Why Do We Go to Church?

Our own Richard Flory recently appeared on the illustrious Research on Religion podcast discussing why people go to church.  Here’s the summary of his interview… check it out!

A recent Barna Group survey found that roughly 60% of regular churchgoers could not remember any new religious insight from the last time they attended churc, and 50% could not remember any insight from the previous week’s service.  So why bother gettin’ out of bed, gettin’ on your Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and trudging down to the local congregation?  We take up this issue with Dr. Richard Flory, associate research professor of sociology at the University of Southern California and director of research at the USC Center for Religion & Civic Culture.  Based upon a blog post he wrote on this topic, Richard speculates that it might not be the spiritual message that lures us to church service, but rather the communal aspect of worshiping together that draws us together every Sunday.  We discuss some of the demographic possibilities for these research findings as well, contemplating whether age, gender or the clergy’s lack of dynamism may have something to do with why people report tuning out during the sermon.  The second half of our discussion then looks at the role that churches play in the community and we talk about Richard’s research on church activism in Los Angeles following the 1992 riots, a topic near to the heart of your host since he was living in L.A. at the time.  Prof. Flory details the various means that churches have tried to heal the city vis-a-vis charity, advocacy for social justice, community development, and interfaith dialogue.  He provides several examples including work done by Rev. Mark Whitlock, Cecil Murray of the First AME, La Voice PICO, and other groups.  He concludes by noting how churches must first be interested in developing the spiritual life of its congregants but then develop those interests in such a way that they entail community outreach.

Small Enough to Hate: Anti-Muslim American Behavior

I teach at a faith-based university, one that identifies itself as particularly Baptist and broadly Judeo-Christian. What this means exactly is often the subject of much debate, but it’s been clear to me after 8 years of teaching that this identity is not a requirement of the students. Based on student self-report this past Fall there were 74 Buddhist, 98 Hindu, and 117 Muslim students out of 12,575 undergrads. It’s not much but these numbers are large enough for student groups to function and provide support for one another in an environment that may seem somewhat alienating depending on how often they are exposed to the rhetoric of being in a Christian university. As someone who studies race and ethnic relations, the experience of being a minority whether racial or religious often carries with it certain patterns of experience. One doesn’t quite feel fully a part of one’s social surroundings, one is aware that he or she stands out in some ways. (I can say this in particular as a non-white faculty person where all of us account for 11% of 935 fulltimers).

But one of the serious challenges that one faces as a minority is the threat of violence from those who harbor ill feelings toward one’s core identity. This was the case back in 2006, when one of our Muslim students was assaulted on campus. The incident reached major news outlets and became the topic of a televised pseudo-experiment called What Would You Do. (Back then there were 66 Buddhists, 76 Hindus, and 114 Muslims out of 11,831 undergrads in case you were wondering). Perhaps it seems obvious but when one is part of a minority, one is more susceptible to discrimination. But the way this works at least with respect to the 0.6% of Americans who identify themselves as Muslims is a little more complicated.

One of the “most requested” research studies [Read more...]

Dear China: Why Censor? Why Suppress Religion?

by Becky Hsu

A new book written by a former CNN journalist in Beijing, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, documents how the Chinese government has been surprisingly successful at managing the flow of information online during the past ten years.

Why the Chinese government spends so much effort on controlling information (i.e., censorship) is certainly perplexing, and we may be tempted to give a deceptively straightforward answer: they want to stay in power, and dissenting voices are a threat. Perhaps more baffling, then, are these questions: Why are they so determined to keep a tight hold on religious activity? What is so threatening about religion?

An explanation to both questions may lie in a particular series of ideas deriving from classical philosophy. In classical Chinese thought, one of the responsibilities of the government is to protect the population from damaging ideas. It’s very possible that this notion carries over into today’s society.

The government has had a tradition of controlling beliefs because [Read more...]

Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right

A public event on March 1, 2012, hosted by Georgetown University’s Berkely Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs launched the monograph Religious Freedom: Why Now? Defending an Embattled Human Right, authored by Timothy Shah under the auspices of the Witherspoon Institute’s Task Force on International Religious Freedom. At this event, Princeton political science Professor Robert George quoted extensively from Martin Luther King’s Letters from the Birmingham Jail to illustrate why religious freedom deserves legal protection. In the Birmingham letters, Reverend King argued persuasively that human laws can be judged unjust when they degrade basic human goods. Racial segregation, King argued, debases human dignity because it designates one group (Whites) as superior to another group (African-Americans); thus such laws are unjust.

Too often, we think that asserting “I want something” equals “I have a right to something.” But just as African-Americans had the right to civil equality because it upholds their human dignity, George explained that human rights exists only when if those rights leads to a human good.  To illustrate, there is no human right to take an innocent human life because being dead is bad. The human good is to be alive, so our laws protect human life.  To talk of human rights thus requires explaining the good those rights protects. [Read more...]

Burning of the Quran

by Amy Reynolds

On February 20th, burned copies of the Quran were discovered at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The U.S. military admitted that they were responsible for not disposing of the books properly. In the wake of the incident, President Obama sent a formal apology to President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan; General John Allen (commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) phoned Karzai to express regret as well.

In our highly polarized political environment, several in America—largely political opponents of the president—have spoken out, saying that the apology was too much.  It has been suggested that the apology makes America weak, that there was nothing worth apologizing for, and that apology came from too high an authority. Some have accused the president of merely pandering to extremists.  In the aftermath of the event, at least 40 people have been killed (including 4 U.S. soldiers), and hundreds have been wounded.  Just yesterday, March 5, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the base in Afghanistan.  Protest has erupted throughout many cities in the nation. [Read more...]


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