A new study by longtime evangelical Christian researcher George Barna finds that 94% of Americans do not hold a biblical worldview.
The study found that the most common worldview among Americans (88%) might best be termed syncretism, said Barna, describing it as a "disparate, irreconcilable collection of beliefs and behaviors that define people's lives."
Barna's American Worldview Inventory was conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, which Barna directs.
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The 2021 edition is the first of its kind to measure seven prominent worldviews: biblical theism, secular humanism, postmodernism, moralistic therapeutic deism, nihilism, Eastern Mysticism and Marxism, along with its offshoot, critical race theory.
But Barna found that no single worldview was embraced by a significant percentage of Americans.
"Syncretism is a cut-and-paste approach to making sense of life," he explained. "Rather than developing an internally consistent and philosophically coherent perspective, Americans embrace points of view or actions that feel comfortable or most convenient. Those beliefs and behaviors are often inconsistent, or even contradictory, but few Americans seemed troubled by that."
The survey found that only 2% of the public embrace secular humanism while 1% of adults embody each of postmodernism, moralistic therapeutic deism and nihilism.
And while both Marxism and Eastern Mysticism, also known as "New Age," receive considerable media coverage, less than one-half of 1% subscribe to either worldview.
The survey was based on half-hour-long personal interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults.
Barna said that a substantial proportion of adults possess a moderately high number of beliefs or behaviors that meet various worldview specifications, but not quite enough to qualify as being a true adherent of that worldview.
Based on that criteria, moral therapeutic deism is the most common, with 39% possessing a moderately high number of those beliefs or behaviors. Biblical worldview is second at 31%:
- Moralistic therapeutic deism (39%): Spiritual skeptics, LGBTQ adults, those not registered to vote, political liberals and individuals who attend a predominantly black or Catholic church are the most common adherents of this worldview.
- Biblical worldview (31%): SAGE Cons (Socially Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians), theological evangelicals, born again Christians, political conservatives and registered Republicans are the most likely to possess a biblical theism perspective.
- Secular humanism (16%): Spiritual skeptics, residents of the West, people 75 or older and political liberals dominate those who support this life perspective.
- Postmodernism (16%): Spiritual skeptics, residents of the northeastern and western states, people with a Bachelor’s degree, and political liberals are the most common adopters of postmodern beliefs and behaviors.
Barna, in his more than 25 years of studying the subject, has found that worldview in America "develops by default."
"Very few schools' curriculum focuses directly on a person’s worldview," he said. "Most adults don't even know what a worldview is, much less what the worldview alternatives are, how they differ and which one they possess. We've been shocked at how few Christian schools, as well as religious congregations, directly address worldview issues."
He said people generally "adopt worldview beliefs and behaviors that they encounter in arts and entertainment vehicles, news reports, political statements made by public leaders and through conversations and experiences with people they trust."
"Worldview is caught more than it is taught in the U.S.," he said.
A school like the one that employs him, Arizona Christian University, "where every class is intentionally and strategically taught through a biblical worldview lens, is a real aberration."
"It takes years of holistic teaching, integration of thought and behavior, and reinforcement of appropriate choices before someone is likely to develop a biblical worldview," he said.
Barna said that recent concerns about the development of a worldview by youth have been driven by the heightened ideological battles dividing the nation.
The concern is a hopeful sign, he said, while cautioning that it will be an uphill battle.
"Our studies show that Americans are neither deep nor sophisticated thinkers," he said. "We've become selfish and emotion-driven, leaving logic behind."
Promoting "a way of life that pushes us to think more clearly, consistently, and purposefully will take time and considerable effort, and will be uncomfortable."
"Most people seem more interested in living a life of comfort and convenience," he noted. "The progress will be slow, but people who are willing to fight for a more reasonable way of thinking and acting can make a difference."
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