Many Americans Are Religiously Mixed Up

Wha?The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just released a new survey today. I've given it a quick persusal and I have to say, while some of it is interesting, most of it doesn't surprise me. Apparently large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices. Stuff you'd think would cancel each other out, but they handle the cognitive dissonance without hesitation.

For example, many blend christianity with Eastern or new age philosophies such as reincarnation, astrology and the belief in spiritual energy in physical objects. Sizeable minorities in all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.

A third of Americans attend different religious services. Personally I find this amazing. When I studied different religions, I lost my faith in all of them pretty quickly because they sort of canceled each other out. Instead 35% of Americans seem to handle the conflicting faiths and stories just fine.

24% of Americans and 22% of christians, specifically, believe in astrology and 15% have consulted a fortuneteller or psychic. Damn, I'm in the wrong business.

Nearly half (49%) of the public says they've had a religious or mystical experience, defined as a "moment of sudden religious insight or awakening."

This is interesting but not surprising. About 1/4 of adults express belief in tenets of certain Eastern religions: 24% believe in reincarnation, 23% believe in yoga as a spiritual practice. 26% believe in spiritual energy located in physical things such as mountains, trees or crystals and 25% believe in astrology. About 16% believe in the 'evil eye' or that certain people can curse or cast spells that cause bad things to happen to someone.

multiplefaithslarge"Compared with other religious traditions, white evangelical Protestants consistently express lower levels of acceptance of both Eastern beliefs (reincarnation, yoga) and New Age beliefs (spiritual energy in physical things and astrology). For example, roughly one-in-ten white evangelicals believes in reincarnation, compared with 24% among mainline Protestants, 25% among both white Catholics and those unaffiliated with any religion, and 29% among black Protestants. Similarly, 13% of white evangelicals believe in astrology, compared with roughly one-quarter or more among other religious traditions. There are few differences among religious traditions in belief in the "evil eye," though black Protestants stand out for high levels of belief on this question (32%)."

"Among Protestants, high levels of religious commitment are associated with lower levels of acceptance of Eastern or New Age beliefs. Among both evangelical and mainline Protestants, those who attend church weekly express much lower levels of belief in reincarnation, yoga, the existence of spiritual energy in physical things and astrology compared with those who attend religious services less often. Among Catholics, by contrast, frequency of church attendance is linked much less closely with these kinds of beliefs, although those who attend less often do express higher levels of belief in astrology compared with weekly attenders."

supernatural-experiences"Hispanics are more likely than whites to believe in yoga, spiritual energy in physical objects, astrology and the evil eye, and blacks are more likely than whites to believe in reincarnation and the evil eye. Older people (those over age 65) consistently express lower levels of acceptance of these kinds of beliefs compared with younger people. These beliefs are more common among Democrats and independents than Republicans and are more widely held by liberals and moderates than conservatives. The difference between liberals and conservatives is especially pronounced on the question of belief in yoga as a spiritual practice; nearly four-in-ten liberals express this belief (39%), compared with 15% of conservatives."

29% of Americans say they've felt in touch with someone who has died. 18% have been in the presence of a ghost and 15% have consulted a psychic or fortuneteller.

"Evangelical Protestants are the group least likely to say they have felt in touch with a dead person (20%). Members of other religious traditions are much more familiar with this type of phenomenon, with 37% of black Protestants, 35% of white Catholics, 31% of the unaffiliated and 29% of white mainline Protestants saying they have felt in touch with someone who has died. Differences between evangelicals and other religious traditions are smaller on the questions of ghostly experiences and consultations with fortunetellers."

mystical-experienceWomen report being in touch with a dead person more than men. Women are also more than twice as likely to have consulted a psychic or fortuneteller. (20% vs 10%) Interestingly, a college education doesn't stop people from consulting a psychic. (13% for the less educated, 17% for those with a college education). Conservatives and Republicans report fewer of these experiences than Liberals or Democrats though.

"In total, upwards of six-in-ten adults (65%) express belief in or report having experience with at least one of these diverse supernatural phenomena (belief in reincarnation, belief in spiritual energy located in physical things, belief in yoga as spiritual practice, belief in the "evil eye," belief in astrology, having been in touch with the dead, consulting a psychic, or experiencing a ghostly encounter). This includes roughly one-quarter of the population (23%) who report having only one of these beliefs or experiences. More than four-in-ten people (43%) answer two or more of these items affirmatively, including 25% who answer two or three of these items affirmatively and nearly one-in-five (18%) who answer yes to four or more. Roughly one-third of the public (35%) answers no to all eight items."

"With the exception of white evangelicals, majorities of all major religious traditions report holding at least one of these beliefs or having experienced one of these phenomena. In fact, roughly half of black Protestants (50%), the religiously unaffiliated (48%) and Catholics (47%) answer yes to two or more of these items, as do 43% of white mainline Protestants. A slim majority of white evangelicals (53%) answer no to all eight questions, while 47% indicate belief or familiarity with at least one of these items. Among white evangelicals and white mainline Protestants, higher levels of religious commitment (as measured by frequency of church attendance) are associated with lower levels of belief in these phenomena and familiarity with these experiences."

new-age"Among the unaffiliated, three-in-ten have had a religious or mystical experience. This is lower than nearly any other religious segment of the population but is still a higher proportion than among the general public in 1962 (22%). These kinds of experiences are particularly common among the "religious unaffiliated" (i.e., those who describe their religion as "nothing in particular" and say that religion is at least somewhat important in their lives), among whom 51% have had a religious or mystical experience. Among self-described atheists, agnostics and the "secular unaffiliated" (i.e., those who describe their religion as "nothing in particular" and say that religion is not important in their lives), roughly one-in-five (18%) say they have had this kind of experience."

"Mystical or religious experiences are most common among people who regularly attend religious services. More than six-in-ten of those who attend weekly say they have had this kind of experience (61%), compared with half of those who attend monthly or yearly (48%) and just one-third of those who seldom or never attend religious services (33%)."

demographics"Blacks are much more likely than whites or Hispanics (69%, 47% and 44%, respectively) to report religious or mystical experiences. More than half (55%) of baby boomers (age 50-64) identify with such experiences, compared with fewer young adults and seniors (43% each)."

"There is little difference along party lines on this question. Roughly half of Republicans, Democrats and independents say they have had a religious or mystical experience. More than half of conservatives (55%) claim to have had such experiences, similar to the number of liberals who have had these kinds of experiences (50%) and much higher than among moderates (43%)."


Now, as with all surveys, this was just a small, diverse sampling of the public. 4,013 adults to be exact. So keep that in mind.


I guess what I find disturbing is how many diverse and conflicting beliefs these people walk around with. That's called cognitive dissonance (anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs or the like).  Only I guess it's not when it doesn't register in the conscience.


Are the masses of people who populate America this unconscious? This unaware of what they believe? How terrifying is that?


The sad thing is, this isn't shocking. I mean, just look at what is on offer for TV these days. Ghost Hunter, anyone?


Mindless drivel spoonfed to self-absorbed, willfully ignorant narcissists.

Well, here's a lolcat to cheer you up!


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