Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Holy Book! Does This Feel Good?

This month the Barna Research Group released the results of a recent poll concerning what books Americans consider to be “sacred/holy” texts. Their findings aren’t all that surprising when considered in light of the findings of other researchers regarding Americans and their faith, religious, and/or spiritual beliefs; namely, that while we are becoming an increasingly pluralistic society, Americans tend to cling to a “cultural” Christianity.

Barna found that only one book was considered a sacred/holy text by more than five percent of those polled – the Bible. In fact, eighty four percent included it as sacred literature (the same percentage as those identifying themselves to be Christian.) Only three other books were listed by more than one percent of respondents, with the highest being the Koran, at four percent. The other two were the Book of Mormon, at three percent, and the Torah, at two percent.

Obviously, these numbers pale in comparison to that of the Bible; but, despite their low percentages of recognition, it should not be lost on us that the “sacred” text of Islam, the Koran, is now more widely recognized as “sacred” than those associated with the Mormons (Book of Mormon) and the Jews (Torah). This is, despite the fact that Muslims represent less than one percent of the U.S. population, while Mormons and Jews are each about 2 percent of the population. Also, in addition to outnumbering Muslim adherents in America, Judaism and Mormonism predate Islam as significantly established religions in the U.S.

Without question, these findings would be vastly different, at least as regards these three texts, were the polling done in 1908. A definite shift is occurring in the religious culture of our nation.

In evaluating the data, Barna observed, “Although most American adults are only moderately committed to Christianity and to the church they attend most often, they have no inclination to embrace anything besides the Bible as sacred, especially if it originated from a different faith tradition. Christians may not know much of what’s in the Bible, but they are not at all likely to investigate the religious books of other faiths or to refer to them as holy."

This is not to say that Americans are unwilling to flirt with other religions, as evidenced by numerous polls regarding American spirituality; rather there is an unwillingness to abandon our long-held esteem for the Bible. This often results in an attempt to incorporate the Bible into, and in support of, their flirtations. (An example is Oprah Winfrey who, though having long abandoned the beliefs of Christianity, still considers the Bible to be a sacred text and often quotes from it to support a particular view.)

Two findings in Barna’s report are particularly telling regarding the “spiritual” shifts occurring in our nation. First, the poll found that adults under the age of twenty five are among those most likely to experiment with other religions. And secondly, in addition to texts that are associated with organized religious movements, such as the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism), the Talmud (Judaism), and Teachings of the Buddha (Buddhism), some respondents included in their list more moderns works, like: Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, and Quiet Strength by football coach Tony Dungy. While these books were statistically less than one-half of a percent they are reflective of the willingness of Americans to find “spiritual” truth in a great diversity of sources.

The bottom-line is, though Americans – for the most part – still identify themselves as Christians, many are merely giving a polite nod to the Bible while finding their “spiritual” truth in any number of sources, both ancient and new. Ultimately, this means that rather than holding to a belief in an objective truth, Americans are turning to a feel-good – truth is in the eye of the beholder – approach.

This is illogical when one considers that these various “sacred” texts are often in conflict with one another and thus, some of them must be wrong; and, if wrong, they cannot be classified as sacred. Unfortunately, for many today, it’s not really about finding truth but finding what makes us feel good and then labeling it as “my” truth.

We would do well to remember that the test for truth, whether it comes in a book, an organized religion, or any other source, is not whether or not it makes us feel good. In fact, maybe we need to remember that sometimes the truth hurts.

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