Changing Relationships: Who needs marriage, anyway?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series changing relationships
OV Pew 2014 Public Is Divided over Value of Marriage

CLICK this Pew graphic to read the entire Pew report.

Marriage and family are often considered to be the bedrock of society, but values about these institutions are changing.

One shift is rising support for legalizing same-sex marriage. But changing values about traditional marriage is an even bigger trend, at least in terms of sheer numbers.

What’s your view? Is society better off if marriage and children are a priority? Or, is society just as well off if people have different priorities?

You have plenty of company either way. Half of all Americans (50%) now say that society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and kids, according to a new Pew poll. And, 46% of Americans disagree, saying that society is better off if people make marriage and children a priority in their lives.

Younger Americans are much more likely than older Americans to say that society is just as well off if people have other priorities. Two-thirds of Americans who are 18 to 29 years of age say so, as do a majority of Americans (53%) who are 30 to 49. Americans who are 50 years of age or older are more likely to say that society is better off if getting married and having kids are priorities.

If a couple wants to spend the rest of their lives together, do you think they should get legally married? A majority of Americans say yes, but again we see differences by age. Just over one-third of Americans 18 to 29 believe that those who want to be together for the rest of their lives should get married, compared to half of Americans who are 50 to 64 years of age. The oldest group (65 and older) is the most likely to say that getting legally married is important if a couple wants to spend their lives together.

Have you or did you make marriage and having children a top priority in your life?

Should people get legally married if they want to spend the rest of their lives together?

Hell: What about the satanic realm of demons?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Hell
Fresco of the Devil and the demon of Vanity

18th Century fresco from a church shows the Devil and the demon of Vanity being cast down by God.

Today is Halloween—a time when the veil between this world and the next fades and spirit traffic between the two is possible. Do you believe in spirits? How about demons? Or Satan?

This week, we’ve discussed a range of facts about Hell: a large majority of Americans believe in Hell, belief in Hell is good for business, how American beliefs about Hell compare worldwide, and the deterrent effect belief in Hell has on crime around the world. Today, we consider the triumvirate of what sociologist Joseph Baker calls “religious evil” in his article in the Review of Religious Research.

Baker uses “religious evil” to refer collectively to Hell, demons, and Satan. Many Americans believe in Hell; as we discussed earlier this week, 73% of Americans believe in its existence. But even more believe in Satan: 75%. Beliefs in demons are almost as high, with 70% of Americans saying they believe in them.

African Americans have stronger beliefs in the Hell, demons, and Satan than do white Americans, he reports.

Beliefs in Hell, demons, and Satan tend to decline as income increases and education increases.

Age also makes a difference. Younger Americans are more likely older Americans to believe in the triumvirate of Hell, demons, and Satan.

On this All Hallows’ Eve, what do you believe?

Do you believe in demons?

Do you believe in Satan?

Hell: Do you believe in it? How many Americans do?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Hell
ARDA quiz about Hell featured in OurValues

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HELL? Click this image to visit the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) website and take the quiz.

Halloween is this Friday—a fun holiday with serious religious and pagan roots. Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, also known as All Saints’ Eve. It’s a time when the barrier between this world and the next thins and traffic between the two worlds is possible. To ward off evil spirits, people carved pumpkins or gourds into frightening images. Wearing a costume or mask disguised one’s identity and prevented hijacking by spirits or departed souls. (Want to know more about Halloween—or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain? Check out this report by Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton.)

All of which makes this week a good time to discuss a topic we haven’t covered on Our Hell.

Do you believe in Hell? Do you believe absolutely in the existence of Hell? Are you at least probably sure it exists?

Our colleague David Briggs has mined the Baylor Religion Survey to uncover what Americans believe about the existence of Hell. He reports that a majority of Americans (53%) have an absolute belief in the existence of Hell, with an additional 20% saying it probably exists. This means that almost three of four Americans believe in Hell. (Be sure to visit David’s web site, where he has assembled a Hell Quiz—just click on the image above.)

Belief in the existence of Hell doesn’t vary much across age groups. Younger Americans are just as likely as older Americans to be absolutely certain in the existence of Hell.

But there are other differences. Over eight of ten (85%) Americans who attend religious services weekly or more often absolutely believe in the existence of Hell. Yet almost one of four Americans (23%) who rarely go to religious services agrees.

Political conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe that people go to Hell as punishment for their sins. Indeed, staunch conservatives are three times more likely than ultra liberals to have this belief.

Do you believe in the existence of Hell?

Are you absolutely sure?

Prayer in School: What happens in a ‘Moment of Silence’?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Prayer in School
A MOMENT OF SILENCE often is used among men and women in public service as a way to honor the fallen. This photo from the USS Kearsarge, serving in the Persian Gulf, shows the ship’s personnel pausing in an annual moment of silence to remember victims of the “9/11” attacks. (Photo by U.S. Navy’s Ash Severe, released for public use.)

A MOMENT OF SILENCE often is used by men and women in public service as a way to honor the fallen. This photo from the USS Kearsarge, serving in the Persian Gulf, shows the ship’s personnel pausing in an annual moment of silence to remember victims of the “9/11” attacks. (Photo by U.S. Navy’s Ash Severe, released for public use.)

Have you participated in a Moment of Silence? Often, Moments of Silence are expressions of remembrance and respect for those who have died or used to commemorate a tragedy. These are common occurrences in schools.

If a student cares to pray during a Moment of Silence, is it permissible?

This week, we’ve considered various angles on what is still a contentious issue in America: prayers in school. As a new Pew survey reports, a majority of Americans still support prayers in school. We’ve considered prayers at graduation ceremonies, writing about prayers or other religious themes in a term paper, and “See You at the Pole” prayer events.

Today, we consider the Moment of Silence. The theme this week is neutrality. School officials cannot officially encourage or discourage religious expression at schools. If students—on their own—choose to pray, they can do so as an expression of religious freedom.

The Moment of Silence is one of many issues covered the Department of Education’s guidelines. These guidelines state:

“If a school has a ‘minute of silence’ or other quiet periods during the school day, students are free to pray silently, or not to pray, during these periods of time. Teachers and other school employees may neither encourage nor discourage students from praying during such time periods.”

Back in the 1990s, Colin Powell, who was thinking about running for the White House, famously said that he didn’t favor prayer in public schools but he did favor a Moment of Silence.

Critics of the Moment of Silence contend that it is just a sneaky way to slip prayers into the school day.

So, what do you think happens in a Moment of Silence?
Have you participated in one?
If so, did you pray?

Prayer in School: See you at the pole?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Prayer in School
See You at the Pole at a Middle School

A See You at the Pole event at a middle school. While these events are “student initiated and student led,” they often involve adults as well—as in this case. Photo provided for public use via Wikimedia Commons by “TCWikieditor.”

“See you at the pole” is a student-initiated gathering of Christian students who meet at the schoolyard flagpole before the school day to pray and worship. Starting in 1990, it is now an annual event here and abroad.

Is this use of school property constitutional?

“See you at the pole” (SYATP) started as a small gathering in Texas. It grew into a global event. An estimated 1 million students in the U.S. participate, with see-you-at-the-pole events in many other countries. The SYATP website emphasizes that the event is “student-initiated, student-organized, and student-led”—a key to the constitutionality of the gathering.

Traditionally, a day in September is designated for the event. This year, it was September 24. A somewhat recent shift has been from a single day to a week of prayerful activities. The “Global Week of Student Prayer” this year took place from Sunday, September 21 through Saturday, September 27, 2014.

These events are permissible, and in their official capacities, school officials cannot discourage or encourage participation. The U.S. Department of Education explicitly addresses SYATP, stating that students may organize such events before school “to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other non-curricular student activities groups.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also weighed in, and you can read their opinion here.)

Do “See You at the Pole” events take place in your local schools?

Do you know someone who participated?

Do you support such activities?

Children’s Values: Is ‘religious faith’ better than ‘tolerance’?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Children's Values
Collage of world religions from Wikimedia Commons

A WIDE ARRAY OF FAITHS: All the world’s faiths are represented in the U.S., these days. (This collage of images comes from Wikimedia Commons.)

Americans have a lot of common ground when it comes to the values we want to teach our children, as we’ve discussed so far this week. But there is also a lot of disagreement.

Consider these two values: “religious faith” and “tolerance.” Is one more important than the other? Or, do we want our children to learn both?

The Pew Research Center asked about 12 different values in their recent survey. Six are widely shared (see Part 2 in this series). Religious faith and tolerance are not among the six. Some Americans emphasize religious faith as a value that is especially important to teach children; others say that tolerance is a more important value.

Americans who are consistently conservative in their views are very likely to stress the importance of religious faith. Over eight of ten (81%) say religious faith is especially important for children to learn, with a majority (59%) ranking it among the most important values. In contrast, consistently liberal Americans say that religious faith is very unimportant for children to learn. Only a quarter (26%) say that is especially important.

We see the opposite pattern for the value of tolerance. Almost nine of ten consistent liberals (88%) say that tolerance is especially important to instill in children, with 22% saying that it is the most important value. In contrast, consistent conservatives are the least likely to say that tolerance is very important for children to learn. Only four in ten (41%) say it is especially important, with 3% saying that it is the most important value for children to have.

Do you believe that it is more important for children to learn religious faith than tolerance?
Or, is tolerance more important than religious faith?
Would you rank them both the same in importance for our children?

Change of Heart: The real crisis churches face.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Change of Heart

Click on this chart to read the entire 2014 report from the Public Religion Research Institute.

Christian leaders defending a traditional ban on homosexuality often say that the future of the church is threatened by any softening of the anti-gay wall that encircles thousands of American churches. But leading researchers—including a self-proclaimed supporter of evangelical Christianity, George Barna—say the real crisis is the widespread impression among millions of young adults that churches are hateful organizations persecuting their gay and lesbian friends and relatives.

The most helpful chart displaying these findings, at a glance, comes from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a highly respected center for research on religion in America. The chart appears, above, and you also can visit PRRI’s website to read the entire report. But evangelicals tend to discount such polling as irrelevant.

From the heart of the American evangelical community, though, comes the work of pollster George Barna, who is such a strong supporter of this faith group that he describes his work as “facilitating a spiritual and moral revolution.” By all accounts, his Barna Group research follows accepted standards for polling but the signature style in Barna’s columns and books is interpreting the news from an evangelical perspective.

That’s why it was so startling in 2009 to read about Barna’s research, after interviewing a sample group of homosexuals that “27 percent met the ‘born again’ criteria we use.” That finding may not be “startling” to most readers—but it was explosive news to Barna’s evangelical base. In fact, Barna says now that he was shocked by the response from his audience.

In 2010, Barna wrote, “The reaction to that finding was shockingly hateful–not everyone who wrote to or called us responded in that manner, of course, but an amazingly large share of the notes that came in were venomous. A number of emails questioned my faith and salvation. Several outright condemned me and denied the possibility that I am a follower of Christ. I am used to being challenged and am comfortable with debates about how we apply our faith, but the hostility quotient broke the meter after that release.”

He concluded, “After that experience it has been much easier for me to understand the distaste so many gays have for the Christian body – and why so many young adults who are not gay have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the conservative Christian juggernaut.”

For more than a decade, Barna has been studying trends in Christian attitudes toward what Barna now calls “LGBTQ Rights.” In Barna’s latest overall report on these trends, in 2013, the polling firm concludes that American Christianity is nearing a historic tipping point. The group Barna calls “Practicing Christians under 40” has moved significantly toward favoring “changing laws to enable more freedom for the LGBTQ community” from 34 percent in 2003 to 46 percent in 2013. Lagging behind them are “Practicing Christians over 40,” who have moved from 23 percent approval across the decade to 32 percent approval in 2013.

Barna now regularly warns church leaders that anti-gay attitudes are hurting Christianity in America.

What do you think of George Barna’s experience?

Do you agree with these findings and Barna’s warning to churches?