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Top religious events & trends for 2006

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The Religious Newswriters Association polls its members near the end of each year to assess their opinion on the most important news stories across the world. Their selections for 2006 were:

  1. Cartoons: A series of cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper showing drawings of the Prophet Muhammed in negative ways. Many Muslims feel that pictures or images of the Prophet should not be created because it could lead to idolatry. One image in particular inflamed many Muslims: that of Muhammad wearing a bomb in place of a turban.
  2. The pope: This story was also related to Islam. During a talk at a European university, Pope Benedict XVI quoted a 14th century Christian emperor who said that Muhammad was "evil and inhuman." This triggered unrest and multiple murders. The pope later came close to a complete apology for the incident.
  3. Episcopalians: The conflict within the Episcopal Church, USA over equal status for women and gays deepened into a real schism during the year. Traditionalists within the denomination were outraged by the election of the Anglican Communion's first female primate, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Seven dioceses have refused to recognize her leadership. This added to their earlier outrage at the confirmation as bishop of Gene Robinson, a gay male in a committed relationship.
  4. Homosexuality: Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals initially denied allegations that he regularly engaged in gay sexual activity enhanced by met amphetamine. He later admitted that at least some of the allegations are true. He is currently in a long-term treatment facility.
  5. Elections: The mid-term elections in November produced a number of defeats for religoius conservatives. Calls have been made for Evangelicals to depart from their intense focus on restricting abortion access and fighting against equal rights for sexual minorities, in favor of including additional social topics. Some have even suggested backing off from political involvement entirely.
  6. Middle East: Violence and conflict in the Middle East appears to be escalating. This included civil war between Sunni and Shiites in Iraq, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Iran's nuclear activity.
  7. Amish: The remarkable developments surrounding the terrible tragedy involving ten Amish children at Nickel Mines, PA. A gunman killed five schoolgirls, injured five -- one of whom later died -- and finally committed suicide. In a remarkable display of forgiveness, the Amish community responded by publicly forgiving the perpetrator, taking food to his family, attending his funeral and raising funds for his widow and family.
  8. Da Vinci Code: The release of The Da Vinci Code movie reemphasized the message in Dan Brown's book that Mary Magdalene and Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) had married and had children. Some were fascinated by the story. Some Christians were outraged at the suggestion that Yeshua was sexually active. Many evangelicals used the movie as a method of evangelizing non-saved individuals.
  9. Same-sex marriage and civil unions: Tied for 8th place was the recognition of same-sex relationships. The Supreme Court in New Jersey unanimously ruled that same-sex couples should be able to obtain the same state rights as married opposite-sex couples routinely receive. The New Jersey legislature subsequently created a system of civil unions for same-sex couples. At the mid-term elections, there were eight state proposals to ban same-sex marriage. Seven passed, but with much reduced majorities compared to previous series of proposals. Arizona's failed -- the first such measure to be rejected by the electorate.
  10. Stem cell research: President Bush used the first veto of his presidency to reject a bill that would have expanded federal funding of stem cell research. A referendum to encourage stem cell research in Missouri passed.

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Our picks for 2006:

We agree that the choices of the Religious Newswriters Association are important news items. We would add:


Indications of religious trends:

bullet U.S. Supreme Court: The appointment of judge Samuel Alito Jr. as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court tips the balance of power in that court towards a conservative, strict constructionist (a.k.a. originalist) legal philosophy. As we wrote in our essay on how courts interpret the U.S. constitution and laws:
"They interpret a legal document as meaning 'today not what current society (much less the Court) thinks it ought to mean, but what it meant when it was adopted.' 1 Viewing the Bill of Rights and the rest of the U.S. Constitution as enduring documents means that the justices emphasize society's values and the authors' intent during the era in which the text was actually written. When the original U.S. Constitution was written:
bullet Women were excluded from many professions.
bullet Women were denied the right to vote or run for office.
bullet Spousal abuse was very largely ignored
bullet Marital rape was not recognized.
bullet Many African Americans were not allowed to marry.
bullet Human slavery was an established institution.
bullet Homosexuals were jailed and sometimes executed.

If one more strict constructionist is confirmed to the Court, the character of the court may significantly change. This may result in profound changes to the separation of church and state; abortion access; equal rights for women, gays, lesbians and bisexuals; loss of personal privacy; contraception usage; same-sex marriage and civil unions; censorship; and countless other aspects of life.

bullet Protestant minority: The U.S. has been called the most religiously diverse nation in the world. 2 Southern Ontario in Canada has been called the most religiously diverse region of any country in the world. Religious diversity in the U.S. and Canada is not only large but is increasing. Adults identifying themselves as Christians are dropping about 8% a decade; those not identified with a religion are increasing as are non-Christian believers. Some polls have indicated that Protestants became a minority in the U.S. sometime during 2005 or 2006. Further, religious polarization is increasing as the percentage of fundamentalist and other evangelicals within Christianity grows, while the percentage of mainline Christians drops.
bullet Ecological concerns: A split has surfaced among fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians over the environment. In the past, many conservative Protestants have largely ignored global warming and other ecological concerns. They may have been motivated by their anticipation of Jesus' second coming in the very near future during which he could eliminate pollution, global warming and other problems. There are indications that a sizeable percentage of religious conservatives are jumping on the environmentalist bandwagon.
bullet Status of same-sex couples: The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that loving, committed, same-sex couples should be granted the hundreds of state benefits and obligations previously reserved for opposite-sex couples. A majority of judges on previous state courts had ruled in this way. However, this is the first instance in the U.S. where the decision was unanimous.
bullet Reducing abortion rates: A major movement among pro-choicers has surfaced to commit less effort preserving abortion access, while directing more energy towards reducing the rate of abortions. There is lots of room for reduction; the U.S. has the highest abortion rate of any developed country. Pro-choicers propose to attack the cause of the need for abortions -- unwanted pregnancies -- through education and contraception. Some hope that they can cooperate with pro-life groups in this area.
bullet Same-sex marriage: In spite of the Conservative Party of Canada's control of Parliament, a comfortable majority of members rejected a motion to reopen debate on same-sex marriage in Canada. This vote was undoubtedly influenced by a growing number of Canadian adults who favor making same-sex marriage available to homosexuals and bisexuals, and an even larger percentage of adults who considered the matter closed. Although this vote had no effect on same-sex marriage in Canada, it might be one more indicator of increasing acceptance towards marriage equality for same-sex couples in North America. Support for restricting marriage to one man and one woman remains at a high level among the elderly. However, a significant majority of youth and young adults appear to favor same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Some additional significant events:

bullet Christian video game: The first hate and violence-based evangelical video game called "Left Behind: Eternal forces" was heavily marketed during Christmas in 2006. The game's creators appear to have replaced the hatred of women often found in secular games with hatred of non-Evangelicals. They have retained the killing and extreme violence of other games. However, one positive note is that when the non-Christians are exterminated, the game shows their bodies simply disappearing. There is no blood and gore remaining to clutter up the landscape.
bullet Christmas wars (a.k.a. Christmas dilemma): This refers to a conflict in North America over whether people in December should wish each other:
bullet "Happy Holidays" -- thus recognizing religious diversity and the many religious and secular celebrations near year end, or
bullet "Merry Christmas" -- thus recognizing the supremacy of Christianity to the exclusion of all other religions and secularism.

We have not seen any hard data on trends, but it seems to us that the usage of "Happy Holidays" is on the increase. Fundamentalist and other evangelical groups seem to have recognized that they are losing the "war" because they have had to resort to economic boycotts of major store chains in order to reinforce their position.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Antonin Scalaia, "God's Justice and Ours," First Things 123, 2002-MAY, Page 17 to 21.
  2. Diana Eck, "A New Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.

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Copyright 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2006-DEC-30
Hyperlinks checked: 2006-DEC-30
Author: B. A. Robinson

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