Self Generated or Cafeteria Christianity and Spirituality

Perhaps the central problem with virtually all arguments concerning Christianity and the secularization hypothesis is that they miss the mark when based on statements concerning church membership or attendance records. As noted in chapter 1 of this book, religion, at least for many, is an extremely personal exercise. As one noted Nobel Prize-winning economist, James J. Heckman, put it, "There will always be a market for good answers to important social questions. This is my way of following my father's advice of being independent and developing an independent reputation and my way of avoiding appeals to authority in any form— whether mathematical or divine—that motivated my early break with organized religion.''31

Most dictionary definitions of religion are far broader than those rooted in institutional context as we noted in the introduction to this book. Dictionary definitions suggest that belief and reverence to a supernatural creator in either organized institutional or personal fashion defines religion. Accurately counting believers when religion is defined in terms of some metric such as attendance or membership in a sect is problematic. Italy, for example, the country with the largest percentage of Roman Catholics, has the lowest church attendance record of major industrialized nations of the world. Many observers argue that the establishment of state religions reduces attendance32 while constitutional protections have the opposite effect. It may be that the quasi-state sponsorship of Roman Catholicism in Italy has created Adam Smith's "poor preaching"—wherein preachers within a state-sponsored religion become lax—although we have no evidence of it. It is perfectly likely that many Christians give up an institutionalized form of religion to find or develop one which matches their demand profile. These religions may be Christian or based in other areas of thought. Christianity, like all other varieties of spirituality, may be self-generated, that is, self-supplied and self-demanded, and it likely always has been. Christian religious individualists have existed in all times. Consider, for example, the post-

Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin who said, in writing to his friend the symbolist painter Odilon Redon in September 1890, "I have a picture in my head of... a star; when seeing it in my cabin in Tahiti, I will not, I promise you, dream of death, but on the contrary, of eternal life, not death in life but life in death. In Europe, this death with its snake's tail is conceivable, but in Tahiti, it has to be seen with roots that come back as flowers.''33 Gauguin was in fact keenly interested in the spirituality of the South Sea islanders he painted, titling his works accordingly (e.g., Spirit of the Dead Watching, Day of the Evil Spirit, Eternal Night, Day of the God, and many others). Gauguin's personal spirituality was a unique combination of (French) European Roman Catholicism and the mysticism and magic of the Tahitians, overtly revealed in some of his most famous works (e.g., Ia Orana Maria [Hail Mary]).

Trends in religious affiliation in the United States are revealing about self-generated religion generally and Christianity specifically. Researchers Tom W. Smith and Seokho Kim, drawing from general social surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, show that (depending on how some groups such as Mormons are counted) the Protestant majority will soon become a minority in the United States.34 Most interesting from the perspective of organized religion is that those individuals having no religion climbed dramatically from 9 percent in 1992 to 14 percent in 2002. This particular trend is expected to continue, since, among those born after 1980, 27 percent claimed to have no religion. A category label of just "Christian" that did not exist in the 1970s was added to the survey, and has undergone significant growth since 1990. In the 1990-1996 period, 0.8 percent of Americans labeled themselves just "Christian," but that number had grown to 2.3 percent in 2002. Similar growth occurred in the self-labeled category "Inter- or Non-denominational,'' growing steadily from only 0.1 percent of Americans in the 1972-1978 period to 1.1 percent in 2002. Those labeling themselves "no religion'' may well mean "no organized religion'' in these kinds of surveys. A good deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that statistics such as these mean that some kind of self-induced spirituality, including Christian forms or beliefs, may be growing rapidly in the developed world, as suggested in the psychics test contained in appendix 4A.

We might label this development "cafeteria-style Christianity,'' where certain tenets of spirituality are accepted and others are rejected. "Salvation" or relief from existential angst is, in these systems, possible without religious institutions and institutional constraints. Individuals who pick and choose their spiritual beliefs probably existed in all ages, but one expects to find more of them in periods of rapid and dramatic scientific advance. The term "cafeteria-style" has often been applied to Roman Catholics as well. According to journalist Cathy Lynn Grossman, a 2002 National Opinion Research sampling of the 64 million American Roman Catholics found some very surprising results. Ninety percent of them approved of abortion for some or any reason, with only 10 percent totally opposed to it. Seventy-one percent favored capital punishment; 37 percent believe that homosexuality is "not wrong at all"; 67 percent favored euthanasia (mercy killing); and 64 percent thought that birth control devices should be available to teens even if parents do not approve. (For alternative statistics on some of these issues, see table 9.2 below.) Fully 95 percent of married American Catholics practice birth control.35 These "cafeteria Catholics'' are clearly Christian but they do not accept all of the policy tenets of the Church, which, officially, has taken the hardest line on these matters. If obedience to conscience rather than dogmatically imposed rules determines the achievement of the final product of religion or spirituality in a Christian sense, Christianity may be far more ubiquitous than suggested in membership or attendance measures.36 A continued movement toward individualized Christianity and other individualized belief systems may be expected as Christian doctrine/dogma continues to conflict with ever-changing science and economic variables. Another consideration is the rapid emergence of New Age religions, some of them founded on Christian principles. This altered metaphysical vision, some of it created out of a rejection of organized religion (Christian and otherwise) and out of the emergence of science and its inability to answer ultimate questions of origin and destination, often combines elements of Western and Eastern religion and science. These highly individualized concoctions often consist of alternative visions based on Christian principles or Christian forebears (e.g., Joan of Arc, who heard "voices," or Joseph Smith, who channeled with the Angel Moroni). While they are extremely diverse and numerous,37 they repre sent an attempted bridge between emerging science and traditional forms of religion.

0 0

Post a comment