Two interesting trends are developing in the U.S., and they seem incompatible, one to the other. They deal with religion.
- On one hand, we see the Republican Party pretty well captured by a conservative Christian advocacy espoused by the Tea Party and various Christian churches. So in politics, religion is on the way up.
- On the other hand, we see a flight from church attendance among the American population. So, broadly, religion is on the way down.
|A Mormon with a Baby|
One of the more interesting dialogues that occurred early in this year's presidential campaign was within the Republican mainstream. Is Mitt Romney, a Mormon, really a Christian? Or is Mormonism a wayward sect? The argument has not been revisited since Mr. Romney won the Republican Party nomination. Mr. Obama respects the privacy of one's faith. But the chance is 50/50 that the U.S. will have a Mormon president next year.
In the 1960's, it was a big deal when Catholic John F. Kennedy was elected. Now it is not a big deal when a candidate from a minority faith, one that until recently permitted polygamy, is up for election.
What's going on here?
Here are a few basics about religion in America.
The Gallup survey organization says that 41% of American citizens say they regularly attend religious services. This compares for 15% among the French, 10% in Great Britain and 7.5% in Australia. (Source: Wikipedia)
But there is a fly in the statistical ointment. A separate study conducted in the 1990's found that only 20% of Americans actually do attend church regularly. The reason they state otherwise in surveys is out for debate. Either they are liars or they are afraid of revealing to the interviewer that they are a "bad Christian".
Another study in 2004 pegged regular attendance among Christians at 17.7%. Church pastors are very much aware of the declining attendance, as reflected in a candid article for churchleaders.com.
- A breakdown of overall attendance percentages by church type shows decreases across the board in evangelical, mainline and Catholic churches. The most significant drop in attendance came at the expense of the Catholic Church, which experienced an 11% decrease in its attendance percentage from 2000 to 2004. Next, and not far behind were mainline churches, which saw a 10% percentage decline. Evangelicals experienced the smallest drop at 1%.
But the gap between 17.7 % and 41% shows that most Americans HOLD THEMSELVES UP TO OTHERS as good Christians. And most likely hold themselves up to themselves that way, too.
They subscribe to the values of the Church . . . cherish them perhaps . . . but are too lazy or too busy to attend services. Perhaps they are confident God can read what is in their hearts rather than where they are sitting on any given Sunday.
And these strongly held values are what is behind the Tea Party movement in America, a large, conservative, God-based Republican advocacy. I suspect there is a bit of bunker mentality among Christians, too, as they witness a flood of immigrants who are neither white nor necessarily Christian coming to dominate large cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
The key point I'd like to make is that, although Americans don't visit the church much, they cherish and live religious values.
That is very different than in the Philippines. It is a very religious nation. But social values are eclectic.
|A Catholic with a Catholic|
I couldn't think of a better word.
Faith runs high, but cheating and corruption are acceptable. Birth control is not acceptable. Unless you are educated and rich. It's rather like the article I wrote on sex in the Philippines. The front is conservative, but behind the scenes it is wild and woolly.
Conflicted perhaps is the best word.
What do we know of Philippine church activity?
The heathen Americans broke Spanish/Catholic rule of the Philippines after the Philippine American War. The ideas of separation of church and state and freedom of worship were introduced as fundamental elements of constitutional law during the American colonization. They remain there today. And Protestant churches sprang up.
Protestant churches have done well in the Philippines. But without a doubt, the Philippine Catholic Church remains the most influential religious force shaping cultural values and even governance. The church effectively brought the Marcos rule to an end by throwing its weight behind the rebel cause. It is very much engaged in political discussions today.
About 80 per cent of the 95 million Filipinos are Roman Catholic, 4.2% are Muslim, and 15% are Christian, of which Inglesia ne Cristo is the largest and most politically influential church. There are 250 Jews. Perhaps they looked about and said "this sho nuf ain't the promised land; we'll take rocks." Mormon and 7th Day Adventist churches are growing rapidly but still only make up about 2% of the total population. The way Catholics actively give birth, these other churches have plenty of proselytizing to do before they make any inroads into the Philippines being a "Catholic" nation. About 11 % of the population falls into the category of "irreligious" and 1% of the population is atheist. The numbers don't add up because they were drawn from a variety of gues . . . er, sources. Some of the "irreligious" may be those who claim a religion on forms, but are like many Americans, not really that engaged in church worship. But we can see the general weightings.
Here in the Philippines, religion is everywhere. In the parades, in government offices, in the home where religious statues or shrines are almost always found. It is a part of the culture, the soul of the Philippines. Predominantly Catholic.
It may surprise you considering how much I rip on the Catholic Church for its role in underwriting the nation's poverty, but I like the rich faith of the Filipino family. There is a kindness and openness to it that softens an otherwise hard lifestyle. It is the place where I find the openness of heart that seems missing in government offices and banks or on the highway.
So I reflect on my earlier comment that the Philippines is about 50 years behind America. It was in the 1960's in America that church influence started dropping away from mainstream political and social words and deeds. The big argument about "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance rose up. A Catholic was a star in the presidential office, and died there, taking the edge off hard protestant values. Television introduced risqué themes and America enjoyed the heathenism of bigot Archie Bunker, who had a God, but only when He was useful.
Throughout the transition to a less religiously steeped lifestyle, however, the core values of kindness toward others and obeying the law remained in force.
In the Philippines, we see a rising tide of "good governance" which is nothing less than a nation throwing off the old values of cheating and playing favorites and adopting the sincere and honest values of the Church . . . outside the Church. We see educated Filipinos using birth control to keep their families small. They have adopted secular values while remaining faithful in their worship and belief in God.
So we have a meshing of faith and non-faith into a fabric of practicality that has at its root a desire for a better Philippines and a better family life.
Maybe there will be some edging away from church attendance as we are seeing in America. But I'm guessing that, in the future, the values preached from the pulpit will be lived better than in the past. And I suspect that faith will remain strong in the Philippines even as daily activities reflect a more secular and healthier, kinder lifestyle.
I'm guessing that in 25 years, many won't even remember how corrupt it was.
The Philippines in 2037. A bunch of happier, healthier, law-obedient, wealthier, faith-rich people who don't live for the brick and mortar of the Church, but for its values.
More heathens about perhaps. More common sense, too. And a better community of souls forming the Nation.