Do-it-yourself religion?

According to a new book, more Americans are custom-designing their own beliefs and theologies.

From HuffPo, and USA TODAY:

If World War II-era warbler Kate Smith sang today, her anthem could be “Gods Bless America.”

That’s one of the key findings in newly released research that reveals America’s drift from clearly defined religious denominations to faiths cut to fit personal preferences.

The folks who make up God as they go are side by side with self-proclaimed believers who claim the Christian label but shed their ties to traditional beliefs and practices. Religion statistics expert George Barna says, with a wry hint of exaggeration, America is headed for “310 million people with 310 million religions.”

“We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs — our clothing, our food, our education,” he said. Now it’s our religion.

Barna’s new book on U.S. Christians, “Futurecast,” tracks changes from 1991 to 2011, in annual national surveys of 1,000 to 1,600 U.S. adults. All the major trend lines of religious belief and behavior he measured ran downward — except two:

  • More people claim they have accepted Jesus as their savior and expect to go to heaven.
  • And more say they haven’t been to church in the past six months except for special occasions such as weddings or funerals. In 1991, 24 percent were “unchurched.” Today, it’s 37 percent.

Barna blames pastors for those oddly contradictory findings. Everyone hears, “Jesus is the answer. Embrace him. Say this little Sinner’s Prayer and  keep coming back. It doesn’t work. People end up bored, burned out and empty,” he said. “They look at church and wonder, ‘Jesus died for this?”‘

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20 responses to “Do-it-yourself religion?”

  1. There is a great document for those who would like an informed look at a lot of these movements. It was produced by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and is titled “Jesus Christ the Bearer of The Water of Life – A Christian reflection on the ‘New Age’.” It can be read on or printed from the Vatican web site by going to this address (depending on how it displays here, this is all one line with no breaks):

    We studied this piece as a part of a Theological Anthropology course at the seminary, and the one thing that has really stuck with me is this: people who embrace this or that movement *are* obviously and genuinely searching for something.

    We can help them in their search; I particularly recommend Section 5, which reminds us that “It is important to acknowledge the sincerity of people searching for the truth; there is no question of deceit or of self-deception,” and Section 6, which reminds of the need for guidance and sound formation, and suggests practical steps that can be taken. The more we know about these movements, the better equipped we are to be a sincere help to people who may embrace one or two bumper sticker statements about this stuff but don’t really know it.

    Isn’t that what Paul did in Acts 17:22-23?

    God bless

  2. When people confect their own “Do it yourself” religion isn’t that really worshipping yourself???–which is the worst of all types of idolatry.

  3. Seems as though I was ahead of the trend—-about 48 years ago! Deacon JM Bresnahan, I don’t worship myself—IMO, your assumption isn’t accurate (maybe for some but not for all).

  4. @dcdn

    The difference between now and pauls day is that people today HAVE heard the good word and reject it. To quote dr Peter kreeft there is a willful repaganization of society going on and it’s much different from the ignorant or good pagans from olden times. This one is purposeful

  5. Tyler, the point I wanted to make about Paul is the approach he took – not condemning but complimenting the Athenians “I perceive that in every way you are very religious” and then counting on their natural curiosity to find out something new.

    If I have a good story to tell, it’s on me to make my approach interesting enough (to the best of my ability) that potential listeners will stay tuned for more.

    If I argue with someone, there must be a winner and a loser. If our communication can take the form of a discussion or conversation, everyone wins. As I have often told folks in situations like this, “If we have a debate about scripture chapter and verse I will lose, because much as I might wish to, I just can’t remember specifics and quotes. But if you want to hear about how God changed my life I’ll be happy to talk all day.”

    Even those who have heard the Word and rejected it are more than worth my time in a conversation, because simple as I am as a person, my God is a God of second chances.

    God bless.

  6. Barna’s binary vision of spirituality speaks volumes about the kind of conceit that is driving people away from organized religion in droves. He, and whatever other “experts” may be behind this analysis, posit that one is either a loyal, every-Sunday member of some denomination or else they are “making God up as they go along.”

    People are waking up to the fact that they have the tools to engage the divine in a way that is deeper and more rewarding than having it spoon-fed to them by others with a financial interest in their obedience.

  7. It seems to me that only a monotheist perspective would see this as a problem. For a polytheist or an animist, to choose an approach that works and makes one a better person is a good and useful thing.

    Not everyone who is seeking is looking for the same thing. As Whitman once said, “not all those who wander are lost.” Some of us are entirely content with exploration and the resultant multiplicity of good and correct answers.

    One size has never fit all. It doesn’t work for socks and it doesn’t work for religions, either.

  8. ALL of God’s children are called to wear a size 9 sock, Erynn. To pretend otherwise is self-delusion and idolatry! 🙂

  9. This is not surprising. I’ve noticed this trend for some time. Reminds me of Chesterton.

    “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” — GK Chesterton

  10. I have no issues with those who are searching and ‘finding” God (s) in their own way. But, frankly from my Catholic perspective they are depriving themselves of the true and Real Prescence of God in the Eucharist which only comes about via His priests at Mass. I imagine this may offend some of you, and that is not my intention, but a careful reading of Scriptures or listening to tapes or reading some of Scott Hahn’s books will elucidate more clearly than I ever could in such a small space allocated here. Searching for God by looking for great music, fantastic sermons, or even great works of charity will always eventually fall short. God can always been found in the most Holy Eucharist in every Catholic Church in the world. Come spend some time with Him and you will not be disappointed.

  11. Where two or three are gathered in his (Jesus’) name, “I am” (God is) there among them.

    How simple!

    It is with others, in a communion of persons, gathered in God’s “name,” that we discover and celebrate God with us.

    By weekly, formal, communal worship of God, through the “name” of Jesus, in God’s Holy Spirit we are invited to reconnect and stay connected to the Source. And it needn’t end as we walk out the doors, it begins on the “Eight Day” (which is also the first day of the week), and it is purposefully extended through the week in all our thoughts, words, and actions (or it isn’t because of the lack of purpose (graced, willed action) and we are meant to renew our commitment (Covenant) to God and to each other, every time we are gathered by God in worship.

  12. Something about this “designing their own beliefs” reminds me of an old story dealing with a certain fruit allowing people to be like God. But I digress…

    It is not the bit surprising when so many do not believe in the Sacraments and the graces that we get from them. Graces that we need with great frequency because our nature has been damaged.

  13. I guess this is like performing bypass heart surgery on your self using a do-it-your-self manual, because after all, doctors are terribly dogmatic.

  14. Medicine is much like religion in one sense: If you take charge of your own journey, you’ll never need the bypass…..

  15. kenneth #18

    That doesn’t make any sense at all, IMO. One who is on a journey may well need a bypass rather than facing all the difficulties and delays and obstacles of trying to go through the downtown. One who is caring for his own health may well need a bypass operation because of genetic factors which lead to coronary artery disease despite his best efforts. And your analogy assumes without proving that we can be as independently in control of the ultimate destiny of our lives as a traveler can be of his arrival at a destination — and in any case he needs others to build and maintain the roads and vehicles unless he’s on foot.

  16. #10, Erynn: I agree—as in clothing sizes, one religion doesn’t fit all. Variety is the spice of life.

    Kenneth #7: purposeful is good! :o)

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