Thursday, January 15, 2009

American individualism and theology

The Christian Science Monitor landscapes two recent religious surveys and argues that American individualism has finally infiltrated theology. According to the article, we have become our own "theologians-in-residence" and "Cafeteria Christians." In the first study, conducted by the Barna Group, 71% of Americans say they are more likely to develop their own religious beliefs rather than accept the teachings of a particular church. For examples, nearly 50% don't believe in the existence of Satan, nearly 33% believe Jesus sinned while on earth, and nearly 40% don't believe in the necessity of evangelism. The other study by Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life we discussed earlier - a study in American's views on the afterlife, to which 65% of Americans believe that other religions can lead to eternal life.

American individualism, to me, is not the only factor at play here. Hyper-denominationalism is also a factor, where the severe fragmentation of church denominations during the last century have muddied the theological waters. With different churches on every corner preaching different theological emphases, the American public has murky understandings of theological orthodoxy. Let's also not forget our global and technological interconnectivity, where the exposure to different ideas and religions is a click away. I am sure other factors are at play, but these are off the top of my head.

This theological relativism can't be good for Christianity in the long-run.

Update: Tripp has some contempt for the surveys and argues for a theological conversation at the grassroots level.


Darren Staley said...

I think you may also be missing the hypocrisy factor.

We no longer accept slavery or stone people for working on Sunday, but we still exclude gays and protest abortion clinics.

We ask people to accept Christ while the Catholic church shields pedophiles and out country commits brutal acts of torture and aggression.

I could go on and on, but the fact is that the dropoff is (and will continue to be) from moderate Christians who are sick of the conflicting messages.

It has less to do with denominations and more to do with people saying enough. Stop telling me I am going to hell because I believe in evolution or that gays have equal rights.

Alicia said...

Darren is absolutely right. This cafeteria style Christianity is not so much of a case of multiple churches focusing on different messages, it’s because of the bible itself.

We have started to wise up as history, science, human rights and the bible begin to collide in modern time. The bible and church truly gives us no guidance because everything is canceled out. Love one another—unless they are gay. A a man don't ever work for a woman-but we will give a pass if she happens to be the Vice President.

As modern followers of “the teachings” we just have elected to close a blind eye to the flagrant flaws of such a core piece of Christianity-the bible. Instead of admitting that the very essence of Christianity, the bible, is virtually made up we have elected to “pick” which parts we see fit to follow . . . or edit which parts we no longer see valid.

Virginal birth, slavery, women’s suffrage, not working on the Sabbath, stoning, prayer only in the privacy of one’s home . . .Respectfully I ask how else can modern religion survive but for Cafeteria style selection? Otherwise we would be back in the Dark Ages or heaven forbid admit we all are a bunch of heretics.