Cornering the God Market
In the days of my youth, the assumption was that everyone was Christian. Yes, we knew that some people were Jewish and we were vaguely aware that some folks somewhere were adherants of miscellaneous faith traditions. But, if you were American, you were Christian.
The End of Automatic Faith
A new survey by the Barna Group Christianity Is No Longer Americans’ Default Faith says this has changed. The Group's website summarizes the findings as follows:
The survey shows half of Americans believe the Christian faith no longer has a lock on people’s hearts. Overall, 50% of the adults interviewed agreed that Christianity is no longer the faith that Americans automatically accept as their personal faith, while just 44% disagreed and 6% were not sure.Cafeteria Plan Beliefs
Two-thirds of evangelical Christians (64%) and three out of every five Hispanics (60%) embraced that position, making them the groups most convinced of the shift in America’s default faith. The study also showed that residents of the Northeast and West were much more likely than those from the South and Midwest to assert that Christianity has lost its place as the first faith option people consider. People who said they are politically conservative, however, saw things differently than did the rest of the country: a slight majority of conservatives claimed that Christianity remains the natural choice of most Americans.
The same survey also found that "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." This differs dramatically from a few generations back when one's church provided a moral framework generally accepted as is. The survey findings also stated:
Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views - in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.Critical Thinking Encouraged
On the one hand, I am quite pleased at the level of individual thinking verse group thinking the survey reveals. We should each decide how to assimilate our faith into our daily lives. Critical thinking about what we are told is a good idea and one I highly encourage.
As one involved in preaching and teaching, I also love the idea that people do things to learn more about their faith so that when they reflect individually on their beliefs they have more data for that reflection. Too often, we rely on what we think the Bible says or were told it says, when it is a better idea to read and reflect with others and then to reflect on your own.
I am fine with not being able to count on having a corner on the God market. I don't mind at all that folks are thinking for themselves about issues of faith and belief. I find this positive. I also hope we find ways to study more and deepen our understanding of the faith that is in us.
Living into the Answers
The church has much to teach and it isn't always what you expect. Christian education in sermons, in Bible studies and other settings provides you with more grist for the mill, so that your personal thoughts and feelings are based on more solid knowledge instead of what you remember from Bible story books as a child. You will find not a pre-packaged set of answers ready for you to swallow whole, but some profound questions and more information on how Christians through the centuries have thought, prayed and lived into the answers.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor