Monday, February 25, 2008

Moving and shaking

Zip on over to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (one of my favorite interesting places to browse) for U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Lots of really interesting factoids there (who we religious -- and nonreligious -- folks are, where we are, what we are) but what chooses to focus on is all us unfaithful faithfuls, that is, all of us who started out as one religion or denomination and ended up as another.

(That's me, by the way. I started out as Roman Catholic, made a brief attempt at being a Methodist and finally got comfy in the UCC. And I do not guarantee that I will not stray in the future. Me and God, see, we have this open relationship, but God started it first!)

According to Pew, 28% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another one. And that does not even include those who switched from one Protestant denomination to another; if it did, the number would jump to 44%. Says Greg Smith, one of the main researchers for the "Landscape" data, churn applies across the board. "There's no group that is simply winning or simply losing," he says. "Nothing is static. Every group is simultaneously winning and losing."

Or is that like futbol, where a draw means there's no losers, but there's no winners?

Anyway, does that mean that religion is like a house, you trade up whenever you need more space? Like marriage, you trade spouses when you get tired of feeling unloved? Would church/temple/mosque/synagogue-hopping bring us to a closer understanding of diversity, since we've all come from somewhere and we know what it's like across that line? Or is it like our teenage years, where when we become parents we immediately forget what our hormones were doing and all the drinking we did, as we admonish our children to say no to sex AND drugs (but rock'n'roll, which has become corporate pop, is OK now) -- that is, we immediately reject what we used to do in order to cling to what we have now?

Speaking of that, this weekend (as I said earlier, while I was skipping church in favor of reading textbooks at the bookstore) I browsed through a book called Choosing Your Faith (In a World of Spiritual Options) by Mark Mittelberg. I grabbed it off the table because I had this theory about where it was going to end up and I was hoping to be disappointed.

Mittelberg lays out the case for making a reasoned, conscious choice for be a part of the faith tradition you're in, which is not a bad thing and is, in fact, a good thing. Which is not to say that being a part of your faith tradition because you were raised in it is a bad thing, either. There's a lot to that, such as family ties, culture, psychic and spiritual comfort, which are all part of being human. Still, though, choice is nice (but very American, don't you think?). But, alas, the book did NOT disappoint me, because -- surprise, surprise -- the faith that Mittelberg is trying to lead his readers to "choose" is Christianity, particularly evangelical apologist Christianity. The title made me hopeful that maybe the idea was "I'm a Christian, it works for me, but here are arguments on why rationally choosing your faith is a good thing, regardless of what you choose." No, instead it was "Don't be X-brand of Christian because you were born that way, be my brand of Christian because mine is the only logical one!"

Ugh. Choice means just that -- choice. Not validating someone's decision and instead pushing what you want on someone hovers between persuasion and bullying. We get enough of that in politics, why bring it into faith?

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