By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new study has found that many Americans like to “mix and match” their spirituality, often blending Christianity with Eastern religions and New Age beliefs.
According to a survey of more than 4,000 American adults by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, regularly attending worship services at more than one faith or denomination and preferring to “build their own” religion by blending elements from diverse traditions.
“Underscoring the spiritual ‘openness’ of American religious life, the survey finds that many blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects,” the report says. “And sizeable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.”
Other key findings include:
• Among Christians, who make up an overwhelming majority of Americans, roughly one-in-five Protestants (18%) say they attend non-Protestant services, and the same percentage of Catholics (18%) say they sometimes attend non-Catholic services.
• Nearly half the public (49%) says they have had a “religious or mystical experience,” more than twice as high as in a 1962 Gallup survey (22%). In fact, religious and mystical experiences are more common today among those who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (30%) than they were in the 1960s among the public as a whole.
• One in four Americans say they believe in Eastern and New Age ideas such as reincarnation, yoga as a spiritual exercise, astrology, and the notion that a spiritual energy permeates all of creation.
• Three in 10 Americans say they believe they have been in touch with someone who has died with one in five saying they believe they have been in the presence of a ghost.
• Sixteen percent expressed a belief in occult powers such as the “evil eye” and the ability to curse and cast spells.
“It’s as much now the norm as it is the exception for Americans to blend multiple religious beliefs and practices,” said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.
Scott Thumma, sociologist at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, told The Associated Press that “culture, pop culture and the Internet are probably more powerful teachers than Sunday school teachers.”
One participant in the survey, Maryann Bogus, 59, of Kingsport, TN, would probably agree. She told The Associated Press that she attends an evangelical Christian church twice a week and still believes in reincarnation even though her church teaches otherwise. She also believes in astrology, yoga, and spiritual energies, which she learned from “watching TV and listening” and sees no conflict between these beliefs and her Christianity.
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