News flash! Mushy faith on the rise

jesuskrishnaHey! Here's a shout out of praise for nonNewsweek! Yes, you read that right.

Not only are a few GetReligion readers still flipping through nonNewsweek, some continue to send us URLs seeking comment on what is published there. That's how I discovered that columnist Lisa Miller has spotted the hot news story that, when it comes to beliefs about salvation, Universalism is gaining ground in the mushy middle of the American marketplace of ideas. I am sure that this shocks you.

Thus, in the mini-feature "We Are All Hindus Now," she writes that, while 76 percent of Americans still call themselves Christians, there are changes taking place down in the doctrinal foundations:

... (Recent) poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."

Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life" -- including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone.

Paging James Davison Hunter! It seems that Miller may have read your book "Evangelicals: The Coming Generation" -- written more than two decades ago. One of its major themes was that doctrinal absolutes were fading among young evangelicals, including on the pivotal issue of salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ, alone.

Then there was that whole "New Age" thing. Wait, that was two decades ago, too.

Oh well, whatever, nevermind.

The Miller report is, in fact, a collection of poll results from recent years with -- unless I missed it -- no news hook whatsoever. Perhaps this is simply a statement of core, creedal principles of the new nonNewsweek? Another way of establishing its identity as part of the "spiritual, not religious" age? A tract to hand out at Woodstock reunions?

The final paragraph does include a subject worthy of an interesting story, even a cover report (then again, I am interested in religion news). The art for this story would be sobering, to say the least, but there you go:

Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the "self," and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit -- where identity resides -- escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies.

So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we're burning them -- like Hindus -- after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, up from 6 percent in 1975.

Meanwhile, I would like to remind GetReligion readers that I totally agree with Miller that this is a crucial issue in this day and age, a doctrinal matter that looms in the background of many other stories that make headlines week after week. I mean, remember the "tmatt trio"? For several years now, I have argued that if mainstream reporters want to find the fault lines in Christian churches and denominations, all they need to do is ask these questions and then listen carefully to the answers:

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

These questions remain relevant. Ask the Anglicans. Ask the Lutherans. Ask just about anyone, in fact.

Please respect our Commenting Policy