Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rising Religious Syncretism

Drawing on a report issued by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes about the rise of religious syncretism in American culture. The report, Blow notes, "points out that many Americans are now choosing to 'blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs' and that 'sizable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups' said that they have had supernatural experiences, like encountering ghosts." He continues:

For the first time in 47 years of polling, the number of Americans who said that they have had a religious or mystical experience, which the question defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening,” was greater than those who said that they had not. ...

Twenty percent of Protestants and 28 percent of Catholics said they believe in reincarnation, which flies in the face of Christianity’s rapture scenario. Furthermore, about the same percentages said they believe in astrology, yoga as a spiritual practice and the idea that there is “spiritual energy” pulsing from things like “mountains, trees or crystals.” Uh-oh. Someone’s God is going to be jealous.

Surprisingly, in some cases, those who identified themselves as Christian were more likely to believe these things than those who were unaffiliated. ...

The report is further evidence that Americans continue to cobble together Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities from a hodgepodge of beliefs — bending dogmas to suit them instead of bending themselves to fit a dogma.

Read it all.

Leaving aside Mr. Blow's reference to "Christianity's rapture scenario" (which is an example of heretical doctrinal innovation par excellence), it's not surprising to see this phenomenon on the rise within our highly individualistic, consumer culture. In fact, we've seen it rear it's head within the Episcopal Church this past year in the case of Kevin Thew Forrester, the former bishop-elect of the Diocese of Northern Michigan (see my postings here and here). And then there's the case of Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, the now-defrocked Episcopal priest who made the Muslim profession of faith and claimed to be both a Christian priest and a practicing Muslim.

For many, religious commitment is more akin to choosing items from a menu or surfing the Internet. We individually pick and choose what we want to order and we go on-line wherever we fancy. Perhaps we resonate more with these words ...

"No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it" [Ralph Waldo Emerson from "Self-Reliance" (1841)].

than we do with these:

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

I think we can expect to see religious syncretism rise in popularity. And we can count on the Church continuing to face the challenge of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of the deeply taken-for-granted belief that each individual's preferences are the highest court of appeal for religious truth.

4 comments:

Derek the Ænglican said...

Have you ever read popular religious literature from Late Antiquity or the Medieval period? This is *nothing* new...

I recommend taking a glance at some of the Apocryphal Acts to see how syncretism has always been the shadow side of orthodoxy. Vigilance has always been required.

Bryan Owen said...

Good counsel, Derek. That there is 'nothing new under the sun' doesn't surprise me.

Bill Carroll said...

Mark McIntosh's Mystical Theology provides an excellent critique of vulgar and scholarly versions of syncretism in terms of consumerism. Christian spirituality is ecclesial and has boundaries.

Joe Rawls said...

The reference to Democrats being more likely to believe in ghosts or fortune tellers is very interesting and perhaps throws some sand in the leftist=secularist canard. Unless these Democrats were all blue dogs, of course.