US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Practicing (not just) Catholic

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The choices in line for the "cafeteria Catholic" have expanded in recent years. Instead of simply choosing the pieces of Catholicism that they like, Catholics can--and do, according to a recent study--choose what they like from any number of faith traditions.

A Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll found that six in 10 Americans blend practices and beliefs from a variety of traditions, including New Age spirituality.

That's the highlight reported by ABC News. While it's significant that a quarter of Americans (and Catholics) hold Eastern or New Age beliefs, the people highlighted by ABC--who have really blended their faiths--aren't exactly representative.

Nineteen percent of Catholics attend services in different faiths (other than for special occasions), significantly less than the total population. The people most committed to going to church (at least once a week) are less likely to stray from their home church than those who attend monthly or annually. Finally, when both Protestants and Catholics say they attend a service of another faith, they most often mean they attended a Protestant service.

This study reminds me of Huston Smith's autobiography, Tales of Wonder. Smith brought The World's Religions to Americans in his book by that name. His publishers have pushed the book as "a story of uncanny synchronicity," seeing as Smith has been at so many important events and met so many important people in his 90 years.

But what most fascinated me about Smith was the way he learned about other religions. This son of a Methodist missionary practiced Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism for 10 years each without giving up his own faith and practice as a Christian. He went far beyond the dialogue of interfaith relations to experience the "other."

The ABC story had me thinking that Americans were beyond interfaith dialogue, but a closer look at the numbers reveals that we have a long way to go before achieving such understanding across religions. I doubt those who visit other churches study the actual beliefs and practices as carefully as Smith did.  

As with Smith and Karen Armstrong, my own study and experience of other faiths has brought be back to my own.

How about you? Have you visited the services of other faiths? Has family led you to celebrating Christmas at a Protestant church? When you're there, do you feel that you're worshiping the same God or do you feel that someting is lacking (or perhaps both)?

Do you study other faiths outside of Christianity? Have eastern traditions such as yoga or new age spirituality been incorporated into your own faith life?