In a Catholic church? Chances are that one in five members believe in reincarnation in a way never taught in catechism class — that you'll be reborn in this world again and again.
Elements of Eastern faiths and New Age thinking have been widely adopted by 65% of U.S. adults, including many who call themselves Protestants and Catholics, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released Wednesday.
- ON THE WEB: Pew's report
Syncretism — mashing up contradictory beliefs like Catholic rocker Madonna's devotion to a Kabbalah-light version of Jewish mysticism — appears on the rise. And, according to the survey's other major finding, devotion to one clear faith is fading.
Of the 72% of Americans who attend religious services at least once a year (excluding holidays, weddings and funerals), 35% say they attend in multiple places, often hop-scotching across denominations. They are like President Obama, who currently has no home church. He has worshiped at a Baptist church, an Episcopal one, and the non-denominational chapel at Camp David.
"Mixing and matching practices and beliefs is as much the norm as it is the exception," Pew's Alan Cooperman says. "Are they grazing, sampling, just curious? We really don't know." Even so, says Pew researcher Greg Smith, "these findings all point toward a spiritual and religious openness — not necessarily a lack of seriousness."
Among the findings:
•26% of those who attend religious services say they do so at more than one place occasionally, and an additional 9% roam regularly from their home church for services.
•28% of people who attend church at least weekly say they visit multiple churches outside their own tradition.
•59% of less frequent church attendees say they attend worship at multiple places.
The survey of 2,003 adults Aug. 11-27 has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. It measures Protestants, Catholics and the unaffiliated; there were not enough people of other faiths surveyed for analysis.
"For an extremely long time, most of us thought belonging or membership or home church was monogamous, even if it was serial monogamy, because we all know about church-switching," says sociologist of religion Scott Thumma, a professor at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research in Hartford, Conn. "Today, the individual rarely finds all their spiritual needs met in one congregation or one religion."
In the 1980s, Albert Mohler and Julia Jarvis were in graduate school together at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. Today, Mohler is president of the seminary and a leading voice for Baptist orthodoxy. He sees a "rampant confusion" about faith revealed in the Pew findings.
"This is a failure of the pulpit as much as of the pew to be clear about what is and is not compatible with Christianity and belief in salvation only through Christ," Mohler says. Pew says two in three adults believe in or cite an experience with at least one supernatural phenomenon, including:
•26% find "spiritual energy" in physical things.
•25% believe in astrology.
•24% say people will be reborn in this world again and again.
•23% say yoga is a "spiritual practice."
Mohler calls these "the au courant confusions," attachments to the latest fashionable free-floating beliefs. "One hundred years ago, it would have been 'spiritualism.' They wouldn't have known what yoga was but might have been attracted to the 'New Thought' of the time," Mohler says. More>>