A few months ago I reported on the Pew Research Centre’s report on Israel entitled “Israel’s Religiously Divided Society” (see here and here). In those posts I largely looked at the differences in religious practice and political views between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. This discussion largely divided the population into Muslims and Jews and subsumed the very small Druze and Christian minorities. Today, I thought that I would revisit the report by drawing out some of the interesting views of the Israeli Christian community.
Christians are very small part of the Israeli population of about 8 million. Only 2% of Israel’s adult population are Christian, a lower percentage than even the Middle East-North Africa region’s average of 4%. (Druze also make up 2% of the Israeli population, while 1% are neither Jewish, Muslim, Druze or Christian.) Despite its small numbers, the Christian community in the country in which Christ lived and died and rose again is of special interest. So what is interesting in the Pew Centre Report?
- The vast majority of Israeli Christians are ethnically Arab. This is also true of the Druze population of Israel. Thus, when we talk about “Israeli Jews” and “Israeli Arabs” we must remember that the latter group is not only Muslim (although it is majority Muslim) but also Christian and Druze.
- As noted in this earlier blogpost, Christians are less religiously observant than Israeli Muslims, but more religiously observant than Israeli Jews. While 68% of Muslims say that religion is very important to them personally and only 30% of Israeli Jews say the same thing, Christians fall in the middle with 57% holding religion to be important personally. (Similar trends are seen in the figures on daily prayer and weekly attendance at a religious service and can be found in the previous blogpost.)
- Some religious practices are nearly universal amongst Israeli Christians. 94% have been baptised, while 83% have been anointed with holy oil. 81% have icons in their homes while 60% fast during lent. Paying a percentage of one’s income to the church is less popular: only 39% say that they tithe.
- Christians are also relatively insular in terms of their friendship groups and their view on interreligious marriage. The Pew Research Centre reports that:
“A large majority of Christians say all (21%) or most (65%) of their close friends are Christian. Christians also are almost universally married to other Christians, and they are uncomfortable with the idea of their child marrying a Muslim or Jew. Roughly nine-in-ten Christians say they would be ‘not too’ comfortable (9%) or ‘not at all’ comfortable (79%) with their child marrying a Jew, and eight-in-ten (80%) say they would be uncomfortable if a Muslim married into the family.”
- 72% of Israeli Christians agree with the statement that “Israel cannot be a democracy and a Jewish state at the same time”. This is a larger proportion than that of Israeli Muslims who agree with that view (63%). Distrust of the Israeli state and its policies seems to run even deeper in Christian than in Muslim communities. More Christians than Muslims think that the Israeli government is not making a sincere effort to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians (80% vs 72%). More Christians think that the continued building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security (79% vs 61%). Finally more Christians than Muslims think that the USA is too supportive of Israel (86% vs 75%).