December 14, 2009

When it comes to religion, many Americans like the mix-and-match, build-your-own approach.

A recent survey found that large numbers attend services of traditions other than their own and blend Christianity with Eastern and New Age beliefs, a survey finds.

The report released 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. Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum says that it is "as much now the norm as it is the exception for Americans to blend multiple religious beliefs and practices."

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.

White evangelicals and black Protestants are most likely to say they have had a religious or mystical experience. Yet even those unaffiliated with any religion show a strong spiritual bent. Three in 10 reported having such an experience.

D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion, said the results illustrate what he calls the "playlist effect" in contemporary American religious practice. He went on to say that "the way we personalize our iPhones, we also personalize our religious lives."

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. She said her father told me that a long time ago, and it stuck with me because he believed it, too."

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.

The survey of more than 4,000 adults was conducted by phone in August; the total sample size has margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

What we appear to be witnessing today is very much the same thing that ancient Israel saw during the time of the Kings. That being, the mixing of religion and superstition in such a manner that Christianity is not recognized. The Jews worshipped Baal in convenient seasons (such as in times of planting and harvesting) or during times of persecution and regal decree (like those of Jezebel in which those who did not bow the knee to Baal were rounded up and killed).

No one is being rounded up and sentenced to death for observing pure Christianity - YET. So it must be times of convenience. It must be more suitable, comfortable and accommodating to mix and match one's religious preferences to meet the needs of one's self, or perhaps in the name of political correctness.

To those who love the cafeteria style plan of religious observance I say, mix and match all you want, but there is but One God and He is very jealous (Exodus 20:5).

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.