The growing number of “Nones,” those who profess no religion, makes many observers assume that America is becoming secularized–materialistic people living in a material world, above us only sky. But a Pew Research study shows that, to the extent traditional religions like Christianity are fading, they are being replaced by a more primitive, animistic religion as taught by the New Age Movement.
In fact, one reason that traditional religions like Christianity may be fading is that they too are being pulled in the animistic direction, as a startlingly high number of Christians are embracing New Age beliefs.
Pew Research asked Americans whether they believe in four characteristically New Age–but also animistic–teachings: psychics, reincarnation, astrology, and that spiritual energy can be located in physical things.
Here are the findings, from New Age’ beliefs common among both religious and nonreligious Americans:
[Citation: ‘”New Age’ beliefs common among both religious and nonreligious Americans.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 1, 2018) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/01/new-age-beliefs-common-among-both-religious-and-nonreligious-americans/ See Grant of License.]
Read also the accompanying discussion of the findings.
Notice that the majority of those whose religion is “Nothing in Particular” believe in things with spiritual energy, psychics, and reincarnation, with almost half (47%) believing in astrology. Furthermore, they believe in such things at a higher rate than do members of any other religious demographic.
We often tend to assume that there is little difference between atheists and agnostics, but this study shows that agnostics are surprisingly open to New Age-type beliefs. A majority of agnostics (56%) believe in at least one of these spiritual tenets, with 40% believing in objects with spiritual energy, nearly a third (31%) believing in psychics, and over a quarter (28%) believing in reincarnation.
Atheists are much more consistent materialists, with only just over a fifth (22%) believing in at least one of these New Age tenets.
Among professed Christians, members of Black Churches (72% believing in at least one) and Catholics (70%) are more credulous when it comes to New Age teachings. Then come the supposedly sophisticated mainline Protestants (67%).
Evangelicals are the most skeptical, next to the atheists, but with a still-surprising 47% believing in at least one of the New Age beliefs.
Now, of course, as in all such studies, we need to attend to issues of definition. “Believe spiritual energy can be located in physical things”? Well, a Christian who believes in creation, incarnation, sacraments, and vocation might assent to that, although the Christian view of such things is not of “spiritual energy” as such. Interestingly, evangelicals, who tend to be non-sacramental, scored the lowest in that area (24%), while Catholics scored among the highest (47%)–though not as high as “Nones” (61%).
How do you account for the popularity of these New Age beliefs among both non-Christians and Christians? It isn’t because of some greater rationality and the march of scientific progress. Christianity is surely more rational and scientific than worldviews that are open to astrology and reincarnation. But that so many non-believers are open to such mystical beliefs is a good sign, suggesting that their supernaturalism might be directed to the true supernaturalism that also embraces what is natural.
In fact, it suggests that Christian beliefs that come close to these beliefs or that fulfill the yearning for them might be points of contact for reaching these folks. For example, the desire for “spiritual energy in physical things” might mean that Christians should emphasize the sacraments. The attractiveness of astrology might mean that Christians should emphasize God’s providence; that is, His rule over all things, including the future. The belief in psychics might lead to an interest in how the Holy Spirit speaks through human beings in the prophetic words of Scripture. The belief in reincarnation is a yearning for eternal life.
Illustration by Activedia via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons