Christianity is commonly held to be the predominate religion in the United States. According to the Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA), 82.3 percent of Americans identify themselves as being Christian. The next largest group is Agnostics and Atheists at 11.6 percent.
However, when surveys are made that collect religious data, the pollsters never drill down to find out how religious the respondent really is. As it turns out, most people who identify themselves as a particular religion may not actually adhere to the tenets of their self-proclaimed belief.
In April 2003 the Barna Research Group did ask the deeper questions and determined that only 4 percent of American teenagers are “Bible believing” Christians.
Despite the fact that the percentage of teen Christians in the U.S. is close to that of the national average, Barna was able to come up with just 4 percent because, although many more teens identified themselves as Christians, they didn’t follow the tenets of Christianity.
The conclusion is that the vast majority of Christians do not follow Biblical law and other rules in order to ensure their salvation, or generally be a good Christian in the eyes of God.
This is an example of societal norms eroding religious doctrine. It’s not just Christianity that is affected either. The erosion can clearly be seen in American Islamic and Hindu (Brahmanist) communities as well.
Simple Biblical laws are broken by virtually everyone. Men who cheat on their wives aren’t stoned to death, and no one looks at the tag to check that their clothing isn’t made of two or more kinds of fibers. Mormons, who aren’t supposed to drink coffee or beer often do. Sen. John Kerry, who is a practicing Catholic, was famously denied communion for his belief in a woman’s right to choose. American Muslims seldom find themselves in a position to pray at the required times.
Western culture is simply not compatible religious doctrine.
So, who are all of these Christians identifying themselves as such but they really aren’t? They’re part of a growing group of society; the Egonovists.
The concept of fairness in America has been a moral driving force at every major point in history, from the Revolution, to the Civil War, both World Wars, the civil rights movement, and even in Iraq, and everything in between. Unfair punishments and nonsensical crimes don’t make sense in the mind of the average westerner, so they ignore them, and in the process, they become an Egonovist.
Egonovism is the belief in a god and/or a religious structure that is not determined by holy text, organized religion, or religious leaders. It is the Egonovists themselves who determine the religious doctrine. Essentially, they make up the rules, and they decide how to follow them. It is likely that a statistically large number of self-identified Christians fall into the Egonovism category.
They may not even be aware of it, but they’ve reconstructed Christian doctrine in a way that makes sense to them. Ignoring some parts deemed bad or irrelevant, embracing other areas containing relevant wisdom, and then filling in the blanks with their own ideas. It’s not just Christians who do this; people from every major religion living in Western society do the same thing.
What is Egonovism?
The term “Egonovism” comes from the latin “ego,” meaning self, and “novo” to make new, rewrite, or invent. And it fits perfectly. The individual develops their own personal religions system and borrows ideas from established religions that they’re familiar with. Many Egonovists include the Christ figure in their religion, and hence they self-identify as Christians.
To better understand the concept, I sat down to interview an Egonovist who identified her religious preference as “Christian/Other.” She agreed to allow her age and location to be published, but not her real name. We’ll call her Sally Jones. She’s 28 years old from Phoenix, Arizona.
Rev. Rob Times (RRT): Describe for me how you define your religious belief of “Christian/Other.”
Sally Jones (SJ): Well, I really believe that all of gods known to man are the same god, just that he isn’t active in our lives today.
RRT: What is the virtue of believing in a god who you don’t feel is willing to intervene?
SJ: Well, what if I don’t believe and there’s an afterlife, and I don’t get in for not believing in him?
RRT: You understand that in every major religion, let’s take the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for example, you have to make certain sacrifices and believe specific things to get into the “good” version of the afterlife.
SJ: Well, I believe they’re all one god, and as long as I’m a good person and I believe then he’ll help me get into the afterlife. I’ll be allowed in.
RRT: Is the point of the god to simply create the universe and then preside over the afterlife then?
SJ: I believe in science, and I think that science and god don’t need to be in any kind of conflict…
RRT: So, you believe in human evolution and the big bang theory?
SJ: Yes, but I also believe that he (god) had a guiding hand in that process, and just wants us to be good people now.
RRT: If you don’t believe that the god you describe created the universe or all life in it, then why is he worth believing in?
JS: Because to me it’s better to have faith in something than noting.
RRT: Thank you for your time.
The Rev. Rob Times had conversations with twenty other Egonovists, ten of whom described themselves as Christians, three identified themselves as Mormon, one Muslim, two agnostics, and the remaining four classified themselves as simply “other.” Even in the case of the “others,” their religious beliefs are mostly constructed on Judeo-Christian religious concepts, because those are what they’re more familiar with.
Surprisingly, of the 21 people interviewed, most of them held the same, near-identical beliefs. A system where there is a god, who is not actively interfering in human lives, who oversees an afterlife, and will admit all who are good people.
Eighteen of the respondents indicated that god used known scientific theories, such as evolution and the big bang, as tools to create the life and the universe. The remaining respondents believed that the universe already existed through natural causes.
The idea that god will let people into the afterlife if they are essentially good people” is a reflection of fairness concepts from Western society. After all, it doesn’t sound fair for someone to be a good person only to suffer for not having accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savoir.
Furthermore, it’s telling that the concept of an afterlife is universal in Egonovistic beliefs. Like all humans, Egonovists are aware of their own mortality and desire an afterlife that’s better than the current world, one where deceased relatives await them, and one where they can await the arrival of those whom they left behind.
The Egonovist Scale
We have discovered that there are varying degrees of Egonovism as illustrated by the chart below. (The comparison is made to Christianity only because that is the predominate religion in the United States. The term “Christian” can be easily replaced with “Muslim” or any other religion.)
As the chart indicates, the number of actual Christians (position 1 on the chart) in the United States may be significantly less than the number of people who merely self-identify as being Christians (positions 3 and 4 on the chart). Some position 1 Christians even argue that position 2 Christians aren’t true Christians at all.
Unfortunately, without a proper national survey the likes of which have only ever been conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, and one with accurate scientific questions, we’ll never know the difference between the numbers of people in the United States who follow their religion’s doctrine and those who are in actuality Egonovists.
As the country becomes more diverse, more educated, more connected to other cultures through the internet, and as religious leaders abandon en masse doctrines that are not compatible with Western idealism, more and more “religious” people are becoming true Egonovists every day, no matter if they personally chose to identify as a Christian, Muslim, Mormon, or as just “other.”