lives. Unlike 25 years ago., religion now seems to be a factor in everything. Rather than the ritual, myth, symbol, and mysticism of older studies of religion, this book provides insight into topics of current interest such as religion and politics, religion and violence, religion and media. They view the current champion as the evangelical model that mixes free-enterprise, self-help, and family life. Benzion N. Chinn offers his review in two parts. The first part of Chinn’s review here is a general overview of the book and the second part is on its application for Modern Orthodoxy. So be patient for the second part.

In the course of studying the contemporary religious resurgence, we must step back and review the Enlightenment ideology its presumptive attractions and strengths as well as its defects and disadvantages. If Schleiermacher aimed to reconstruct theology in the wake of the Enlightenment, today we need to reconsider the Enlightenment in view of recent religious developments. They include liberal theology as well as a variety of neoorthodox and existential ideologies. The return to religion may to some extent be rooted in and related to the inadequacies or oversimplifications of earlier thought.
One corollary of this development would be that we should seek to engage not only people who are formally in the field of religious studies but religiously committed people who are reflective and articulate and who would be able to describe in general nonconfessional terms the nature of their commitment, the meaning and impact of their religious experience, the views they have of secularism or other antireligious ideologies. (Prof. Isadore Twersky, Random Thoughts)

The traditional narrative of the Enlightenment was that the Enlightenment came in and defeated the forces of “superstitious” religion. Such a narrative still retains a certain cultural currency (particularly in the hands of the like of Richard Dawkins), but fails to offer a convincing explanation as to the continued success of organized religion in the United States and, even more devastatingly, the role that religion is playing in the modernization of the developing world. I have no reason to assume that John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge were familiar with the work of the late Prof. Twersky, but their book, God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World, is certainly an admirable attempt to carry through precisely this charge. It offers a narrative that covers both the Enlightenment encounter with religion and how it continues to play itself out today. Furthermore, the book both challenges the traditional Enlightenment narrative of religion and seeks to understand religion by engaging in a dialogue with its modern practitioners.
The basic narrative of God is Back is one that should be familiar to students of American religious history. While in France (and eventually Western Europe as a whole) a radical version of the Enlightenment, which saw modernity as being in opposition to religion, triumphed, in the United States it was a moderate Enlightenment, which saw religion as the natural ally of progress, which proved dominant. Because of this, today Christianity remains an active force in American politics, while Western Europe has become a collection of post-Christian countries.
This does not mean that the United States was founded as a Christian country. The authors are careful to debunk that myth to show that, in the eighteenth century the young United State was not that different from Western Europe in terms of religiosity. It was plausible that the situations could have been reversed. As to why this did not happen, the authors argue that the lack of strong State supported churches created an opening for niche churches and the sort of religious innovation necessary to thrive in the open climate of modernity. A religious free market forced clergymen to actively seek congregants to fill their pews by catering to popular needs. As the authors openly admit, this thesis comes from Tocqueville; they are merely updating it for the twenty-first century.

While the authors spend the early part of the book giving an overview of the diverging histories of religion in the United States and Western Europe, the most worthwhile part of the book is when the authors move away from the United States to places like the Philippines, China, South Korea, and Nigeria as they struggle to embrace modernity. This path to modernity is increasingly not one of secularization, but on the contrary an embracement some pretty conservative brands of religion. I particularly recommend the anecdote in the introduction, describing a home bible study and worship session by a group of middle-class Christians in Shanghai.

If there is one central thesis at the heart of this wide ranging discussion of religion it is more than just that organized religion is here to stay as an essential part of the modern world, it is that there is a distinctively American brand of religion that is winning in the battle for the soul of modernity. This is no longer just in the United States; the American model is sweeping across the developing world and is even making inroads in the secular bastions of Western Europe. The basic features of this model are, despite a conservative exterior, a move away from top down hierarchal structures, emphasizing hard theology, toward social communities, with an emphasis on personal experience and growth. This is not just Christianity we are dealing with; the authors spend much of the later parts of the book charting how this model has moved into Hinduism and even Islam.  The authors, furthermore, consider the implications of this shift for the future of Islamic relations with the West. Could it be that American style religion, as opposed to American bombs and American style secularism, will be what brings down radical Islam?

The success of this American brand of religion, across confessional lines, is not contrary to the narrative of modernity or peripheral to it, but at the heart of modernity. Modernity has given us choice, but at the same time has disrupted traditional values and community. It should therefore be no surprise that there would be an attraction to a system that offers a surface reaffirmation of traditional values, the sort of community that modernity leaves wanting, all while allowing one to enjoy the freedom, independence and personal choice that are the fruits of modernity. In the struggle between religion and modernity, the American model allows one to eat one’s cake and have it to.
God is Back offers a general picture of the issue, which, while not particularly innovative, offers a readable and much needed statement as to where we are at today in terms of religion and modernity.

Decline in the Megachurches and Rise in Microchurches

Reports are coming in that the era of mega churches may be coming to an end. Just as synagogues have learned to create multi-purpose social environments that are driven by managerial rabbis, the trend has peaked in the Protestant world. Part of the reason is that people have had enough with entertainment and social services and want repentance and redemption. They wont disappear but their number will be reduced and new congregations will be formed. The megachurches of Rev Rick Warren and Rev Joel Hunter will continue to thrive, but others will not. So which successful synagogues will continue to operate as mega-churches and which may need to retool as offering Torah, redemption, and teshuvah? How long will it take Rabbinic training to once-again shift? Will CjF change? Which denominations will lead the return to repentance? (I am still unsure of how this relates to spirituality. Are people turning to repentance to replace spirituality or will it be a more traditionally grounded spirituality of repentance?)

On the other hand, this year has seen a rise of micro-churches, small groups that meet in a living room or small congregation that are run by lay leadership, or a clergy that has a full time job. No more driving to a distant church, gather a few like minded believers from the neighborhood and create an intimate setting. (Google “micro-church” for some of the variety). Be prepared for Reform Shtiblach. If these two trends keep up, then the Federation in two years could likely fund “Reform mussar stiblach.” The question is whether Centrist Orthodoxy can give up its characteristic and winning trait of gregariousness and turn toward repentance or will people start break-off microshuls, each brewed to a specific taste?

Decline in the Megachurches and Rise in Microchurches — Martin E. Marty

Schadenfreude, or rejoicing in others’ misfortunes, is abundantly evident in responses, blogged and otherwise, to the bad/sad news about the decline of the famed Crystal Cathedral, a megachurch founded in the mid-1950s in California. Publicity has been constant, for over a year, concerning the church’s 55-million-dollar debt, sellings-off of property, non-payment of bills, et cetera. Other megachurches have closed when the nearby malls on whose traffic they half-depended went broke.

First, why Schadenfreude? One has to see a turnabout-is-fair-play attitude in some of the uncharitable responses. The megachurch networks build constituencies in part by attacking denominations, even as these networks then become more-than-virtual, indeed, parallel and competitive “denominations” themselves. Worshippers who gather in town-and-country, inner-city, and left-behind neighborhoods, where neither congregations nor anything else can grow, chafe when the mega-success folk deride them, publishing books and releasing releases which suggest that smaller, declining, or holding-their-own churches and synagogues are simply doing wrong, or at least not doing right.

What is going on with the decline of the megachurches? I’ve read some sociological analyses, works in progress on which we’ll report after they are published, which have some big clues. Most come down to the fact that so many of these churches replace or eclipse classic concerns such as “repentance” and “redemption” and have converted, in their terms and substance and energies, to market models.

No, the megachurches are not going to disappear. But as they transition from the world of inevitable success to re-participation in a world of partial success, setbacks, disappointments, and frustrations, now is a good time to see what about them can be appropriate in the lives of so many other kinds of churches and synagogues, which have much to learn, and only sometimes are themselves eager to change.

A Continuous Judaism Between Halakhah and Hiloni by Elchanan Shilo

Here is an article By Elchanan Shilo, “A Continuous Judaism between halakhah and Hiloni” that appeared in the Shabbat Supplement of Mekor Rishon on May 7 2010 and it has been posted on Tzav Pius (One of the many inscrutable projects of the Avi Chai Foundation.)
It is an interesting article and brings together many ideas currently floating around. Yet, I am not sure if he is not just recreating 1920’s Conservative Judaism or a European Geminde system. Nor am I sure that all the parts of his argument work together. Shilo, who teaches Jewish thought, wants to undo the division between those who keep halakhah and those who pick and choose. He brings together those who are halakhic, with those who pick and choose, and he includes in his expanded approach both those who only occasionally find something that speaks to them in Judaism and those leaving halakhic oservance. Here is a freehand summary and paraphrase of selected lines and an even more freehand translation of key lines.

A Continuous Judaism Between Halakhah and Hiloni by Elchanan Shilo

“The time has come to stop building bridges between the religious and the secular and instead to create a new wider existence. The religious Zionist community, whose strength is enough for both sides, is capable of building this expanse in order to break the divisions of the past.”

Modernity brought (1)education (2)a bourgeois life (3) a halakhicification of Judaism.The first two are good. But the later creates a division between religious and secular. The division was originally encouraged for the pride of building an educated community who knew and kept halakhah. Now we need to erase the divide by mixed schools and individualized patterns of observance.

We already have many people who have individualized approaches. Some people find halakhah and the religious life stifling and not life enhancing , others find it fits perfectly and enhances their lives. Generally we are happy when people discover observance but we should understand that it does not fit everyone and we should accept that people regularly give up observance. People go back and forth. His solution is to prevent absolute secularization- and see the community as a very wide range of observances with people going both directions at all times. In this approach, the formerly frum (Datla”sh) who don’t fit into the secular world would remain comfortably part of religious world. (Datla”sh is at least 25 % of the religious Zionist community)

Shilo argues that his approach should not be confused with the liberalism of Reform and Conservative. The later movements judged Orthodoxy as primitive and that they are progressive. They created a new ideology with justifications for none observance. Shilo wants a broad tent without any judgment or ideology.

He accepts the older American model of having a men’s section, a women’s section, and mixed section. No judging and no definite answer. Some people follow the halakhah and some people follow their need not to have a mehitza. {He emailed me to tell me that he thought these mixed pulpits still existed in the US. His American father remembers them. He did not know that they dont exist anymore.}

Liberal religious Zionist weddings have mixed dancing after the officials leave combining both halkhah and actual practice. But he asks why not has both separate and mixed dancing right from the start? Halakhah without ideology or non-observance of Halakhah without ideology wont topple the edifice.

There are no hard definitions of God’s will only soft ones that vary with the individual. Shilo advocates that we should turn to the writings of Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of Izbitz, the Mei Hashiloah. People can have different callings from God, some in the halakhah and some not in the halkhah. How do we know that God wants everyone to keep halakhah, maybe sometimes there is intentional sin for the sake of heaven or different paths for different people.

We don’t want to delegitimize Jews or close options. He advocates a practical Judaism or an actual Judaism or a realistic Judaism. Many people want to keep Shabbat and even love Shabbat but are not interested in the details of squeezing, mixing, or smoothing on the Sabbath Many just want to keep up the tradition or the family values.

A different case is that people can like Shabbat but also have normal sexual needs . They do not want to be told that it is the evil inclination, rather they want to enjoy sexuality and the Sabbath. They don’t want a dichotomy of either being part of the frum world or the secular world.
Not keeping hair covering, going mixed swimming, and mixed dancing can be done without any ideology of either rejecting Orthodoxy or forcing people into a social ghetto.

The beit midrash should be open to all. And the criteria for how to study and what to study is not determined by halakhah but by relevance, interest, meaning and poetics.

People don’t want a Reform Shabbat in the synagogue they want a traditional Shabbat that they can mold to their own meaning.
Halakhah has to stop fighting a radical secularism and secularist have got to stop fighting the halkahic world. A wide practical Jewish life can bring people together.

OK, so is this new or old? Feasible or not? Are all details worked out or are their dangling elements. Read the full Hebrew article and let me know if there is something that will catch on here or is it just a idea.

Update with a response by Rabbi David Bigman.

Faith-based Initiative

New study described by Sightings – Faith based social services dont change actual congregation but operate independently of congregations. However, they do not operate independently of governmental services, they are grafted into them. There are actually not that many people that care for people for free except in time of emergency and they all rely on government funds.

The Faith-based Initiative and Congregational Change– Martin E. Marty

“Did the Faith-based Initiative Change Congregations?” asked astute sociologists of religion Bob Wineberg and Mark Chaves last April. The answer: No. Chaves, based at Duke University, follows up with a revision in The Christian Century (June 1), “Congregations Say No to the Faith-based Initiative: Thanks, but No Thanks.” He is referring to the Congress-launched program to tap the energies and genius of religious organizations, “including congregations, to meet social needs.” Recognizing that the program had been controversial from the first, often on grounds coded as “church-state relations,” Chaves analyzed follow-up studies to see whether the tapping had been productive. Again: No.

Chaves is anything but an anti-institutional, anti-congregational muckraker, doomsayer, or secular snob. His career is devoted to assessing what role crucial institutions like congregations (parishes, mosques, synagogue) can and do achieve. We can picture him having hoped that this innovation would work. “Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and Jewish Family Services” do work big time, he notes. It’s hard to imagine American voluntary life without such large agencies, something the “spiritual but not religious” or “religious but non-institutional” citizens don’t often notice. But, once more, “did the faith-based initiative have any impact on congregations? Did it prompt congregations to get more involved in providing social services?” Again, No! and No!

Failure followed because those in charge worked with false assumptions. One was “that congregation-based social services represent an alternative to the social welfare system.” No, they don’t. Chaves: “The reality is that there is no such alternative system in the religious world.” Congregations are not an alternative; their social services depend on “the current system.” “It is much more common for a congregation to plug into an existing program than to start a new one.” False assumption two: that “congregations represent a vast reservoir of volunteer labor.” Do they? No. Most congregations are small, internally diverse, peopled by believers who can’t all be mobilized to serve.

Bob Wineberg and Mark Chaves, “Did the Faith-Based Initiative Change Congregations?” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (March 2010).
Mark Chaves, “Congregations Say No to the Faith-based Initiative: Thanks, but No Thanks,” Christian Century (June 1, 2010).

Suburban Religion: The Divine Commodity-Skye Jethani

A few years ago, I was asked to teach the beginning of Rav Dessler’s Miktav MiEliyahu whee he discussing the purpose in life. They did not know what they were asking for, and they had never read it, but they knew it was an important book. As we were reading it, they all remarked how it cannot say the things it does- for it invalidates the suburban trajectory of their lives. By the end they did not want to continue, they preferred something more relevant to their lives. Rav Dessler was known to be anti-bourgeois and the sharpness of his thought has receded into memory. Recently, people have however been turning to R. Itamar Schwatz (belevavi mishkan evneh) who screams out for people to abandon their cell phones, suburban homes, and nice clothes and flee into devotion toward God. A shock treatment to remember what life in this world is all about-service of God. But not everyone is ready for such shock treatment.

How do you tell such people that they do not get the world-to-come simply by paying a mortgage in a religious neighborhood? How do tell them that it is not just where you once upon a time learned but also what you study now? Rav Nahman of Bratzlav mocks the material life in his story “The Master of Prayer” But what if one is not looking for reductio ad absurdum, rather insight?

American society has also been witnessing preachers who are questioning the religious value of suburban life. One of these is Skye Jethani The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity .

Americans live in a consumer-driven society. We are consumers. This is our world, and the ethos of the corporate and consumer dominated life has been with us and expanding for well over 100 years. Consumers R Us.

However, there is a difference between being a consumer and having a worldview of consumerism. Consumerism is “a set of presuppositions most of us have been formed to carry without question or critique” (12). It has become the subconscious framework through which we view everything, including God, the gospel, and the church. In Jethani’s view, “it is competing with the kingdom of heaven for the hearts and imaginations of God’s people” (12).

For Skye Jethani, the concept of imagination is key. “Learning to see the world as it truly is—saturated with the presence and love of God—should be the essence of Christian discipleship, or what many call spiritual formation” (13). However, the church is failing to provide an alternative vision that will captivate the hearts and minds of consumers and break the chains that bind their imaginations. Instead, churches are catering to consumers without challenging the worldly assumptions that leave them undernourished and anemic in their faith.
What are Skye Jethani’s complaints about consumerism? How does this worldview stunt our faith?

• It commodifies God. God is not the Holy One any longer, the Great Mystery, but one who nicely fits in with our desires and politics. We value him for what he can do for us.

• It moves us to construct our Christian identity from the brands we consume rather than from what God has done for us in Christ. Christians buy Christian, and thus are Christian. Image is everything.

• It leads us to seek transformation through external “experiences” we consume. This has led to a whole new kind of church and ministry: “And the role of the pastor, once imagined as a shepherd tending a flock, now conjures images of a circus ringmaster shouting, ‘Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth.’ In Consumer Christianity, the shepherd becomes a showman” (75).

• It has turned the church from an “ocean-liner” designed to move people from point A to point B (connecting people with God), to a “cruise ship” that is, in itself, the destination. One need never disembark because it contains everything the Christian life has to offer.

• It leads to a faith that is insatiable, unable to delay gratification, and averse to suffering.

• It causes us to segregate ourselves from others who are not like us, and to gather in homogeneous communities, causing us to miss the gospel call to a unity that rises above human divisions.

• It moves us to choose lifestyles of guarded isolation and individualism and miss out on the gospel call to practice hospitality, especially toward those we would never naturally associate with.

Is he right that we have become a homogeneous pleasure cruise ship? Have we converted God into a kitchen deity serving human needs? Has outreach and spirituality turned into a form of entertainment? What is the alternative to a fixed commodified faith?

James Davidson Hunter – To change the World

They rebroadcast Elmer Gantry last night, a once upon a time scandalous book-movie about right wing revivalist religion. In the movie one of the ministers says “they had everyone in town saved and non of the social ills stopped, nothing changed.” So does religion change anything for the good in America? Does it create a new society?

James Hunter has a new book on the topic To Change the World. Hunter is the one who created the analysis of the culture wars of conservative and progressive in his 1991 Culture Wars. This book promises to be one of the major works of the coming decade.

In his new book, he gives a simple answer to the question of whether religions change anything. His answer: only if they has positions within culture. One changes the culture by being part of culture to stand on the sidelines in American and offer commentary does not change anything. One gets to be a major politician, editor, academic, writer, or TV figure. If not, then you are not influencing culture. Publishing in religious presses and working in religious colleges and creating echo chambers does not change society. If one becomes part of the Supreme Court or writes for the NYT op-ed page then one changes society, hence the importance that Catholic moral thinking has taken on in the US. But to be either the Evangelical or utopian Anabaptist author who has disdain for the establishment does not change anything. In addition, changing oneself or pledging oneself to devotion to ones faith does not change society. The religion pride themselves on their sense of periphery and devotion to lower aspects of culture.

Hunter notes that gays have placed their cultural agenda in the center and highest levels of American society and have a stronger presence than religion. Many religious figures want to win at the school board and HS teaching level but ignore academia, TV, and journalism. Any thoughts for the Jewish community? Orthodox community?

Hunter assumes that

The individuals, networks and institutions most critically involved in the production of culture or civilization operate in the center, where prestige is the highest; not on the periphery, where status is low.

Long-term cultural change always occurs from the top down. In other words, the work of world-changing is the work of elites, gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management to the leading institutions in a society.

One group focuses on personal renewal and national revival, while another—championing a “Christian worldview”—locates the necessary condition for cultural change not so much in the heart as in the mind. Either way, the premise is that once the hearts and minds of ordinary people are properly revived and informed, the culture will change. “This account,” Hunter says flatly, “is almost wholly mistaken.”

And Christianity in America, as Hunter sees it, is very much on the periphery, for all its numerical strength. Its institutions, such as they are, tend to be weak, they tend not to be in culturally central locations, and they tend to address the “lower and peripheral areas” of culture—secondary education rather than university research, popular culture rather than high art, ministries of mercy rather than public policy. At their worst they glory in their marginal status, feeding a subculture that churns out substandard cultural products for consumption by other Christians, simultaneously the most energetic and the least effective culture-makers you could imagine.

Hunter calls us to “faithful presence”—fully participating in every structure of culture as deeply formed Christians who also participate in the alternative community of the church.

Meaning and Mystery: What it means to believe in God–David M. Holley

A book that is getting many good reviews from both academics and religious publications is David Holly, Meaning and Mystery. Holly approaches the question of the belief in God from a post-secular and post liberal perspective, God is part of our lives in a non-foundational way and the criteria for believe is whether God is part of our narrative. He takes from Charles Taylor the idea that we all create narratives or social imaginaries to make meaning of our lives. He also takes from all the new studies on evangelicals that people adopt Evangelical beliefs because it fits into their personal narratives. Hence, belief in God is non-foundational and based on our personal histories. God cannot be proved or disproved. Neither philosophy or science play a role in the belief in God. Someone who does not have God in their life cannot communicate with someone who does since they have different life stories. He does invoke Pascal and cheer for belief in ways that don’t fit with Charles Taylor, but many points of his are good. He seems to be working on a sequel on how the question of falsification is dealt with in a personal narrative approach.

Here is a review from a religious publication.

ONE of the myths of post-modernism is that we have entered the age of no meta-narratives.
Non¬sense. We are in the age of many meta-narratives. David Holley doesn’t even bother with the modern/post-modern question. He simply argues that it is these “life-orienting” meta-narratives that determine belief in God, or otherwise. This is the thesis expounded clearly and credibly in the first chapter, so that there is a certain inevitability about his attack on the “God of the Philosophers” who is the end point of a logical or empirical argument rather than an idea central to a life-orienting narrative that is accepted because it makes sense of experience, and is a plausible and practical guide for action.

Holley maintains that atheism is as dependent as theism on such life-orienting narratives.. Of course, such narratives require a degree of receptivity on our part if they are to be life-orienting, and it is in the nature of human freedom that they should be capable of being resisted.

Holley effectively exposes the worst excesses of rationalism and scientism that characterize many contemporary despisers of religion. Here he owes a significant debt to Alexander MacIntyre when it comes to seeing the very idea of virtues and values as incompatible with a purely naturalistic version of reality.
This leaves the way clear for him to demonstrate how narratives that include God are more likely to offer meaning to our lives than those that do not.
The final chapter deals with how we relate to religious and non-religious views other than our own. Holley contends that trying to evaluate various world-views from a standpoint outside any of them is impossible. We can address them only from within the life-orienting narrative we have adopted, and that way we can accommodate doubt and uncertainty without compromising the narrative that works for us.

From a scientific study of religion review interview:

What’s the central concern of the book, and why is it important?
DH: While the question of God’s existence is typically dealt with as a theoretical issue, I claim that it makes most sense to treat it as a practical question. Each of us needs what I call a life-orienting story, a narrative that relates a picture of what is ultimately real to individual experience in a way that makes a particular way of living intelligible and attractive. Some narratives of this kind include God and some explicitly exclude God. Reflective judgment about God occurs in the context of considering alternative narratives that might provide orientation for a way of living. In that context the issue is not only whether the understanding provided by a narrative coheres with what we take to be the facts, but whether or not it has the power to engage a person in a way of life she finds worthy.

And what is it that draws you (personally) to this topic?
DH: I am struck by the way religious claims and religious ways of life seem virtually unintelligible to some people. In the introduction to the book I cite one author who questions whether anyone actually believes in God because he thinks of the belief as a hypothesis that lacks any evidential support. Both believers and unbelievers are tempted to construe the issue in this way, and as a result the discussion gets sidetracked from the kind of belief intelligent religious people hold and the considerations that actually persuade them.

What sort of reaction do you hope it will get?
DH: I would like to persuade people that standard ways of thinking about God’s existence do not get to the heart of the matter. I’d like to reconfigure the discussion between believers and nonbelievers away from arguments about an isolated proposition to consideration of alternative narratives that might structure a way of life. I expect that some people will misunderstand my book, imagining that I am advocating some kind of disregard of rational evidence. Instead, I am trying to show what kind of reflection is appropriate for cases where we inevitably end up believing some practical narrative (naturalistic or theistic) that cannot be established on purely empirical grounds.

Notebook learning

I just came back from a simcha and while there spoke to a old-time senior RIETS person, always good to catch up on the insider baseball on recent events from his perspective.
Along the way he noted:
“Guys dont really learn anymore. They do it to be part of a group and fill their notebooks with the content of shiur. They dont ask questions, they are not sharp or analytic anymore.” Rav Gorelik or “Rav Romm would call on you and you were expected to think to answer a question on the spot.” “Today over half the shiurim require no thinking. Guys just listen and write.” In the old days, you would have been criticized for such unthinking passivity.
To which I replied: “But this happened entirely under your watch.You were there for the entire change.”

So who is responsible for such changes? Do we attribute it to the will of the students?external forces? Should this rabbi have spoken up? Would it have helped?

This same RIETS figure noted that numerically women’s learning in Modern Orthodoxy has stayed constant. They may have moved from one institution to another in NYC and choose different programs in Israel but the numbers overall are stable. At that point we got into the above conversation that men’s learning has also plateaued.

Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish leaders

Here is a sense of the ideology of the leaders of the new organizations and they will someday head the established ones.
Any trends? Is it what you expected? Notice the day school graduates did not remain Orthodox, so that Orthodox who have the Avi-Chai definition of leadership remains at the 10% mark. We expected already the lack of Antisemitism as a drive and a lack of us-them relationship with the world. So this means that those of you under 40 who do have the us-them divide may feel alienated from the community’s leaders.

Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish leaders
By Jacob Berkman · April 12, 2010

A team of six researchers studied Jews between the age of 22 and 40, who serve as Jewish leaders, which they defined as those who have spearheaded new Jewish initiatives, direct existing mainstream Jewish organizations or somehow are thought leaders or activists on Jewish endeavors.The researchers interviewed some 250 leaders across country, but claim to have identified more than 3,000 who might be considered young Jewish leaders.

Among the key findings

* They do not feel threatened by Antisemitism.
* They prefer to reject us-them relationships with non-Jews and want to be inclusive of non-Jews in their programing.
* They hold strong views on the organized Jewish community and need for new ways of organizing it and are critical of federations, traditional synagogues and agencies that engage in protective activities.
* While many believe that most young Jewish leaders totally buck the mainstream of Judaism, the report suggests that a large segment actually involve themselves in those organizations such as Jewish federations, Friends of the IDF and AIPAC. “It’s not true they want nothing to do with traditional causes, especially those who are economically secure and relate to the networking core of traditional Jewish organizations.”
* Around 40 percent of Jewish leaders attended day school, only 10-11 percent of those are Orthodox.
* Two thirds attended Jewish summer camps.
* Half have spent more than four months of study in Israel.
* They believe that Jewish peoplehood means the celebration of diaspora Jewish culture that is rich, diverse and inclusive.
* Most do not see Israel as central to Jewish identity and peoplehood, and there is a broad range of how much criticism about Israel they can tolerate.

On a similar note we have to congratulate Rabbi Ari Weiss of Uri L’Tzedek who won a Joshua Venture Grant. Uri L’Tzedek is defined as created to “engage, empower, and inspire the American Orthodox Jewish community to enact social change both within and beyond its own communal borders.” For the other 2010 winners- here. For past years- here.

Foreclosure in Teaneck

I was speaking to a foreclosure attorney who said that the foreclosure rate was low in Teaneck despite many being out of work. (I do not know if any of this is statistically true, I took him at his word.)

I asked why?

He said because everyone has the safety cushion of their day school tuition. If they are unemployed they can just not pay the tuition and have more than enough money to pay their mortgage and utilities.

His second point was that almost everyone is in a dual income family so that there is the cushion of the other salary.

The other points that came up in the conversation was the cushion of consumption: Blackberries and ipods for all in the family, eating out very often, leased cars, and other things to be cut.

I have also heard from the gardeners and house cleaner that people laid off their help. They were all originally paying for both gardener and house cleaner.

OK – so what does this say about the enclave of Teaneck-Bergenfield Centrist Orthodoxy? What is surprising? Are there any insights about values or social organization?

The one immediate observation is the dual income. I am not sure which survey had the statistic, but the current construction of Modern Orthodoxy has a higher rate of dual income than Reform and Conservative. It is also one of the clear and sharp distinctions between Centrism and Evangelical. The latter actively teach that the virtue of a stay at home mom, while Centrism assumes that everyone works in a significant career.

Duties of the Heart

Luke Timothy Johnson, Professor at Emory, has an article in the current issue of Commonweal on the current battle between those who have an external religion and those who have a religion of the inner experience. Johnson considers the external religion as politics, conformity, social control, and a negative force if it is not connected to the experiential religion. He concludes that if external religion is only concerned with the activities of this-world, then secularism does a better job of creating a this-worldly humane society.

Is his observation an eternal tension of the inner duties of the heart and the legalistic duties of the limbs or does his formulation offer something new? Is this just Bahye’s Duties of the Heart or is he responding to the pressing issue of our time? Can he cure the community’s  over-riding concern with self- definition through conformity and social control? (Ignore his formulation using the word experience in our post- linguistic turn and construction of the self era; the article can easily to rewritten for our current terminology)

Dry Bones Why Religion Can’t Live without MysticismLuke Timothy Johnson

The great religious battle of our time is not the one being waged between believers and unbelievers. The battle within each of the three great monotheistic religions is between the exoteric and esoteric versions of each. In my view, the contest is already so far advanced as virtually to be decided.

The exoteric focuses on external expressions of religion. Its concern is for the observance of divine commandments, the performance of public ritual, and the celebration of great festivals. In its desire for a common creed and practice, its tropism is toward religious law, and it seeks to shape a visible and moral society molded by such law.

The esoteric, in contrast, finds the point of religion less in external performance than in the inner experience and devotion of the heart; less in the public liturgy than in the individual’s search for God. The esoteric dimension of religion privileges the transforming effect of asceticism and prayer. The esoteric element in religion finds expression above all in mysticism. Mystics pursue the inner reality of the relationship between humans and God: they long for true knowledge of what alone is ultimately real, and desire absolute love for what is alone infinitely desirable.

Less visible but no less significant is the negative effect on the exoteric when the esoteric life of individual transformation goes unacknowledged. A system of law unconnected to inner piety is simply an instrument of social control, a form of politics pure and simple. Whether it be an Islamic court issuing a Fatwah to punish someone who has insulted the Prophet, or the Vatican removing a theologian from a university faculty on suspicion of an inadequate Christology,

Islamic fundamentalism echoes Christian fundamentalism in this respect, demanding an absolute outer conformity to specific points of belief and practice, while paying little explicit attention to the intricate and difficult process of individual sanctification.

Seen in this light, the exoteric may appear to have won, yet its victory may only be prelude to the defeat of the tradition as a whole by secularism.

If religion is for this life only, then it must compete on an even plane with other worldly ideologies. And it is not unthinkable that such ideologies can offer a better and more humane society than that proposed by a religion that has been emptied of the transcendent, and lacks any room for the spirit that soars toward God.

Johnson loses me in his description of Judaism as not having this tension because we Jews follow the heikhalot texts, Ashkenaz pietism, kabbalah, and ecstatic Hasidim. Anyone know a Jewish community that fits his description?  Anyone know where we can return to follow Eleazar of Worms quest for the Divine will? Anyone teaching Heikhalot when they teach Mishnayot?

Of the three great monotheisms, Judaism has proved most successful at harmonizing exoteric and esoteric expression. The masters of the heavenly throne-chariot were among the greatest scholars of the early rabbinic tradition, and demanded of the mystic the punctilious outward observance of Torah. The medieval German chasid Eleazar of Worms (d. 1230) declared, “The root of love is to love the Lord. The soul is full of love, bound with the bonds of love in great joy. The powerful love of joy seizes his heart so that at all times he thinks: How can I do the will of God?” Similarly, practitioners of Kabbalah from the twelfth to the twentieth century assumed as the ground for their speculation a total immersion in the practices common to the community of faith. The early Hasidic movement aroused concern for its apparently antinomian tendencies, yet quickly became integrated in the exoteric tradition, and is found today among the strictest of observant Jews.

Suburban Religion

I have always been bothered by the enormous shift from the world of Eastern Europe Jewry to the new suburban Jewry. In its wake it has left a void of many aspects of Judaism and much of the new approach seems geared to keep God out of one’s life. Jews in their myopia tend to see it only as a Jewish or Orthodox problem, but it alters all American religion. Many Christians have noted this change from old-time religion to the new faith and attempted to discuss the new Suburban Christian, and they grasp the ironies. I recommend for the ironies – Albert Hsu, The Suburban Christian. There several other works with similar titles. But no one has yet to fully put their finger on the issues involved in the change. So it was important to see a Muslim also bristling again this immense change by making fun of Suburban Capitalist Islam.

To understand this, know that ilm means knowledge in the sense of both law and reason for the law. Rambam’s Mishneh Torah and his Guide are both fiqh and the study of which is knowledge( ilm.). When you read this substitute year in Israel, study of halakhah, shul classes for his references. In rule #12 those are references to the messianic age, in the sense that suburban orthodoxy does not acutely wait for a messiah. The author makes fun of the acquisition of knowledge and not having it interfere with one’s life. One can master halakhah and keep it out of one’s life. There is no more growth and piety. He makes fun of how their right wing is mainly characterized as those violating the materialism. History is avoided.

The author makes fun of how one can study much “contemporary law”  and one can debate for weeks whether something is permitted or forbidden but that debate obscures the real issues that one is no longer living in the religious world of the past. In this set up, “Knowledge’ has been set up as this idealized form of certainty and conviction.” offering self-justification and a sense that one has the answers. Finally, these classes have degenerated into self-help and a commodity for marketing.

Any of this sound familiar?

“Suburban Capitalist Islam” – List of Beliefs

1) American culture is the primary definition of the way we dress, the food we enjoy, the entertainment we seek (Movies, TV, video games).
2) Islam can be understood practically as a filter of the ‘bad’ aspects of the American lifestyle out of ones life. The bad aspects are the obvious haraam (forbidden actions). It can also be an encouragement of the ‘good’ aspects of American life.
3) Since Islam is a filter of good and bad, one needs to obtain ‘ilm’ (religious knowledge) in order to learn how to behave. Studying ‘ilm’ is paramount in Islam, and most ‘ilm’ is in Arabic.
4) What is taught by people in classes at seminars and ‘events’ is a translation and summarization of what is considered ‘ilm’.
5) Your status is defined by how much of this seminar-event-based ‘ilm’ you know.
9) What defines a good Muslim is how well integrated he is with Suburban-Middle-class Society (job, wife, kids, house) plus the combination of his ‘ilm’
10) With real ‘ilm’ we can combat a Non Suburban-Capitalist-Islam. The end result of Non Suburban-Capitalist-Islam is a lifestyle absent of the luxuries and principles of Suburban Capitalist Islam, primarily #1.
11)  Suburban Capitalist Muslims are moderate. They are moderate because they are largely indistinguishable from non-Muslim Americans within the workforce, except for a beard/Hijab and some dietary requirements.
12) Imam Mahdi (AS) and the Dajjal are topics of events far in the future. They are so far that they are largely understood as metaphors without meaning.
13) Islamic history is something left to be studied in a superficial manner, because most of Muslim history is filled with various mistakes and evil people. It is far more important to learn about the primary sources of ‘ilm’ and attend more seminars.
Suburban Capitalist Islam is inherently an American cultural product. What most Muslims in the West experience as the Islamic message is actually American culture filtered through certain Islamic injunctions. Under this paradigm, Muslims are able to argue day in and day out over details as to which particular filters/knowledge/’ilm’ they should apply in their lives, while ignoring the overarching logical breakdown and inconsistency between their belief system and their actual lifestyle, filled with TV, video games and shopping.
What are the youth to do with themselves while they are struggling in being ardent abstainers from these aspects of Western society? Surely, Islam must provide some alternative?

Largely this gap has been filled with the pursuit of ‘knowledge’. The message has been that through knowledge you are empowered to controlling your own Islamic future. While knowledge has been important to Muslims since the time of the Holy Prophet (S), it is only now that we see studying being associated so directly with piety and spiritual progress. ‘Knowledge’ has been set up as this idealized form of certainty and conviction. The more knowledge you get/purchase/sit in, the more everything about Islam makes sense, the more easier it becomes to justify the abstaining from the few ‘bad’ things surrounding us and also rationalizing our largely Western lifestyle as being halaal. And doesn’t everyone want self-justification and doesn’t everyone desire for it all to make sense.

Most of these ilm-sessions are set up as the Islamic equivalent to very secular self-help seminars. This cultural stand-in has allowed for competing institutes and community programs to emerge, each giving their own message of specific information-based knowledge. And it should be carefully noted that what is being peddled is information-based knowledge versus knowledge of the self or other forms of tacit knowledge which was how much of Islam was implemented in Muslim lifestyles.

A primary consequence of this Western approach towards Islam is the productization of ‘Ilm’, religious knowledge. What does Western society bring if not the concept of marketing? Catchy slogans, professional videos ads, hype-machines and superstar personalities have been built up to bring ‘Islamic knowledge’ into our lives. No one could deny, if given the opportunity , ‘American Muslim Institutes’ would be clamoring for some sort of witty ad selling their wares during Superbowl commercials. Frankly, if given the opportunity, they would want their own team and hijab-laden cheerleaders.

Full versions here and here.

Millennial Data

The Pew Forum has finally tabulated all the studies of the last few years and made their statement about the Millennial generation. No surprises. But what will it do to the community? Will Orthodoxy form a reactive ideology against the younger generation? Will Orthodoxy gain an influx of those for whom the issue of Gay rights pushes them out of their liberal communities? Another point, we see the children of Evangelicals giving up Literalism, even while remaining in the fold.How will the break of literalism 47% to 53% play itself out? Debates in the classroom? Fights over which books to read?
Anything else in full report worth noting? – Full report here.

According to a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the gap on some issues has widened into a chasm, notably on issues related to gay rights and tolerance.

‘Young people are more accepting of homosexuality and evolution than are older people. They are also more comfortable with having a bigger government, and they are less concerned about Hollywood threatening their values,’ said the report, which was released on Wednesday.
For example, the report said that Pew’s massive 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey found young adults to be almost twice as likely to say homosexuality should be accepted by society as those 65 and older, 63 per cent versus 35 per cent. Overall in the 30+ age group only 47 per cent said homosexuality should be accepted. The report also said surveys showed that less than a third of Millennial adults saw Hollywood as a threat to their moral values compared to 44 per cent of those 30 and over.

Differences between young people and their elders today are also apparent in views of the Bible, although the differences are somewhat less pronounced. Overall, young people are slightly less inclined than those in older age groups to view the Bible as the literal word of God. Interestingly, age differences on this item are most dramatic among young evangelicals and are virtually nonexistent in other groups. Although younger evangelicals are just as likely as older evangelicals (and more likely than people in most other religious groups) to see the Bible as the word of God, they are less likely than older evangelicals to see it as the literal word of God. Less than half of young evangelicals interpret the Bible literally (47%), compared with 61% of evangelicals 30 and older.