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CULTURE DIGEST: 3 in 10 adults saw ‘Passion,’ Barna says

EDITORS’ NOTE: Baptist Press today launches “Culture Digest” as a new feature each Wednesday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As the eighth highest-grossing domestic film of all time, “The Passion of The Christ” was viewed in theaters by 31 percent of adults in the United States, according to a report by The Barna Group. But the film’s lasting impact may be far less than many evangelical leaders had hoped.

Barna found that two out of every three adults who saw the film said it was “excellent” and most of the rest described it as “good.” The Mel Gibson movie drew a wide variety of Americans to theaters, and the study estimates approximately 36 million adults who saw the movie were born-again Christians and an additional 31 million were not born again.

The discouraging news to some evangelicals is that just one of every six viewers said the film affected their religious beliefs in any way, and less than one-10th of 1 percent said they made a profession of faith or accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior in reaction to the film’s content.

Furthermore, less than one-half of 1 percent of the audience said they were motivated to be more active in sharing their faith in Christ with others after seeing The Passion.

“Immediate reaction to the movie seemed to be quite intense,” researcher George Barna said in a July 10 news release, “but people’s memories are short and are easily redirected in a media-saturated, fast-paced culture like ours. The typical adult had already watched another six movies at the time of the survey interview, not including dozens of hours of television programs they had also watched.”

Barna explained that one of the study’s most important findings may be that major transformation is not likely to result from one-time exposure to a specific media product in an environment where people spend more than 40 hours a week absorbing messages from multiple media.

“The greatest impact through media seems to come from constant exposure to a consistent message that is well-presented and is personally meaningful or useful,” he said, noting a single effort that is not adequately reinforced is not likely to make a lasting impression.

The study is based on a nationwide survey of 1,618 randomly selected adults during the last week of May and may be viewed at www.barna.org.

FEW TEENS READ BIBLE — Two-thirds of Protestant teens in the United States say they read the Bible alone less than once a week or not at all, according to a recent survey by the National Study of Youth and Religion.

Just 32 percent of Protestant teens report that they personally read the Bible alone once a week or more often, the report released June 23 said.

Southern Baptist teens were third among other Protestant groups, with 39 percent indicating they read the Bible alone once a week or more. Teens within the Church of God in Christ were first at 48 percent, while Assemblies of God teens were second at 44 percent.

“Most religious traditions teach that faith and spiritual maturity does not happen automatically, but that these must be intentionally cultivated and practiced,” Christian Smith, principal investigator of the study, said in the news release. “Just as becoming good at sports or playing a musical instrument requires constant practice, living well a life of faith also requires practice — that is what most religious traditions have always taught. But these findings suggest that only a minority of U.S. teens are getting much practice at faith in the form of Scripture reading.”

Smith, associate chair of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said a reason for the pattern may be that many Protestant adults fail to read the Bible regularly.

“It could be that most Protestant adults are not very good role models for their teenagers when it comes to basic, personal religious practices like reading the Bible,” he said.

Southern Baptist teenagers did lead the pack when asked whether they attend church services regularly. Just under half, 48 percent, said they did.

The study, funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc., was based on random-digit-dial telephone interviews with more than 3,350 teens along with one of their parents. The full report may be viewed at www.youthandreligion.org.

SWAPPING SPOUSES — The latest concept in the unreal world of reality television is that of “wife swapping,” and it appears “husband swapping” is not far behind. ABC plans a fall reality series called “Wife Swap,” featuring two mothers from starkly different backgrounds trading households for 10 days. The British version of the series was a ratings hit and won several awards.

Fox Networks Group announced July 13 it is developing an entire channel devoted to reality shows, and among them would be one called “Trading Spouses,” in much the same vein as the ABC series.

ABC, meanwhile, has announced it is proceeding with spinoff pilots of shows called “Husband Swap” and “Boss Swap.”

CULTURAL ODDITIES — Speaker and author Tony Campolo joined forces with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in May when he sent a letter to David Novak, CEO of KFC’s parent company Yum! Brands. Campolo asked Novak to adopt the basic animal welfare improvements that PETA recommends and “eliminate such abusive practices as scalding chickens to death in defeathering tanks and breeding and drugging birds to grow so large so fast that their leg bones break under their weight,” according to a release on the PETA website.

“I am disappointed to learn that KFC is allowing God’s creatures to suffer unimaginable abuses on farms and in slaughterhouses,” Campolo wrote, according to PETA. “I know that you are a God-fearing man, and I hope that you will heed God’s word in this matter.”

— Pop diva Madonna has changed her name to “Esther” in the midst of her pursuit of Kabbalah, a mystical study of Judaism.

Madonna, who was named for her mother, said in a June 18 interview on ABC’s 20/20 that she wanted to identify herself with the ancient Jewish queen.

“I wanted to attach myself to another name,” she said, according to MSNBC.com. “This is in no way a negation of who my mother is. … I wanted to attach myself to the energy of a different name.”

And about her involvement in Kabbalah, which includes wearing a red string on her wrist to ward off the “evil eye” and using various prayer accessories and symbolic Hebrew letters in music videos and concerts, Madonna said she has practiced the religion for a while.

“I’m a little bit irritated that people think that it’s like some celebrity bandwagon that I’ve jumped on,” she said.

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  • Erin Curry