December 27, 2010
Public Religion Trends in 2010
— Martin E. Marty
The end-of-year summaries of “public religion” draw frequently on the most extensive press survey each December, from the Religion Newswriters Association, made up of reporters and columnists in the secular media. (A ringer in the Association, I was one of some 300 respondents to a poll by Debra Mason, RNA Executive Director.) It is hard to find trends this time. Muslims and Islam do show up in four of the twenty trends on which Mason reports. First, to no one’s surprise, was the ruckus stirred up by the announcement of plans for an Islamic community center not far from Ground Zero. Feisal Abdul Rauf, who seemed to fit the bill of the often-sought “Muslim Moderate,” ironically, was attacked immoderately for his effort. The event suggested how motivated by fear, defensiveness, and exploitation of sentiment many in the United States are.
Way down the list were the other Muslim/Islam sightings: #14, the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment, again ironic, in that it ruled out the possibility of making judicial decisions based on the Qur’an in a state with very few Muslims. William Franklin made news by being disinvited from a Pentagon National Day of Prayer observance, given his anti-Muslim rhetoric and record. The President visited Indonesia, and so made the list with some references to Islam. The only other non-Christian faith, way down the list, was Hinduism, at #20, because of flaps over yoga practices and the novel Eat, Pray, Love.
The Pope was often in the headlines, but only twice did events involving him make the top twenty. One dealt with his dealings in the priestly sexual-abuse scandals, while his notable visit to the United Kingdom with his critiques of European secularism was down at #16. The Catholic bishops were part of #5, the signing of the health-care reform bill, which the American bishops had criticized because they feared it would involve tax-funds in funding abortions.
Mainline Protestantism was mentioned (#6) for its non-presence in the current US Supreme Court and for Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopal denominational infighting, chiefly over homosexuality issues, which made a presence also in #8, on religion and the bullying of homosexuals.
Religion in action showed up properly in #2, on churchly response to the catastrophes in Haiti, the murders of faith-based aid workers in Pakistan and Afghanistan, while Christians continue to flee Iraq (#11). “Faith-based environment groups” also made their mark after the BP oil spill (#12). The political Right was evidently less prominent or less religious, since it showed up mainly with Glenn Beck’s presence in Tea Party stories (#4). Southern Baptist leader Richard Land pushed faith-based groups to put more energy into immigration issues.
Cross-denominational stories also included #7, on the severe effects of the economic crisis on publishing, pension plans, and the Crystal Cathedral’s economic bankruptcy. Supreme Court decisions were not as prominent and revelatory of trends as in many years. More dramatic decisions are ahead. Non-denominational news told (#9) of the Pew Forum on U.S. Religious Knowledge which showed that agnostics, Jews, and Mormons knew most about the faiths. The RNA folks, often the only religious educators of the public, have their work cut out for them, again, ironically, at a time when print media, their natural abode, are also threatened in the digital age.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.