Saturday, 12 December 2009
1 in 5 Christians Believe in Reincarnation
Roughly 20% of American Christians believe in reincarnation and don't necessarily see a conflict between that belief and their Christian faith. At least, that's what the following Associated Press report which came ‘across the wires’ to my old manse this week, implies, and since it's based on data collected by the respected Pew Forum, we'd best pay attention. It reports on the popularity of religious syncretism among Americans generally, and American Christians in particular, such that a significant minority (i.e. up to 25%) of those who identify as Christian also incorporate elements of other religions into their 'belief system', tailoring a religion for their own needs (and we're not just talking about Roman Catholics here, although they have a long history of religious syncretism and studies that I am aware of consistently show higher levels of belief in reincarnation among Catholics as compared to Protestants).
Survey: Americans mix and match religions
By ERIC GORSKI (AP) – 1 day ago
When it comes to religion, many Americans like the mix-and-match, build-your-own approach.
Large numbers attend services of traditions other than their own and blend Christianity with Eastern and New Age beliefs, a survey finds.
The report Wednesday from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life also shows tremendous growth over the past three decades in the number of Americans who say they have had a religious or mystical experience.
Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities say they hold beliefs of the sort found at Buddhist temples or New Age bookstores. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed overall and 22 percent of Christians say they believe in reincarnation, the idea that people will be reborn in this world again and again.
As for the significant numbers who visit more than one place of worship, it's not just an occasional visit while on vacation or for special events like weddings and funerals.
One-third of Americans say they regularly or occasionally attend religious services at more than one place. One-quarter say they sometimes attend services of a faith different from their own.
"It is as much now the norm as it is the exception for Americans to blend multiple religious beliefs and practices," said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.
Among the report's other findings:
_ About 1 in 4 Americans believe in Eastern or New Age ideas, including reincarnation, which is part of Buddhism and Hinduism; yoga as a spiritual practice; spiritual energy in things like mountains, trees and crystals; and astrology.
_ About 16 percent of Americans believe in the "evil eye" — that certain people can cast curses or spells. More than 1 in 10 white evangelicals who attend church weekly and 3 in 10 black Protestants believe in the phenomenon, which can be found in Islam, Judaism and traditional African beliefs.
_ Roughly 3 in 10 Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has died — up from 18 percent in 1996. The belief is most common among black Protestants and Catholics. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say they have been in the presence of a ghost.
_ Three in 10 Protestants say they attend multiple types of religious services, including services at Protestant denominations different from their own. Almost 1 in 5 Protestants indicate they also attend non-Protestant services. About 1 in 5 Catholics say they also attend non-Catholic services.
_ Nearly half of Americans say they have had a religious or mystical experience, or a "moment of sudden religious insight or awakening," the survey found. That represents a doubling since Gallup asked in 1962.
...D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion, said the results illustrate what he calls the "playlist effect" in contemporary American religious practice.
"The way we personalize our iPhones, we also personalize our religious lives," he said.
Count Chandler Pierce, a 27-year-old cook from Duncansville, Pa., in that group. He was raised Baptist, dabbled in Mormonism, said he is "with the whole Christianity thing," most closely identifies with Buddhism and believes in astrology and all manner of supernatural phenomenon.
"My religion now ... it's complicated," he said.
That so many Christians believe in astrology and reincarnation will trouble Christian leaders already concerned about professed believers who take what they need from the faith and leave the rest.
The build-your-own-religion findings show that "culture and pop culture and the Internet are probably more powerful teachers than Sunday school teachers," said Scott Thumma, a sociologist at the Hartford Institute of Religion Research.
Maryann Bogus, 59, of Kingsport, Tenn., another participant in the survey, attends an evangelical Christian church weekly and believes in reincarnation even though her church teaches otherwise.
"My daddy told me that a long time ago, and it stuck with me because he believed it, too," she said.
Her belief in astrology and spirituality in nature and yoga are things she picked up from "watching TV and listening," she said. She said she does not see any conflict with her Christianity.
Now, this trend, which has been noted now for a generation or so, doesn’t actually surprise me, for two reasons:
Firstly, with reference specifically to the American situation, it has been noted often that a form of neo-Gnosticism has always been the actual de facto religion of the USA, despite the high levels of overall Christian identification which have resulted historically from the two great evangelical awakenings and the high rate of Lutheran and Catholic immigration to the mid-west in the 19th century. Many of the founding fathers of the US, for example, were nominally Christian but actually subscribed to a form of Deism often accompanied by membership in Freemasonry. Their beliefs about the nature and destiny of man were written into the cultural DNA, so to speak, of Americans. Those influences have remained a part of the American religio-cultural worldview ever since, but have mutated considerably in their outward form. So it is that America has always been fertile ground for sects and new religious movements to grow in, Mormonism being a perfect example. The propensity, therefore, to experiment with and ‘mix-n-match’ elements from different religions has always been a live option for Americans, whereas similar Anglo dominated cultures remained more bound to traditional forms of religious belief, although the exportation of American culture, including religious culture, has broken down these traditional structures somewhat (see, for example, my last post on Sydney Anglicans and infant baptism).
The second reason this trend doesn’t surprise me is that the ultra-modern culture (a term I prefer to post-modern, for various reasons) we live in promotes a superficiality that does not value the moral commitments and discipline of thought that unconditional subscription to religious belief requires. The individualism that the Enlightenment fostered has now gone to seed in the ultra-modern deification of self, and for people raised in such a milieu (prizes for everyone!), it makes sense to pick and choose from the smorgasbord of religious options available today rather than have one’s choices confined by the strictly a la carte menu offered by the traditional churches.
So, while this reported survey does not hold any surprises, it is somewhat alarming to note that the levels of syncretism among Christians appear to be on the increase,
and all indicators are that this is no longer simply a feature of American Christian life either. As one who believes that the health of a church is directly related to its doctrinal integrity and the degree to which doctrine and life are connected in adherents lives, I suggest this presents a major challenge to the churches at present and into the future.