aka "Salad-bar Religion." Denotes the trend where people pick and choose religious beliefs, doctrines and practices - mixing and matching them much as they would select food in a cafeteria. A prime example of a cafeteria religion is the "church-free spirituality" promoted by Oprah Winfrey
A number of publishers refer to the phenomenon as "private spirituality." It is also described as "spirituality without religion
That said, this eclectic
approach is not just popular among non-Christians, but also among people who consider themselves to be Christians
. More often than not, the latter do not know how to discern orthodoxy from heresy
Many, but by no means all, who take this approach are also religious pluralists
"It's an eclectic approach,"
said Lynn Garrett, who tracks religious books for Publishers Weekly. "People borrow ideas from different traditions, then add them to whatever religion they're used to. But they don't want anything to do with organized religion."
Americans write their own Bible. They fashion their own God, then talk incessantly with Him. (Think here of President Clinton's possessive pronoun: It's between me, my wife and "our" God.) More often than not, the God they choose is more like a best friend who has endless time for their needs, no matter how trivial.
Scholars call this "domesticating God," turning him into a social planner, therapist or guardian angel.
"We've trivialized God," said Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist and popular author. "Most of these books assume God is the butler who serves you for one reason," he says of the list of current bestsellers. "To give you a happy life. We've turned Him into a divine Prozac."
A buoyant atmosphere marked the first national gathering of confessing movements from 12 mainline denominations in Indianapolis. The term, confessing, in this context has been taken from Protestantism's powerful statements of faith since the 16th-century Reformation. "This was a conference of the future Church," Diane Knippers, President of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, told United Press International. "This has been a stunning step forward."
"For years, we have struggled with the modernists, those sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, marked by rationalism and materialism, dismissive of miracles and alienated from the Transcendent," she went on.
"Let's not waste too much time and energy combating worn-out and unappealing modernist heresies," Knippers urged the nearly 700 delegates. "We face new, insidious challenges. In a post-modern era, the problem may not be unbelief but too much belief.
Theologian Donna Hailson calls it cafeteria religion, in which people create their own religion piecemeal out of the beliefs and practices of a global cornucopia of options. Here the radical feminist theologians lead the way—mixing Wiccan ceremonies, Eastern healing rituals, erotic litanies, drums and chants invoking ancestors, and even some old camp-meeting hymns, all in an intoxicating poisonous brew.
"Theology matters, indeed, now more than ever," adds Hailson.
Theology matters. This was the cantus firmus of this conference organized by the Association for Church Renewal, which resolved not to abandon the troubled mainline churches. Theology matters especially in a situation where abstruse teachings have triggered a stunning decline of mainline churches in the last 10 years.
"We've trivialized God," said Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist and popular author. "...God is the butler who serves you for one reason: to give you a happy life. We've turned Him into a divine Prozac."
The problem with this approach is obvious to any who believes in absolute truth. If you believe in absolute, objective reality -- a reality in which one thing is always true, and everything else false -- your religious beliefs aren't just a statement of your individuality, nor a statement of opinion, but rather, your religion -- a coherent statement of faith as to what you believe to be true. When your beliefs are pretty much made up as you go along, where does truth come in? When you are the only person who believes in your specific statement of faith, where does god come in? Why are you such a prophet that you're able to divine the true nature of the universe when everyone else has failed (and they had to have failed for you to be right), not by divine revelation, but by your own open-ended decision-making process? And yet, in order to hold to this philosophy of religious pluralism, you still need to have room for "tolerance" of other beliefs, which others came at through the same method as you, as stand just as much chance at being right as yours -- which is to say, only as a matter of chance.