Friday, April 10, 2009

Religious Hybridization and Post-Christian America

Earlier, Reader J.Rat. commented on how the increasing hybridization (syncretization?) of religions is affecting religious orthodoxy in America:
Personally, I think that Christian-Orthodoxy is waning, while spirituality/religiosity, in general, is waxing. ... [P]art of the potential trend toward a post-Christian America could be the result of "hybrid" religions: Buddhist-Christians, Taoist-Muslims, etc.... In the strictest sense, this does not jive with the orthodox claims of Jesus being the one true way, however, the positive aspects of Christianity and personal experiences amongst the populace indicate that mixing religious rituals and thoughts feels "right."
I thought of J.Rat's comment as I was reading a NYT's opinion piece by Judith Warner. In it, she talks about growing up and observing Jewish Traditions. She went to an Episcopal school, and later in life, gravitated to the Unitarian tradition. Yet, she, her family, and her friend always come together to observe the Seder. Saith Warner:
I know there are a lot of people who view people like my friend and me as “confused.” And yet, I can tell you that she and I – and my somewhat striking number of other friends whose faiths are other than what they “ought” to be by virtue of their upbringing – don’t feel confused at all. Some of us just can’t find a home for ourselves in the categories of identity that make sense for other people. Some of us are defined by little bits and pieces of experience and belief that together form a mosaic that for us, at least, is coherent and whole.

Having a very abstract sense of faith – or religion, or God, or whatever you want to call it – works perfectly for me.
She concludes:
Writing this ... I am thrilled at the prospect of later celebrating Passover with our motley Jewish-Catholic-Episcopalian crew, commemorating events we don’t believe in, confirming an identity that doesn’t quite fit, united in the love of one another.
United in the love of one another. Like J.Rat. mused, it just feels "right."

While Warner's story is touching and warm, this hybridization or syncretization of religion is creating a smorgasbord-like effect, where what feels "right" is chosen - a choice informed by our experience - from the differing traditions. This, rightly or wrongly, is affecting our approach to singular traditions, as we freely disregard disagreable tenets. And when we individually choose the format of our faith, the strength of religious tradition supplicates to emerging spiritualism. Like it or not, J.Rat is correct that this is one contributing factor, among a cacophony of factors, contributing to a post-Christian nation. But, hopefully, Warner's story gives face to this phenomenon, and we can understand and relate to her story.


matt said...

should one search for what feels right, or for the truth?

is there a "truth"?

Katie said...


I would say that there is a single truth, but many differing ways to attain it, and recognize it. I would say that the one truth is perfectly summed up in the Golden Rule. When we do right by our fellow man, when we are loving, kind, and compassionate, then we are reaching towards holiness.

One can apply whatever theology or dogma to it that one likes -- sin, grace, karma, reincarnation, pleasing or angering god(s), what have you -- but I think that, for me, loving kindness sums it up nicely.

There are lots of different traditions, cultures and religions that appear to suggest this. Seems to me, that's our common human thread or "truth."

That said, if the benevolent creative force of the universe wants to nudge and guide us towards rightness, wouldn't it make sense that what feels right for an individual be their own particular way of seeking the common truth? What do you think?

Anonymous said...

"Whatever religion" may be good for some, but it is not the course one must take nor is it the inevitable course the world will take. This blog, like all other blogs, starts to show it's bias over time, by what it posts and what it does not post. Hybridization of religion is called Universalism, it has been around a long time. This is not a new idea and it is not a new wave on the sea of religious thinking. I am a genXer seeking truth, and find it distressing for one of my favorite blogs to narrow its discussion more and more exclusively to Universalism, rather than to an broader discussion of all religions

Drew said...


Thank you for your comment, and I am honored to have you consider this blog and this community one of your favorites. The strength of this community is through is commenters, so we are blessed to have you.

I actually agree with you, that hybridization is a potentially a very bad for orthodoxical religion. Though I have my disagreements with many tenets of Christian orthodoxy, I would like to see it maintain a generally robust existence. And, I don't think this hybridization is going to be a worldwide phenomenon. The conservative tides coming out of two-thirds world countries immigrating into more secularized countries, with population declines, will ensure that, as a whole, hybridization will not be a world-wide affair. Finally when I do come across articles from other religions, I do post them here. I have had many articles on Islam and Judaism; from religion and violence to creation belief systems, from the intersection of green energy and theology to the experience of the divine.

A few other things. The subtitle of my blog, "Where Progressive Politics Dialogues with Religion and Spirituality" makes my bias transparent. I am an unabashed progressive, with a progressive theological degree. I am a progressive Democrat. But while my bias is open to all, this blog isn't really premised on those biases. This blog exists because while religion and government are important to our everyday life, we don't always agree. And, most importantly, while we don't have to agree about everything, we should dialogue, civilly, with each other in order to understand differing points of view and to disarm the conflict that sometimes arises from disagreement. Dialogue is important to me, and therefore, this blog. Those are my biases, unashamed.

If that is my bias, how do I decide what articles to post? That is the next logical question, it would seem to me. I don't go around picking articles that conform to any agenda. I search the blogosphere and news agencies for posts that are insightful, sometimes amusing, yet recent and dialogue provoking. The post parent to this thread was picked because it was recent, relevant to our general discussion of the possible decline of relevance of Christianity, and expanded on the insightful comments of J.Rat. On the other hand, if the news and internets are talking about something, I generally try to shy away unless I think that I can offer a differing insight. So, unless subconciously, I don't pick and discuss posts that conform to one theological agenda over another. My commentary on the post, however, conforms to my above transparent biases.

Hope that helps.

matt said...

drew - what fun would it be if you (or any of us) were unbiased! :)

A Faithful Reader said...

This blog seems balanced to me. If there is a bias it is that the blog is unbiased, letting all voices be heard equally.

Anon, your voice is heard and I am sure by others on this blog as well. I hope you will continue to read and write here, because I feel when all are heard from, then I am better informed and engaged.

It may not lead to hybridization of all the bloggers but it may lead to better understanding.

I agree with Drew, the movements in religion here in the United States do not mean the world is making or will make the same moves. And none of us can be 100% sure that the trends we see will manifest into movements or change.

Hope to hear more from you ANON and hope the dialogue remains peaceful and open.

VG said...

Not to be too pedantic, but "hybridization" is more appropriately called syncretism. That said, I applaud two things: bias stated up front, and open discussion. Everyone is biased; not everyone owns up to it. Nor is every discussion an open one. Welcome to Dem Bones, anon!

Matt F. said...

I'll give the blog some props here. The fact that this blog has a readership (or at least a group of commentators) as diverse as matt, Kent H., Darren, Katie, Faithful Reader, and myself is a testament not to Drew's Univeralism, but to his genuine desire to hear everyone's point of view and his desire to have us dialouge with each other. I don't agree with Matt or Kent but I certainly understand and respect their viewpoints more fully because of this blog.