By Helen T. Gray
Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010
Americans hold a hodgepodge of religious beliefs and practices.
Most (82 percent) of American adults believe in God, according to a recent Harris Poll.
And large numbers believe in miracles (76 percent), heaven (75 percent), that Jesus is God or the son of God (73 percent), in angels (72 percent), the survival of the soul after death (71 percent) and that Jesus was resurrected (70 percent).
But also, 42 percent believe in ghosts, 32 percent in UFOs, 26 percent in astrology, 23 percent in witches and 20 percent in reincarnation.
A recent Pew Forum poll that focused more on religious practices and experiences revealed that "large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, blending elements of diverse traditions." Many blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs.
The polls are a further indication of a continuing trend of organized religion losing its grip and a growing popularity of spirituality, said Tim Miller, professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas.
"There has been a decline in institutional religion, but at the same time independent spiritual experiences are going up," he said. "So there is a shift from classic institutional religion into a more diverse and sometimes nebulous spiritual outlook."
A contributing factor is the tremendous explosion of communications technology that enables a vast flow of ideas, he said.
"We used to have a few institutions generally accepted as authoritative," Miller said. "Now when you look at the Internet, you have thousands of people who claim to have authoritative information, so people can read an abundance of different viewpoints.
"And people pick a little of this and a little of that and put together their own points of view. People can convince themselves of practically anything, and they fit things together for themselves."
Also, he said, it has become more acceptable to adopt unconventional beliefs.
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