According to a Pew Research survey, many people believe that “spiritual energy can be located in physical things.” Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

From 'cafeteria Catholics' to New Age nones, religion is getting personal

(RNS) — Do you believe astrology governs your love life? Do you think some people have extraordinary powers of perception that allow them to predict the future? Do you hold that some items – such as crystals – possess special spiritual energy? Do you believe in the concept of past lives?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you're far from alone. According to an October Pew Research Center poll, about 62 percent of Americans believe in at least one of four beliefs the poll classifies as “New Age.”

The poll's methodology lends itself to criticism — reincarnation, for example, is part of some well-established organized religious traditions, such as Hinduism, and hardly a New Age concept — but the numbers are nevertheless strikingly high.

Striking, too, is the consistency of these beliefs across religious lines. About 6 in 10 religious “nones” affirmed at least one New Age belief, including a full 78 percent of those who believe in “nothing in particular.” Sixty-one percent said “spiritual energy can be located in physical things” and 51 percent affirmed reincarnation.

The same ratio held for self-identified Christians, with Catholics and members of historically black Protestant churches expressing greater belief in New Age ideas – 70 percent and 72 percent, respectively — than other groups. Fewer than half, or 47 percent, of evangelical Christians did.

The least likely to affirm any of these beliefs were committed atheists; just 22 percent said they believed in any at all.

“Six-in-ten Christians, ‘nones’ hold at least on New Age belief.” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The poll received relatively little media attention at the time. But the data it represents tells us much about how complicated it has become to know what a person of any given religious identity actually believes. What does it mean to self-identify as a Catholic if 36 percent of American Catholics do also affirm the reality of reincarnation, a concept completely at odds with traditional Catholic doctrine?

What does it mean to proclaim oneself an atheist, and yet believe – as 11 percent of atheists say they do – in “spiritual energy”?

Two truths help explain this seeming discrepancy. The first is the degree to which religious faith should be seen as a marker of social identity as much as a metaphysical system. To be a “cultural Catholic,” say, or a “cultural Jew” is to align with a group as much as it is to assent to a set of philosophical or spiritual propositions, and to say you are one or the other is increasingly more about your chosen community than about what you believe.

(This was particularly true in 2018, as religious identity and political identity have become increasingly fixed, with right-leaning white evangelicals and left-leaning nones alike virtually immobile in their perspectives on Donald Trump).

The second truth is that Americans have come to see their spirituality as something to construct, rather than to adopt. “Cafeteria Catholic” was originally a slur meant to disparage someone who conveniently picked and chose among Roman Catholic teachings. But the current religious landscape rewards such individualization. It makes perfect sense that we would curate our religious self-conception the same way we personalize and silo our news and information sources on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Couples are increasingly choosing less traditional locations for wedding ceremonies. Photo by Ibrahim Asad/Creative Commons


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Our foundational rites of passage – from weddings to funerals – have become increasingly secular. Just 22 percent of weddings happen in a house of worship, while almost 30 percent of Americans anticipate a secular funeral. They are also increasingly individualistic: We tailor our own vows, structuring our ceremonies around individuals rather than traditional liturgies. One woman I interviewed for my forthcoming book told me she had similarly “created” her “own religion” by mixing and matching traditions, images, symbols and language that she felt were personally meaningful to her.

It's worth asking, of course, whether it's the public visibility of these individualized belief structures that has increased, rather than their existence. Historically, syncretic and diffuse “folk religion” – whether in medieval Catholic Europe or 19th-century Louisiana – has been a far more fluid entity than most doctrinal systems would admit. Either way, the marked rise in the formal expression — and monetization — of these beliefs is inarguable.

That commercial aspect is perhaps the strongest way that New Age beliefs are becoming communal. The Pew data cited above shows that American women affirm at least one New Age view far more than men do – 69 percent versus 55 percent. This may reflect, at least in part, the fact that New Age products and ideas, such as crystals or astrology, are much more heavily marketed to women.

In this way, we're seeing folk religion – once relegated to largely domestic if not totally private spaces — enter the public sphere. Now, it's entering the religious marketplace as well.

Comments

  1. What this new age, ex-Catholic has concluded after many years of reading and questioning:

    Tis all about the Great Kibosh of All Religions:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  2. The problems you mention come from our differences in defining terms. As an Atheist i Have a very different understanding of the word “spiritual”–it has nothing to do with supra or super natural concepts–it is the core of who we are as a human being, our soul, our spirit, our character. Do we have a strong, positive, vibrant, life affirming spirit or something quite different? The world has long understood “spirit” in this way. We talk of a person “being in good spirits” or a horse “being high spirited.”! I think Religion tried to claim the word for its self and other people are simply taking it back to the “Natural” realm where it belongs.

  3. I’ve seen this movie somewhere before…
    Oh yeah:

    When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf (liberalism/ modernism), fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

  4. “I think Religion tried to claim the word for its self and other people are simply taking it back to the ‘Natural’ realm where it belongs.”

    On the other hand, most people think religion coined the word, and atheists struggle to deal with it by claiming it’s the same thing as “school spirit”.

  5. As an athiest, why would you use the term soul? Does an athiest have a soul?

    Human beings are comprised of three distinct parts: Body, spirit and soul.

  6. Try this one on:

    https://news.yahoo.com/quarter-americans-convinced-sun-revolves-around-earth-survey-062143342–abc-news-topstories.html

    What this demonstrates is that ignorance is rife.

    For example, a Catholic should know that if she or answers “yes” to:

    “Do you believe astrology governs your love life?”

    “Do you think some people have extraordinary powers of perception that allow them to predict the future?”

    “Do you believe in the concept of past lives?”

    he or she is in direct opposition to the teaching of his/her own church.

  7. What is the difference between a spirit and a soul?

  8. Same old thoughtless boilerplate.

    I wish, I wish, I wish, that someone would put the kibosh on you posting this trash over & over again.

  9. Say, Tara Isabella Burton, I read somewhere that you’re “work[ing] on a book about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated in America”. I was wondering if it’ll explain the following projections, put out by Michael Lipka and David McClendon, however (in Pew Research Center, April 7, 2017, “Why people with no religion are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population”):

    “In coming decades, the global share of religiously unaffiliated people … which includes atheists, agnostics and those who do not identify with any religion in particular … is actually expected to fall, according to Pew Research Center’s new study on the future of world religions. … [Their] growth is projected to occur at the same time that other religious groups – and the global population overall – are growing even faster. … [And so] people with no religion will make up about 13% of the world’s population in 2060, down from roughly 16% as of 2015. This relative decline is largely attributable to the fact that religious ‘nones’ are, on average, older and have fewer children than people who are affiliated with a religion … [and because] the number of deaths will begin to exceed the number of births to unaffiliated mothers by 2030 [in Asia and] by 2035 … in Europe … [And because] the Christian population in China is rising while the religiously unaffiliated population is falling … – religious ‘nones’ could decline as a share of the world’s population even more than the Pew Research Center study projects.”

  10. Precisely why no thinking person can be a politically correct Catholic. Thank you.

  11. The soul is what gives you life; it’s what animates your body.
    The spirit is what connects man to God.

    From the web:

    Our body is the easiest part to understand because it’s the part we see. Our body is the flesh and bones we walk around in.
    Everything physical is our body. Our skin and bones, muscles, nerves, blood, hair, etc., all make up our bodies.
    This is the part of us that decays over time and will eventually cease functioning when we die.

    Soul
    Our soul is our mind, will and emotions. This is the part where we think and feel. It’s where we plan and organize, the part of us that stays focused or gets distracted. Our soul feels pleasure or perceives hurts from others.
    Our soul can be energized or discouraged. It’s where we form words to communicate with others. And it’s where our personality comes to life.
    It is in our soul that we become anxious or we rest peacefully. It’s where we worry about bad things or meditate on good things.

    Spirit
    We are all created as spiritual beings too. Because our spirits are intangible and usually have no direct manifestation in this world, this part gets overlooked and discounted by many folks.
    It is in our spirit that the Spirit of God comes to reside when we become new creations upon accepting the payment Jesus made for our sins. When that happens our spirit comes to life because it is finally connected to its intended power source.

    Tomas A can explain it better than I can.

  12. OK, but none of that is from scripture! Why are you convinced that,

    Human beings are comprised of three distinct parts: Body, spirit and soul?

    Where in scripture, Hebrew or Christian, is the difference between a soul and a spirit identified or defined?

  13. What does it mean to self-identify as a Catholic if 36 percent of American Catholics do also affirm the reality of reincarnation, a concept completely at odds with traditional Catholic doctrine?

    Not completely at odds. Both reincarnation and purgatory (a Catholic doctrine) are based on the idea that one’s spiritual growth does not stop at the moment of death. In that sense, the Catholic idea of the afterlife is more similar to the Hindu idea, than it is to the dominant Protestant idea.

    The relatively high percentage of members of “historically black” Protestant churches who believe in reincarnation is certainly interesting. It brings to mind the fact that ideas of reincarnation exist among many native sub-Saharan African cultures.

  14. He’s afraid of the Truth.
    He is a perfect example of someone that follows the path of least resistance and tries to bring everyone down with him.
    I pray for him daily.

  15. Those two passages are the only ones that mention the three, however they, so you, still haven’t answered my original question, what is the difference between a spirit and a soul?

    Dictionaries put them off as mostly being interchangeable, as they mean the same thing.

  16. Trash? Trash is the 90% of the NT that is historically nil.

  17. There isn’t, however, any atheist or agnostic basis for “the reality of reincarnation” and “the Hindu idea of the afterlife”.

  18. And again some 21st century reality via The Great Kibosh of All Religions:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  19. Free Will and Future are inherent to all the thinking beings in the Universe. This being the case, it is not possible to alter life with prayers. Statistically, your request might come true but it is simply the result of the variability/randomness of Nature..

    So put down your rosaries and prayer beads and stop worshiping/revering cows or bowing to Mecca five times a day. Instead work hard at your job, take care of aging parents, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to charities and the poor and continue to follow the proper rules of any good rules of living as gracious and good human beings.

  20. I like your question, in fact my Spirit likes your question. My soul is not affected by your question.

  21. It seems that you ran into a spirit, that is not aware of his or her soul.

  22. There is no medical evidence for anything that lives on after death or that we humans are nothing more than biological creatures. We invented the soul that lives on because we cannot accept that this life is all we get.

  23. Well, for me, Rational’s quote reproduces Eusebius’s Preparatio Evangelica in secular clothes.

  24. Thanks for using the phrase “Hindu idea” and not “Hindu doctrine”, “Hindu belief” or “Hindu truth-claim”. This category shift is much needed.

  25. There is also no evidence that says it does not exist. Just because man has a limited capacity of understanding does not mean something does not exist.
    The athiest will shout Santa Claus as proof.
    I will shout the round earth; the quark and the furthest star yet to be discovered. They all existed whether man knew them to exist or not.

  26. I see no reason to accept these ideas because writings claiming to be inspired by god(s) tell me these things exist.

  27. Just to add clarification to some matters here (and bypass the Harris/Dawkins issues altogether):
    A minority perspective from earliest Church theologians on ‘what comes next’ expressed by Origen most clearly, is that we will continue to grow, learn…but not return to this physical world. Another minor but real and present strain of thought is that all will eventually find ‘heaven’ however that is understood (both Jesus and Paul state that it’s impossible to know or describe what comes next–we don’t have the language for it). Eternity is after all a long time, so even the worst of human beings can be drawn to the light and love of God. Related: the only folks I know who WANT to be reincarnated are from relatively comfortable western cultures; historical faiths, Hindu and Buddhist, look for ways to get off the wheel, end suffering, be enlightened, abd return only as guides for others to find the way. Reincarnation for a whole lot of westerners currently seems more: I like this, I want more. Finally, crystals are one thing. Physical objects which help mediate grace and the holy are something else: saints’ relics, water, bread and wine, all are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. The physical world is a gift, our bodies too, not inherently less-than or evil corruption; the Word became flesh–Jesus, Christmas, his baptism, his use of mud, fish, bread, wine, touch, oil, all convey tangible spiritual realities.

  28. You clearly don’t understand the concept that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You can also claim there’s no evidence that Zeus doesn’t rule the oceans, but any credible adult will laugh at you. In the absence of evidence, the likely truth is absence of existence.

  29. Everyone knows that Zeus doesn’t rule the oceans. Poseidon does!

  30. And your limited understanding prevents you from seeing what is right in front of you.

  31. On what possible basis do you conclude that making statue out of gold equates to “liberalism/modernism”?

    That is ridiculous nonsense.

    The human need to control the uncontrollable and predict future events is found around the world. There is nothing “liberal” or “conservative” about believing unsupported nonsense because it feels good.

    The only group that is markedly different is “atheist” – people who tend to demand evidence before believing supernatural woo. Atheists can be conservative or liberal.

    Learn how to think.

  32. The resurrection of Christ and NDE is evidence for life after death.

  33. Atheism is nonsense. There is not one fact that supports atheism. Learn how to think and apply it to your atheism.

  34. More nonsense. If atheism is true then there is no such thing as freewill or thinking. All you are is a meat machine.

  35. Apparently, you missed the part about being a gracious and good human being.

  36. What is the foundation for good in atheism? After all, if atheism is true then there is no such thing as good or evil. All actions are just atoms in motion and nothing more.

  37. Might want to read documents such as the Code of Hammurabi, the US Constitution and the Magna Carta.

  38. Brilliant men like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson using well-researched wisdom.

  39. And by rigorous historic testing most of JC’s attributes are myths.

  40. Versus the myths of mythical gods and their messengers. Brilliant human minds win!!!!

  41. Show me any “brillant human mind” based on atheism that has come up with a moral code that has lasted thousands of years.

  42. There is a good review of secular morality via Wikipedia and references therein.

  43. what are ‘rigorous historic tests’? Would people who lived in the year 30 CE know what to provide for people 2,000 yrs later if they could anticipate the criteria? Photography just not there. You are anachronistically using 21st century concepts–again, I can’t be exactly sure because you don’t any examples or how-to or procedures–for 1st century writers, thinkers.

  44. 1. Rigorous historic testing and conclusions rely on the number of independent attestations, the time of the publications, the content as it relates to the subject and time period, and any related archaeological evidence. Professors JD Crossan and G. Ludemann’s studies are top notch in this regard.

    2. No but considering the infancy of the written word, it was a work in progress, the basic problem being the lack of news organizations, cameras, radios, TVs, recorders and libraries.

    3. The NT in the raw did not have the required citations that modern non-fiction works require for validation thereby requiring 20-21st century historians to use rigorous historic testing methods to check for a 1st century documents authenticity. An example- there are over 400 citations in the non-fiction book, Enemy and the Gates, the Battle of Stalingrad.

    4. If you want to evaluate examples of rigorous historic testing of the NT, there are some free sites to do this:

    http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?title=Crossan_Inventory (use this to access the proper reference number to the details on http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html

  45. There are lots of flavors of beliefs unsupported by evidence. Whether crystals, astrology, Zeus, Allah, reincarnation etc.

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