by Eliza Wood |
According to an April 2009 Pew Forum study, Americans change religious affiliation “early and often,” and they estimate that half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once.
Some of the more creative newer belief systems are set up to capitalize on the predictable fallout from traditional faith systems, such as the many “Catholic-light” places of worship, just waiting for people to drop out, then scooping up the fallen members. Divorced? No problem. Birth Control? No problem. So much so that the Catholic Church is even advertising on TV these days.
An easy way to compare what the major religions have to offer is “The Big Religion Chart.”
One can learn interesting things by looking at that chart, too. For example, who knew that there were some 23 million Sikhs as compared to the 14 million Jews, and both of those compared to some 900 million Hindus? Some religions don’t make much noise around this planet. And it appears that even celibate, possessionless religions, such as the Jains of Eastern India, somehow managed to recruit 4 million members without even a promise of immediate reward in heaven — rather a chance to try again through reincarnation.
Some religions aren’t recruiting new members now and never have. Traditionally, Judaism is supposed to turn a person away three times before allowing them to convert. Episcopalians are very welcoming but are not known for being very aggressive in their campaigning. According to one elderly Episcopalian woman I knew, “All the people who are supposed to be Episcopalian already are.” Many Hindus do not proselytize, and probably wouldn’t open up shop at the Mall of Religion. Sikhs, Quakers, Buddhists, and Muslims might not either, although it would be tempting; whereas Christian Scientists might have at least a reading room, and Evangelical Christians would line up to sign long-term leases.
In the Mall of Religion, busy people could have their own personal shoppers for religion. The central fountain could be used as a baptismal. “The Milk and Honey” food court could offer a whole range from kosher delights to hot cross buns. Mall walkers could receive a little divine inspiration from the PA system. As a convenience to shoppers, people in need of help could have their own area where charity may be given and checked off the weekly task list.
To my knowledge, no such place exists for Jews and Christians. For those peoples of God, not a whole lot of personal choice goes into the decision in the early parts of their lives, and, as problems come up, they are dealt with privately. The Internet helps with that, providing instant information and access to streaming sermons from around the world — it may be that one may choose not to practice locally but distantly, via technology.
But clearly, the numbers say that half of those Jews and Christians born into religion aren’t staying. The reasons for their departures vary. Some fallout is due to particular teachings, and some of the reasons are still poorly understood.
Belief in God has long been around, and the process for selecting a belief system that agrees with an individual has been refined to simplicity in modern times. In about five minutes one can take Beliefnet.com’s “Belief-O-Matic” quiz and narrow down one’s best personal options.
Well, these are good times we live in, when faith of all kinds is allowed to be explored and practiced, when options are open and free thought can enter the faith equation. These are times people have fought and died for, not an era to be taken for granted.
Choosing personal beliefs is a celebration we can all enjoy, a huge milestone in human progress.
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