The Syncretic States of America
THE BLENDING OF RELIGIOUS PRACTICES IN AMERICA
Is America a predominantly Christian country? According to the Gallup Poll, 77% of Americans identify as Christian. Yet the reality is much more nuanced than that. According to Pewforum, a large number of Americans mix multiple faiths together. There was once a time in America where the boundaries between religious denominations such as Catholic and Protestant divided entire communities. The KKK attacked Catholics and Jews in addition to African Americans. There were even massive fears that tides of Irish and Italian immigrants would lead to Catholicism taking over the United States. Yet these days the boundaries that divide various faiths is beginning to become much more relaxed.
According to the Pewforum, multiple Americans are practicing multiple religions at the same time – even when they are not traveling or participating in a special event such as a wedding or a funeral. Many are even blending traditions like Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the idea that spiritual energy is present in the natural world. One third of Americans (35%) say that they attend religious services at more than once place, and most of this group indicated that these different places serviced a faith different from their own.
There are several reasons for this growing plurality of faith. America is becoming more diverse, people are increasingly marrying a person with a different religion than their own and religion in general is becoming more of a spiritual relationship with the world, rather than an institution.
GROWING NUMBER OF CHRISTIANS ADOPTING NEW AGE IDEAS:
SUCH AS REINCARNATION, YOGA AND SPIRITUAL ENERGY
What was interesting to me, in reading these results, was the high percent of Christians who believed in reincarnation (apparently 22% of Christians)! I have to wonder to myself how these particular Christians reconcile their belief in reincarnation with the Christian idea of heaven?
21% of Christians also follow Yoga as a spiritual practice. The National Cathedral has even begun to offer free Tai Chi and Yoga classes (Washington Post)!
GROWING NUMBER OF MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES
Another interesting thing about the Pew Forum survey on mixed religion in America is that it indicated more Americans are beginning to have spiritual experiences than previous generations. As you can see from the chart above, by 2009, nearly half of Americans claimed to have had some kind of spiritual or mystical experience. Spiritual experiences have literally doubled since the previous generation.
THE RISE OF “UNAFFILIATED” AMERICANS:
SPIRITUAL, BUT NOT RELIGIOUS
One growing trend in America has been the rise of our religious “nones.” Less people are going to church and less people are giving themselves a religious label. Yet this doesn’t mean that people are less spiritual. Two thirds of these “nones” say that they believe in God. More than half even say that they feel a deep spiritual connection with the Earth. A third have also stated that they are “spiritual, but not religious.” Most of these unaffiliated Americans say that religions are too obsessed with money and power. A large number of young Americans are also leaving the church over issues regarding Gay Rights (Alternet).
And perhaps, there are many Americans who believe in a blend of ideas, but have no religious label for this blend.
Rather than asking Americans to check a label in a box, future surveys should ask people to fill out a questionnaire on one’s outlook of the spiritual world. This may produce more complex and curious results than the simple “Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Other” blend.