Thursday, December 10, 2009

UPDATED: Syncretism Rules the Day

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life released their latest report on December 9. You might have caught a brief overview on ABC News on Thursday evening. Here's an excerpt from the opening paragraph of the report.

A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. . .Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. 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. (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths, 2009, p. 1)

Stephen Prothero is the chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books, including American Jesus: How the Son Of God Became a National Icon (2003) and the New York Times bestseller, Religious Literacy: What Americans Need To Know (2007). Prothero also sees the flexibility and wavering of Americans' beliefs:

Christians traditionally, as they've shaped Jesus, have been worried about getting it wrong. Americans today are not so worried. There isn't the sense that this is a life-and-death matter; that you don't want to mess with divinity. There's a freedom and even a playfulness that Americans have. The flexibility our Jesus exhibits is unprecedented. There's a Gumby-like quality to Jesus in the United States.

It's never safe to make specific predictions about the future, but back in 1994, Gene Edward Veith made a general statement of where worldviews and religions would be headed in the 21st century:
The next major new religion, however, will probably not be one of the old forms of overt paganism, but rather a [syncretistic] hybrid. In a postmodernist and increasingly consumer-oriented world in which truth is relative, people will pick and choose various aspects of the different faiths according to what they "like" (Veith, Postmodern Times, 1994, p. 200).
It looks as though Veith's prediction is coming true. That means it's more important than ever to be familiar with the various worldviews in our culture. The people you encounter in class, in your jobs – even in your own family – will most likely hold to some version of a worldview different from your own.

And of course, it's more important than ever to know your own worldview - and be able to explain and defend it.

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