A recent survey conducted by the Barna Group (a Christian organization that conducts research pertaining to cultural change and the role of religion in society) shows, among other things, that a majority of American adults pick and choose their beliefs rather than conform to a specific denomination’s slate of theological and moral views.
By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church. Although born again Christians were among the segments least likely to adopt the a la carte approach to beliefs, a considerable majority even of born again adults (61%) has taken that route. Leading the charge in the move to customize one’s package of beliefs are people under the age of 25, among whom more than four out of five (82%) said they develop their own combination of beliefs rather than adopt a set proposed by a church.
Barna then goes on to speculate on the implications of this research, albeit from a slightly alarmist perspective. Among these are that 1) Christianity is a faith being defined by, rather than challenging, individuality; 2) many people embrace an unpredictable and often contradictory body of beliefs; 3) there is an abundance of unique worldviews tempered by various religious beliefs, as well as secularism; and 4) that “faith” is increasingly viral, rather than pedagogical, with observation, discussion and self-reflection contributing to the development of individual religious belief.
What may be distressing to organized Christianity is encouraging to those of us seeking to advance a rational, secular, humanist worldview. If many Americans are receptive to views at odds with religious orthodoxy, there may be great opportunity to make the case for humanism. We must, however, recognize that the increasing heterogeneity of religious belief suggests that we might be more productive in promoting a secular worldview if we refrain from broad and largely unproducive generalizations and focusing too intently on the nonsensical views of religious fundamentalists. We also need to begin making clearer distinctions between Christianity as a religion, and “cultural Christianity“.