Cafeteria Religion

Barna has come out with another survey, showing that Americans are more prone than ever to just make up their own religion. Ed Stetzer also comments on it. Here’s my preliminary thoughts.

Our culture has divided so much between “liberal” and “conservative” political options. Sometimes we miss the reality that both of these (as they currently exist) are variants on the broader liberal tradition flowing out of the Enlightenment. The emphasis in the Enlightenment – and in our political system is on individual freedom. The folks we call “liberals” and those we call “conservatives” are agree that maximizing personal freedom is what we ought to do, they simply differ on their areas of emphasis.

Given the centrality of personal freedom, a Christianity that tries to claim or enforce particular limits on what counts as “true religion,” or even simply “Christianity” is usually incomprehensible at best, seen as evil at worst.

In this context there is a temptation to seek out a kind of Jesus-following that has no necessary connection to institutions. But I don’t see such a disembodied Christianity as the real thing- or even possible. Surely our institutions and institutionalizing practices have not served us well, but If we go to the opposite extreme, we’re simple giving in to the modern commitment to individualism, albeit occasionally with a Christian veneer.

We’ve known at least since Habits of the Heart that cafeteria style religion (Bellah’s Sheila-ism) is common in America. The latest stats just show its increasing dominance.

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3 Responses to Cafeteria Religion

  1. Steve says:

    Well said. Great summary of modern religion via the Enlightenment.

  2. Pingback: American Religion « everyday theology

  3. joan says:

    I skimmed a philosophy book, (10 Philosophy Mistakes)
    that said that one philosophical mistake can be thinking that one’s definition of a particular word is the same as what another was thinking when they used the same word. That got me to thinking that when Jesus and Paul used the word “freedom” , they were referring to us being free of the “power of sin” to cause us to sin, not our physical freedom to pursue our life and goals unabated as is implied by the Declaration of Indepence.

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