What do American believers believe?
A study (online version) conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York reveals (no surprise here) that America's religious landscape continues to shift. USA Today reports that according to the findings, immigration, interfaith marriage, and conversion have increasingly changed the meaning of religious identity.

About one in six adults say they have switched religions at least once. Barry Kosmin, one of two lead investigators in the study, told USA Today that many view religion as a recreational choice; Changing denominations or faiths is like switching from skiing to snowboarding.

The first American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) was conducted in 1990. At the time, it found—from interviews with 113,723 adults—two large trends in American religion: solo spirituality and church-shopping consumerism. The current study—based on interviews with 50,281 people— reveals these trends have only gotten stronger.

Because of this, the number of people who said they are Catholic or Protestant has slipped. The percentage of those identifying themselves with Protestant or other non-Catholic Christian denominations is down 8 percent from the 1990 study; those saying they're Catholic is down nearly 2 percent.

Where are they going?

Some are leaving faith altogether. Twenty-three percent of those who said they now have no religion say they once did. Some don't associate with a religion, but consider themselves believers.

Others have chosen the solo spirituality path. While 81 percent claim a religious identity, the survey reports that only 54 percent said anyone in their home is affiliated with a house of worship.

The numbers of adherents to non-Christian faiths are also on the rise. Many of those surveyed identified themselves with religions such as Druid, Santeria, and Wicca, which has seen a 1,575 percent jump since 1990.

According to USA Today, a great deal of growth has been in Christian groups with "vague umbrella labels." According to the survey, evangelical/born again and ''non-denominational'' churches tend to draw four in 10 current members from converts.

'"People don't want to be bogged down in church politics," pastor Chris Bowen, of Georgia's Living Faith Tabernacle Church told USA Today. "We are coming out from underneath all those limitations. We are just here to uphold the Word of God."

A Bumbling God
Quirky contemporary interpretations of the Bible and its stories often get rave reviews, primarily for their originality. Thus any book by scholar-writers Karen Armstrong, Dom Crossan, or Jack Miles seems to be destined for best-sellerdom. But originality in interpretation (especially originality that flouts the evidence or violates the text) is not what makes a book about the Good Book a good book. Last Sunday, Michael Wood's New York Timesreview of Jack Miles's Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God boldly called the author's bluff.

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Wood questions whether Miles can really deliver what he promised: a literary reading of God as a character without turning theological. Miles's take on God as "a sleeping pragmatist who wakes one day to realize that the old promise won't work" (Wood's paraphrase) and "needs a way to fail" (Miles's phrase) is truly not about God the character but about the character of God. Thus, it is very theological.

Wood agrees with Miles that the idea that God created man in his own image is an "unmistakable invitation to make some sense of God in human terms." But Miles's unwillingness to leave any mystery to God creates a weird psychology that "tilts toward the dizzying anachronistic jokes of Woody Allen or Mel Brooks."

Miles's God is rather like the God portrayed by evangelical "open theists"—though more bumbling than even they have suggested. Miles inverts the message of the Bible: It is not that God in Jesus Christ solves the human problem. It is God who has the problem, and uses people—including Jesus—to solve his own predicament.

No word on the Burnhams
The New Tribes Mission Web site was updated yesterday to note that the Burnhams spent Christmas in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf.

Shortly before the holiday, the situation seemed to be heating up with the U.S. military pressing for action from the Philippine government and rumors of a plan to pay a ransom being paid. However, NTM reported yesterday that there has been no word on any attempts to free the couple.

More Articles:

  • Poor give more generously than the rich | Survey finds least well-off donate 4.5% of income to good causes, but not all charities are helping the most needy (The Guardian)
  • Who Brought Bernadine Healy Down? | At a moment when the Red Cross was supposed to be absorbed with ministering to a nation in crisis, it was confronting an internal crisis of its own making. (The New York Times Magazine)
  • Gifts for Afghan children | Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes arrive in Afghanistan (BBC)
  • Backlash expected for charity | Protest over Salvation Army's withdrawal of partner benefits likely won't end as kettles disappear (The Detroit News)
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Health effects of faith:
Mexico Indian moves towards canonization:
  • Pope endorses Mexico's first Indian saint | Juan Diego, a 16th century shepherd who believers say saw an apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe, will be canonized next year. (The Los Angeles Times)
  • Also: Vatican takes step toward canonizing Mexico Indian | The Vatican took a step toward declaring sainthood for indigenous Mexican Juan Diego, whose vision of the Virgin Mary in 1531 opened the way to conversion of indigenous peoples (Reuters)
  • Also: Priest linked to Franco will be made a saint | The Vatican's medical committee has recognized claims that through intercession with Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, a Spanish surgeon was healed of an incurable disease in 1992. (The Telegraph, London)

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