Religion news 31 August 2023

Taoist ceremony at Xiao ancestral temple in Chaoyang. Image credit: Lai Chuen Siu CCLicense2.0

Organised religion static, but spiritualty alive in China

Pew Research has published analysis of data about religion in China, after examining various sources, such as surveys run by Chinese universities, to discern recent trends. It concludes many Chinese adults practice religion or hold religious beliefs, but only 1 in 10 formally identify with a religious group, a figure that has not risen over the last 15 years.  Although the government formally recognises five religious groups – Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism – it closely monitors their worship, clergy and funding, and attempts to expand numbers are banned. The research estimates that there are 17 million Muslims in China, 2 per cent of the population, whose treatment by the state has been determined as a crime against humanity. 90 per cent of the population say they have no religious affiliation, but religion is seen to  play a much bigger role in China when the definition is widened to include spirituality, customs and superstitions, where multiple traditions mingle. 26 per cent burn incense to deities, 75 per cent visit graves of ancestors which is a Confucian tradition,  47 per cent believe in Fengshui, 33 per cent believe in Buddha but only 4 per cent say they are Buddhists, 18 per cent believe in Taoist deities, 10 per cent pray for good fortune and 10 per cent believe in ghosts. Combinations of traditions are common. Of the 7 per cent who believe in the idea of God, most also believe in other deities and supernatural forces. One third of the total population identify as atheist. The research was funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation as part of the  Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project.  The substantial report is here

Times survey shows majority of CofE clergy favour conversion therapy ban

More results from The Times survey of 1200 Church of England clergy are published this morning. Two thirds support ban on conversion therapy and support for assisted dying has increased. Headlines:

  • 67.8 per cent back plans to introduce a ban on conversion therapy, where LGBT+ people are urged to reject their sexual orientation as against Biblical teaching.
  • Support for assisted dying has grown from 22 to 35.5 per cent over the past nine years, but a majority still do not want to see it legalised.
  • 60.1 per cent of priests backed reform to the Lords where 26 CofE bishops have seats.  6.7 per cent wanted them abolished altogether, and 44.8 per cent wanted to keep the seats but see them opened to other denominations and faiths. 36.5 per cent said the system should continue unchanged.
  • 53 per cent said the formal links between the state and the Church of England should be reviewed – up from 41 per cent from the last survey in 2014. 11.6 per cent wanted the church disestablished.
  • 65 per cent believed the CofE would fail to become carbon neutral by 2030 despite the pledge, criticised for being too ambitious at the time. Only 2.2 per cent said they were very confident the zero target would be reached.

Times clergy survey questioned by clerics while bishops are supportive

A member of the Archbishops’ Council, the Rev Dr Ian Paul, has disputed The Times survey, headlined yesterday saying three quarters believe Britain is no longer a Christian country. He told Times Radio that the survey was unrepresentative, the methodology was questionable and some findings have been contradicted elsewhere. The Rev Dr Charlie Bell said more clarity was needed over the phrasing of the question and what was meant by a Christian country, whether it was about ancient traditions, for example the coronation, or individually held beliefs. Times Radio interview here (2’49’00’’ in).

The Times quotes bishops largely supportive of the survey’s fundings. The Bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins, told Times Radio that the survey had uncovered a wealth of really helpful, inspiring and challenging data for the church. The Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, said it answered important questions. The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, said its findings on the Lords were interesting and showed the bishops in the Lords had the confidence of a majority of clergy. The Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, remained confident the CofE would reach the net zero target on time. Bishop David Walker told Premier Christian Radio said he wasn’t surprised by the survey results: “We may no longer be a Christian country, but that doesn’t mean we’re in a country that’s given up on religion that’s given up on God. We’re still a country where faith has a very important and vital role to play”.

No sex assault trial for Cardinal McCarrick because of dementia

Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC, will not stand trial on charges he sexually assaulted a teenage boy in 1974, because he suffers from dementia. A judge in Massachusetts dismissed the case against him after a psychologist found deficits in his memory and there was no prospect of recovery. McCarrick is 93 and was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after an internal Vatican investigation found he sexually molested adults and children.

Teachers given resources to combat Islamophobia and encourage Muslim children

 A toolkit to help teachers respond to Muslim students has been produced by the Muslim Mind Collaborative, an organisation set up to promote sound mental health among Muslim communities in the UK. Its aim is to improve faith literacy and cultural sensitivity in schools, acknowledging faith as a “category of difference”, and tackling Islamophobia, stereotypes and unconscious bias. The Collaborative says British Muslims have the youngest age profile of any faith group representing one in 12 pupils, among whom there is a strong tradition of the importance of passing on the faith. The resources include a proposed Inset day presentation on Islam, British Muslim culture and the role faith plays in schooling, and a lesson plan on respecting religious diversity for healthy relationships. Sabah Gilani, chief executive of the Better Community Business Network which backs the scheme, told Schools Week : “Understanding how faith acts as a lever, motivator and source of inspiration to these children and young people can only positively contribute to schools’ aims of improving life chances The ‘Muslim Problem’ is in fact a Muslim opportunity”.

Spanish football president’s mother hospitalised after hunger strike in church

The mother of Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales is in hospital, after going on a hunger strike locked inside her local church in the town of Motril, on Monday. Angeles Bejar was protesting at the treatment of her son, after he kissed a winning Spanish woman footballer who had walked past him to collect a medal in the world cup final. He said the kiss was consensual, but he has been suspended and is under pressure to resign.

House turned into Buddhist temple in Reading

A house has been transformed into a Buddhist place of worship in the Reading area, capable of also hosting yoga and meditation sessions. The Reading Chronicle reports that many of the people attending the temple are Gurkha veterans and families from Nepal, who have settled in the town since 2009. The charity Gumba Reading UK has been set up to establish a ‘Gumba’, or monastery, to provide religious services and a priest will be staying in the house. Services will take place from 10am to 4pm.


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