News and Views

V Religious

One of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans. This trend emerged in the early 1990s. In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as “none,” and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest “religious group” in the U.S. — PRRI, 9/22/2016

Two-thirds of Americans believe God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The exception: Americans with evangelical Christian beliefs, according to LifeWay Research’s 2016 State of American Theology Study. Only 48 percent of evangelicals share the belief God accepts all worship. — Religious News Service, 9/28/2016

Religion is at least a $378 billion boost to the US economy, according to a new study sponsored by Faith Counts. At this estimate, religious organizations generate more revenue than that of Apple and Microsoft combined. The biggest chunk of that comes from health care networks run by religious affiliated hospitals, which raise about $161 billion a year. Congregations raise revenues of $84 billion a year, with $74.5 billion of it coming from individual donations. Religious elementary schools, high schools, and colleges pull in $74 billion, while charities like World Vision, Compassion International, and Samaritan’s Purse bring in more than $45 billion. The money provides salaries for religious teachers, doctors, and pastors. — Christianity Today, 9/14/2016

There is a growing presence of religion in work places around France, and with it comes a growing amount of religion-based conflicts. A new study published by the Observatory for Religion in the Workplace and the Randstad Institute, found that 65 percent of workers say they have seen signs of religion in the workplace over the past year. This is a significant jump from the 50 percent who said the same thing in the same survey last year. The study took all religions into account. Of those questioned, nine percent said that religion had caused some kind of conflict in the workplace, compared with six percent in 2014. The most commonly occurring conflict was men refusing to work under a woman, something that was reported in four percent of cases. — The Local, 9/22/2016

In a country where Jews represent less than one hundredth of 1 percent of the population, and where Judaism was banned in the 1970s under Hitler-admiring dictator Idi Amin, the Abayudaya Jews will open a new, larger synagogue named after Southern California philanthropists Ralph Stern, who was born in South Africa, and his wife, Sue. The building, which they helped finance, will serve the 2,000 or so Abayudaya Jews, who have grown since they numbered about 300 under Amin’s persecution. — RNS, 9/17/2016

H Social

A section of the Yellow River dammed by an earthquake-caused landslide broke open about 3,936 years ago, says a team led by geologist Qinglong Wu of China’s Nanjing Normal University. A wall of water about a third as high as the Empire State Building charged down the Yellow River valley, possibly changing the river’s course and leading to years of flooding in lowland areas inhabited by farmers, the scientists report in the August 5 Science. “This was one of the largest known floods on Earth over the past 10,000 years,” geologist and coauthor Darryl Granger of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Radiocarbon dating of human bones and burned bits of wood from Lajia yielded an approximate age for the flood. — Science News 9/3/2016 — (Editor’s note: Bible Students generally date the Genesis flood of Noah’s time to a little less than 4,500 years ago, consistent with this finding, or perhaps Noah’s flood provided the waters for this flood.)

Israeli researchers say that the discovery of a unique signature in genes associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) could lead to a better understanding of the genetic nature of the syndrome and better therapies. Dr. Idan Menashe, the lead researcher and co-author of The Unique Evolutionary Signature of Genes Associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, published in Behavior Genetics, said the discovery would allow scientists to focus on a specific biological target when developing future therapies for autism. — Tazpit News Agency, 9/29/2016

A total of 38,901 Muslim refugees entered the U.S. in fiscal year 2016, making up almost half (46%) of the nearly 85,000 refugees who entered the country in that period, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. That means the U.S. has admitted the highest number of Muslim refugees of any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002. — Pew Research, 10/5/2016

As their ranks have swelled in the past several decades, immigrants have come to play an outsize role in U.S. fertility, accounting for almost one-fourth (23%) of babies born in the United States (but just 14% of the overall population). The increase in U.S. births since 1970 has been driven entirely by births to immigrant mothers. In 1970 the annual number of U.S. births stood at 3.74 million. By 2014, the number had risen 7% to 4.00 million. During that same time, the annual number of births to immigrant women tripled, from 274,000 to 901,000. Meanwhile, births to U.S.-born women declined from 3.46 million to 3.10 million. In other words, were it not for the increase in births to immigrant women, the annual number of U.S. births would have declined since 1970. — Pew Research, 10/26/2016

The Canadian flight attendant widely blamed for bringing HIV to the U.S. and triggering an epidemic that has killed nearly 700,000 people has been exonerated by science more than 30 years after his death. Researchers used newly available genetic evidence to show that Gaetan Dugas could not have been the first person in the US to have the virus that causes AIDS. Instead, the researchers report that thousands of people were infected with the AIDS virus by the late 1970s, years before it was officially recognized by the medical community in 1981. Genetic analysis shows that the virus traveled from the Caribbean to the U.S through New York circa 1970. — LA Times, 10/26/2016

G Political

Israel has condemned a “shameful” event hosted by the British House of Lords in which Jews were blamed for the Holocaust and Israel was compared to Islamic State. The session marked the launch of the Balfour Apology Campaign ahead of the Balfour Declaration centenary. The 1917 declaration pledged British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Campaigners are calling on Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration and show remorse for its issuance. — RT News, 10/27/2016

$3.2 billion—total spent by U.S. political parties and outside groups on the political races for president, House and Senate (through September 2016). — Campaign Finance Institute, 10/26/2016

European politics is in turmoil with unprecedented changes taking place rapidly. France’s National Front, a far-right party, is leading the polls heading into next year’s presidential election and Spain’s Podemos, a far-left party, has busted up the country’s long-running two-party political system. Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union party won 40 percent of the seats in the country’s parliamentary elections by promising a centrist, technocratic government that would seek to slow the flow of emigrants from Lithuania to richer parts of the European Union. (An estimated 370,000 of Lithuania’s 3.3 million people have left since it joined the EU in 2004.) Iceland’s Pirate Party appears to be on the verge of triumph in parliamentary elections based on promises to make Iceland a haven of internet freedom. Italy’s Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment, anti-globalization party founded in 2009, in June won mayoral elections in Rome and Turin. — The Slatest, 10/24/2016

Thanks to a close alliance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin, religion has proved a particularly powerful tool in former Soviet lands like Moldova, where senior priests loyal to the Moscow church hierarchy have campaigned tirelessly to block their country’s integration with the West. Priests in Montenegro have spearheaded efforts to derail their country’s plans to join NATO. Faith has also helped Mr. Putin amplify Russia’s voice farther west, with the church leading a push into resolutely secular members of the European Union like France. The most visible sign of this is the new Kremlin-financed spiritual center near the Eiffel Tower, now so closely associated with Mr. Putin that France’s former culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, suggested that it be called “St. Vladimir’s.” The Russian church’s most recent push in Europe is in Nice, on the French Riviera, where it tried to seize a private Orthodox cemetery. — New York Times, 9/13/2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that cracks down on missionary work and evangelism. It mandates that people share their religious beliefs only at state-registered places of worship. Russia’s post-Soviet constitution guarantees citizens and foreigners the right to disseminate their religious beliefs. And so far, the consequences of the law have exclusively affected members of minority “foreign” religions — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestants with Baptist, Pentecostal and Seventh-day Adventist roots. Believers of these religions have frequent problems gaining state permission for churches and temples, and they often have little choice but to gather informally at the homes of their congregants. — Newsweek, 9/15/2016

$ Financial

China’s financial system is one of the biggest concerns for the world economy today. The anxiety about another potential “China shock,” like the ones in the summer of 2015 and in January of 2016 persists as the economic slowdown continues and markets remain volatile. Increasing debt at the state-owned enterprises, including so-called “zombie” companies, is another source of worry. At the same time, the internationalization of the yuan, including the currency’s adoption into the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights basket, is increasing, as is China’s influence in the global financial system. The competition is becoming more severe in the financial markets as the economy slows. Banks’ profitability has been weakening recently. The pressure from the global markets is getting stronger for more liberalization and opening of Chinese financial markets. — Nikkei Asian Review, 10/27/2016

A Federal judge approved the largest auto-scandal settlement in U.S. history, giving nearly a half-million Volkswagen owners and leaseholders the choice between selling their cars back or having them repaired so they don’t cheat on emissions tests and spew excess pollution. The German automaker acknowledged last year that about 475,000 Volkswagens and Audis with 2-liter, four-cylinder diesel engines were programmed to cheat on emissions tests. Volkswagen has agreed to spend up to $10 billion compensating consumers. The settlement also includes $2.7 billion for unspecified environmental mitigation and $2 billion to promote zero-emissions vehicles. — Tribune News Service, 10/25/2016

General Motors has warned that it may cut car production further in Europe as a result of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, as uncertainty caused by the vote dampens demand for new vehicles. The Detroit-based carmaker vowed to “take whatever action is necessary” to offset the impact of the Brexit ballot, which has already cost it $100m in the past three months due to currency shifts. — Financial Times, 10/25/2016

Bank of America, MasterCard and several financial startups announced new tools known as chatbots that will allow customers to ask questions about their financial records and get financial advice via text messages or services like Facebook Messenger and Amazon’s Echo tower.

The banks are looking to get in on the broader excitement about virtual assistants and chatbots in the technology industry. The “bots” are generally powered by artificial intelligence software that lets them pull in information and turn it into comprehensive answers in the way that Apple’s Siri attempts to do. — New York Times, 10/27/2016

The Society of Grownups surveyed 1,000 people through online response and discovered that 35% of adults ages 21-45 receive financial help from their family. But that isn’t the most shocking fact: the survey also revealed that 50% of those ages 21-29 are still supported in some way by their families. Among the findings: 17% of adults (ages 21-45) have someone else in their family who pays their cell phone bill; 12% receive help with their auto or health insurance; 10% get help with rent. An additional 10% get monetary help with “fun expenses, such as vacations.” — Forbes, 10/27/2016

Y Israel

A unique, 2,700-year-old Papyrus which mentions the Hebrew word “Yerushalma” (possibly meaning “to Jerusalem”) was to be revealed at a conference on Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Environs, at the Rabin Jewish Studies Building on the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University. Researchers say the papyrus may be the earliest evidence in Hebrew of the connection between the city of Jerusalem and the period of the Kings of Israel. To date, the only other archaeological find that mentions Jerusalem in Hebrew were carvings on a cave wall at the Beit Loya ruin near Amatzia in southern Judea (west of the green line). The writing on the wall says, “The whole land and the Judaean mountains are His, the God of Yerushalaim.” — Jerusalem Press, 10/21/2017

Israeli archaeologists presented new details of what they said were the first tiny artifacts, unearthed in situ on the Temple Mount, ever conclusively dated to the time of the First Temple over 2,600 years ago. The discoveries were made during limited scientific excavations carried out atop the flashpoint Temple Mount in the past decade, the first of their kind since the British Mandate. The highly sensitive Israeli excavations were conducted with minimum publicity in cooperation with the Islamic Waqf which manages the incendiary holy site. The artifacts excavated from the mount, detailed in a paper and presentations at a conference at Hebrew University, are said to include olive pits, animal bones and pottery fragments dating to the time of the First Temple, between the 8th and 6th Centuries BCE. Archaeologists have previously found a limited number of artifacts from First-Temple-period Jerusalem, but none of those finds were uncovered atop the mount itself. — Times of Israel, 10/27/2016

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered that algae can yield mass quantities of hydrogen, “the world’s cleanest energy source.” The scientists revealed in the findings of back-to-back studies published in Plant Physiology and Biotechnology for Biofuels, that microalgae produce hydrogen, a clean fuel of the future. The researchers also suggested in their studies a possible mechanism to jump-start mass production of this environmentally-friendly energy source. Researchers in the past believed that algae only produce hydrogen in the course of a single micro burst at dawn, lasting just a few minutes. But the team of scientists used highly sensitive technology to discover that algae produce hydrogen from photosynthesis all day long. Armed with this discovery, the team harnessed genetic engineering to increase algae’s production of this clean energy source by 400 percent. — Jewish Press, 10/5/2016

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