Most Americans Pick and Choose Religious Beliefs

The majority of American adults pick and choose their religious beliefs to create, in essence, a "customized" religion rather than adopting the set of beliefs taught by a particular church, a new study found.

By a three to one margin (71 percent to 26 percent), Americans say they are more likely to personally develop their own set of religious beliefs than accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a church or denomination, a Barna study, released Monday, shows.

Among those who describe themselves as Christians, for instance, nearly half believe that Satan does not exist, one-third say that Jesus sinned when He was on earth, two-fifths say they do not have a responsibility to share the Gospel with others, and one-quarter dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings – beliefs that are contrary to most church teachings.

George Barna, founder of The Barna Group, commented on the findings saying that a growing number of people are serving as their own "theologian-in-residence," resulting in Americans embracing an "unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs."

He pointed out that millions of people who consider themselves as Christians who believe the Bible is totally accurate in all its teaching also contend at the same time that Jesus Christ sinned.

Others, the researcher noted, say they believe they will receive eternal salvation because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior, but they also believe that a person can do enough good works to earn eternal salvation.

Americans today, Barna observed, are "more likely to pit a variety of non-Christian options against various Christian-based views."

"This has resulted in an abundance of unique worldviews based on personal combinations of theology drawn from a smattering of world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam as well as secularism," he said.

Leading the pack of pick and choose your religious beliefs are people under the age of 25. More than four out of five (82 percent) of them say they develop their own combination of beliefs rather than adopt a set offered by a church.

Born-again Christians were among the groups least likely to adopt an a la carte approach to religious beliefs, but even most in this group say they have mixed their set of beliefs (61 percent).

In other words, the Barna survey's findings show that people no longer look to denominations or churches for a complete set of theological views. Rather, combining beliefs from different denominations, and even religions, is becoming the norm.

Another finding in the survey is that Christianity is no longer viewed as the default religion in America. More than 50 percent of the adult respondents say that Christianity is no longer the faith that Americans automatically accept as their personal faith.

Previously, many assumed that if one was born in America than one would automatically be affiliated with the Christian faith.

Evangelical Christians (64 percent) and Hispanics (60 percent) were the strongest supporters of the idea that Christianity is no longer the automatic religion of Americans. Residents in the Northeast and West were also more likely than those living in the South and Mideast to say that Christianity has lost its place as the first faith option people consider.

A slight majority of political conservatives, however, still believe Christianity remains the natural choice of most Americans.

Despite the changes and shift in religious beliefs, an overwhelming portion of Americans still say religious faith is an important source of personal moral guidance. Nearly three out of four (74 percent) American adults say their faith influences their moral judgments.

The report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group with a random sample of 1,004 adults selected from across the United States, ages 18 and older, in August 2008.

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