The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released a(nother) poll about belief (pdf) in America. In this one, the conclusions reached are that people’s loyalty to their particular denomination, and even the beliefs of their denomination, are not sharply delineated, and are in fact somewhat amorphous.
There are a couple of interesting findings in the poll. One is the indication that a significant number of Christians attend services in different churches, and even in different faiths, on a regular basis, not just when on vacation or attending funerals and weddings. Only 37% claimed that they attend services only at one place, while another 35% attended regularly elsewhere, including 24% who attend services of faiths different than their own. The numbers are much higher for Protestants than Catholics (who, if I remember my childhood catechism correctly, used to be taught that it was a sin to miss Mass on Sunday).
In addition, of those who attend church less regularly, it’s more than likely that they would also attend somewhere other than their own church. 59% of those who attend once or twice a month or even yearly went church shopping, 40% of which went to churches of different faiths.
What conclusions can be derived from this? Well, I would say it’s arguable that many Christians are unhappy with their churches, and even their particular faith. They’re experimenting with other churches. Perhaps they were born into one faith, find it unsatisfying, and are actively searching for another. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of convenience (e.g. the synagogue is next door). Or maybe it’s just the transient nature of American life, with job changes, re-location, etc. Black Protestants seems to be the least loyal, for some reason. On the whole, however, Catholics are either happier with their faith, or feel more constrained, or something in between, because they’re sticking with their churches more so than Protestants.
But, either way, if belief in gods is true, if religion is the “only” way to a proper, fulfilling life, as promised by most religions and beliefs, then why is the true religion, the true denomination, the true church not more obvious? Why are people drifting, apparently aimlessly, from church to church to find the right church? Why are only 37% of all Christians attending church regularly at one stable location?
Another interesting factoid is just how far out and divergent from mainstream Christian beliefs some of their actual beliefs are. Look at this table:
24% believe in reincarnation, a Hindu or Buddhist belief, 26% find spiritual energy in inanimate objects (animism), 25% believe in there is power in the alignment of celestial bodies to affect their lives (i.e. astrology), and 16% believe that someone can be cursed by the “evil eye”. So what does that say about Christian faith and beliefs? These are all beliefs that are antithetical to most Christian dogma.
A cynic such as myself would say that if you can convince yourself to believe in the patent, wholly unsupportable nonsense of Christian dogma, such as virgin births, resurrections and miracles, or burning bushes that talk and people that turn into pillars of salt, your mind has been tenderized to accept almost anything. Time to take it and boil it in the Superstition Stew. Frankly, I really can’t think of any other explanation for why people of faith would diverge so far from the tenets of that faith. Nothing supernatural sounds implausible.
It doesn’t help that there is a latent distrust of science, and an increasingly disturbing rise in anti-intellectualism in America. Most Churches are willing, albeit subtle, advocates of both phenomena, because science and intellectualism are threats to superstitious beliefs, and without a ready willingness to embrace superstition, no church could last long selling theology. Most theists will pay lip service to the need for science, and will, of course, bask in the increase in living standards attributable almost wholly to science, while at the same time perpetuating the religious superstitions that undermine a proper understanding of science. So it’s no surprise that these same people might believe that their lives are affected by the alignment of the planets, karma, or the disposition of a neighbor with the evil eye.
I read these poll results and can only shake my head. It’s one thing to have a belief in something that provides a source of strength and stability to your life, and this has always been one of the selling points of religion. Believe in Christ, and have no further worries or fears, despite the hardships in your life here on earth. But when you see the almost transient nature of religious beliefs, with adherents constantly drifting around looking for the right place to hang their spiritual hat, it’s impossible to be convinced of the truth that religion asserts. When a sizable number of Christians are blending their traditional beliefs with a mish-mash of New Agey mumbo-jumbo, in the process picking and choosing like Cafeteria Catholics, it seems that the veracity of religious theology is questionable, at best.
Once the Stew is boiled down, and ladled into the bowl, there’s really not much more there than the equivalent of “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back”.