The Briefing, Thursday, November 29, 2012

TODAY: The Digital Divide — Where the Young People Are / Filtering the Flood in the Digital Age / Are Hindus and Muslims Better at Practicing what They Preach? / The Rise of Muslim Atheists? / You Mean Judges Have Worldviews, Too? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The Digital Divide — Where the Young People Are

Retailers have no choice but to go where consumers are. The Wall Street Journal took a look at a typical American family, the Ulitcans of Columbus, Ohio. The fifty-something parents have four children, ranging in age from 10 to 27. The parents do their Christmas shopping in local stores and the local shopping mall.

Their children do not follow the same pattern. As Shelly Banjo reports, they do most of their shopping online. While the parents are at the mall, “the offspring mostly ignore the holiday décor, and instead peer into their smartphones, comparing prices, looking for deals and seeking friends’ advice about potential purchases.”

Americans under age 29 are, on average, fully immersed in the digital age. Younger Americans are rightly defined as “digital natives” who stay in almost constant digital contact.

The Journal describes a “generational shopping split” to which retailers must respond, or find themselves soon out of business.

As the paper reports:

“Technology plays an increasing role in the generational shopping split. Millennials are 2½ times more likely to be early adopters of technology than older generations, serving as a leading indicator for retailers of what is likely to become mainstream, said Christine Barton, a partner at Boston Consulting Group. Millennials are more likely than older shoppers to check out brands on social networks (53% versus 37%) and use mobile devices to read reviews, research products and compare prices while shopping (50% versus 21%), according to a recent BCG/Barkley report.”

And the Millennials are a formidable challenge as they move into adulthood. They represent the future buying public.

The Journal recognizes this fact:

“The 79 million people who make up the Millennial generation wield $200 billion in annual spending power. While that is only a sliver of the $3.4 trillion that baby boomers spend each year, analysts say, retailers need to try to nab those younger shoppers now, because their spending is likely to rival the boomers’ as early as 2020 and they already exert a disproportionate influence on their parents’ spending decisions.”

Of course, The Wall Street Journal is interested in what this means for retailers and the business community, but the article is a wake-up call for the church and Christian leaders as well.

Put bluntly. if you want to reach younger Americans, you will have to engage them online. Shopping malls cannot safely assume that the Millennials and their younger siblings will eventually make their way into their stores. This generation looks first to the Internet and social media. If an organization, business, or church is not present in a credible way online, you are writing off influence with younger Americans — something no church can afford to do.

Christian leaders who want to influence the Millennials and other young Americans must join them where are — online — and in an effective manner. Otherwise, we will find ourselves talking only to older Americans and find ourselves and our churches in the same peril as the shopping malls.

2. Filtering the Flood in the Digital Age

Feel overwhelmed by information and entertainment? You are not alone. The Columbia Journalism Review reports this month that the average American home is now drowning in data.

The Review cited a study that compared the amount of information coming into the average American home in 1960 and in 2005. According to the report:

“They found that in 1960 there were 82 minutes of media coming into the home each day for every minute someone in the household actually consumed media. In 2005, that number had grown to 884 incoming minutes for each minute of consuming. Our information overload is nearly 11 times greater than it was 45 years ago. Shocked? No, probably not, but perhaps comforted that there is a plausible number to attach to your sense of the avalanche.”

That overload was dated to 2005 — we are now surely living under an even greater avalanche. We all need filters to help us decide what to read, listen to, and watch. Furthermore, we need a whole new set of skills in terms of analyzing, understanding, and evaluating our media and information intake.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that younger Americans are increasingly adept at receiving several streams of information at once — a process often called multitasking. There are real questions about the effectiveness of this process, but this is the new normal for the Digital Natives.

The Review notes the fact that Americans seem overwhelmed by this avalanche because we are overwhelmed. Those of us who fail to develop critical skills in filtering what we really need to take in will almost certainly find ourselves drowning in data, but knowing less and less rather than more and more.

3. Are Hindus and Muslims Better at Practicing What They Preach?

The Christian Century and Religion News Service report that a new study published in the American Sociological Review claims that Hindus and Muslims practice what they preach at a level that exceeds the faithfulness of both Christians and Jews.

Jeanie Groh reports, “With their ‘True Love Waits’ jewelry, conferences and T-shirts, Christians may be the face of the abstinence movement, but Muslims and Hindus are more likely to abstain from premarital sex.”

Researchers Amy Adamczyk and Brittany E. Hayes of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice “found that 94 percent of Jews in the nations they studied reported having premarital sex, compared to 79 percent of Christians, 65 percent of Buddhists, 43 percent of Muslims and 19 percent of Hindus. As for extramarital sex, 4 percent of Jews reported having sex outside of mar­riage, compared to 3 percent of Chris­tians. Less than 1 percent each of Mus­lims, Hindus and Buddhists reported having sex outside of marriage.”

That is a very significant embarrassment for Christianity, but there is more to the story. It turns out that most of the Hindus and Muslims included in the study were from cultures that strongly opposed sex outside of marriage. As one sociologist cited in the article explained, “the burka really works.” In many Muslim cultures, young men and women are strictly segregated until marriage — making premarital sex all but impossible.

The real insight from the report should be the impact of secularization on sexual morality. In the secularized West, people can identify themselves as Christians without making any real identification with Christian beliefs or morality. Before the impact of secularization and the marginalization of Christian sexual morality, the cultures of the West were just as opposed to premarital sex and all sex outside of marriage.

Secularization matters, and once the binding authority of a biblical morality is gone, the sexual morality is transformed. One humbling word for Christians comes from a Muslim authority:

“In consistently reminding others and oneself of the importance of modest dress, modest actions and modest interactions, Muslims tend to inculcate the concepts of sexual morals from a young age.”

That was once also true of those who call themselves Christians.

4. The Rise of Muslim Atheists?

The Economist [London] reports that Muslim atheists are becoming more outspoken — but they have to be very careful. Atheism remains a crime, often punishable by death, in most of the Muslim world.

According to the report:

“Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—ahudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offenses.”


“In reality such punishments are rarely meted out. Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for inciting hatred. (Atheists born to non-Muslim families are not considered apostates, but they can still be prosecuted for other crimes against religion.) Even in places where laws are lenient, religious authorities and social attitudes can be harsh, with vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings.”

Once again, secularization plays an important role. Ex-Muslim atheists tend to make themselves known only in Western nations where such declarations are safe. There is a “Council of Ex-Muslims” in Britain, but not in Iran, where atheism is punished by the death penalty.

Consider this rather stark statement from the report: “A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, found that 84% of Muslims in Egypt and 86% in Jordan backed the death penalty for apostates, compared with 51% in Nigeria and 30% in Indonesia.”

Despite headlines such as this one in The Economist, don’t expect a tidal wave of declared Ex-Muslim atheists anytime soon.

5. You Mean Judges Have Worldviews, Too?

Americans often imagine that judges are impartial agents, able to evaluate questions of law without personal bias. That is nonsense, of course. Putting on a black robe does not eliminate the importance of worldview.

That point is made very clear in a book to be released early next year by Harvard University Press. The book, The Behavior of Federal Judges, looked at judicial decisions in the Federal courts and analyzed the decisions and opinions, judge by judge, on the basis of the party affiliation of the President who nominated them to the bench.

The book has already engendered controversy, as demonstrated in an article about the book published in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times.

As reporter Adam Liptak reveals, the book demonstrates a pervasive link between the judgments of judges and the party affiliation of the nominating presidents.

As Liptak reports:

“Many judges hate it when news reports note this sort of thing, saying it undermines public trust in the courts by painting them as political actors rather than how they like to see themselves — as disinterested guardians of neutral legal principles. But there is a lot of evidence that the party of the president who appointed a judge is a significant guide to how that judge will vote on politically charged issues like affirmative action.”

As the authors of the book assert: “Justices appointed by Republican presidents vote more conservatively on average than justices appointed by Democratic ones, with the difference being most pronounced in civil rights cases.”

Is anyone honestly surprised by this? The pattern revealed in this book powerfully affirms the importance of worldview in human thinking. Judges, it turns out, are no different from the rest of us. They, too, operate on the basis of a worldview, and that worldview actually explains why they were chosen by a president who, more often than not, shared their worldview (or believed that they shared a worldview).

Worldview matters — it always matters. For Christians, faithfulness requires the development of a truly biblical worldview from which everything else follows. This new book makes the importance of worldview clear — for all of us.

I discuss these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.


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