Author and pollster George Barna is not exactly thrilled by the trends he's seeing.
In fact, he is sounding an alarm by asserting that the United States is standing at "the precipice of self-annihilation."
There's only one way to avoid a tragic demise, Mr. Barna believes, and that is to "recover the values that made this nation great and that must be firmly in place for order, reason, and unity to prevail."
The Ventura, Calif.-based researcher outlined his views of America's downward spiral and offered his ideas for restoration in his 44th and latest book, The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter, published this month by Tyndale House.
The book identifies seven "faith tribes," reviews their beliefs and lifestyles, identifies their shared values, and seeks ways to motivate the groups to work together to reverse America's decline.
Mr. Barna believes the faith tribes must uphold their values in key aspects of life and society, including family, leadership, and the media.
"Over the past 30 years or so that I have been doing research, you keep investigating different aspects of what's going on in our culture and you learn something with every study that you do," Mr. Barna, 54, said in an interview with The Blade this week. "After a while you begin to see patterns, you begin to see trends, you begin to see signs of what may be coming in the future that are rather ominous.
"And this book is the result of that kind of long-term activity, where even though some of the research is very recent, it does build on lessons that were gained from earlier studies."
When it became apparent that the United States was "really struggling," he said, his research led him to focus on ways that could lead to "radical shifts" in behavior.
"As somebody who engages in strategic research, you try to figure out what are the trigger points and what are some of the solutions to those issues that you're looking at," he said.
It was then that he began to see the "faith tribes," which he describes as "Casual Christians," "Captive Christians," "American Jews," "Mormons," "Pantheists," "Muslims," and "Skeptics."
Some of the labels cross over traditional boundaries.
Casual Christians are the largest group by far, comprising 66 percent of the U.S. adult population - 150 million out of the total of 225 million.
These are people who are spiritually "middle of the road," moderately active, and theologically nominal Christians.
There are about 36 million Captive Christians, or 16 percent of the population, Mr. Barna said. The group "most closely resembles what the media would probably refer to as evangelicals."
Jews and Mormons each make up 2 percent of the population. Pantheists, which include Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, New Age adherents, and a wide range of faith groups, make up 1.5 percent of the population.
Muslims are less than 1 percent of the adult population, while the fastest-growing faith tribe is the Spiritual Skeptics, which includes agnostics and atheists. That group makes up 11 percent of the population - nearly double the size from 25 years ago.
When it comes to the Christian tribes, Mr. Barna does not toss denominations into the different categories.
"What we're finding is that belonging to a denomination has less and less relationship with what you believe and how you practice your faith," he said.
There are Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, or members of any Christian denomination in both the Casual and Captive tribes, he said.
Describing himself as a Captive Christian, Mr. Barna said the diverse faith groups must learn to work together based on their shared values, and not try to convert others to their own faith.
"The tribes will describe these shared values in different ways, but when you wade through all the different terminology and contextualization, what you find out is, 'Wow, we've really got a lot in common.' Why is that? I think it's because these are things that serve the best interests of humanity."
One area in which tribes can transform American society is in leadership, Mr. Barna said, adding that religious, business, and family leadership is more critical than political leadership.
"Political leadership gets most of the press, but I would say there are other forms of leadership that might be more important, because political leaders tend to be more reactive. They tend to take a lot of their cues from people whom they allegedly are serving," he said.
He sees a connection between the nation's current economic downturn and the downward spiral of morality.
"What happened is it kind of fed on itself and became a mentality of entitlement where we believed that we deserve this, we should have it, everything was our right and we didn't really have responsibilities. Those were for other people to worry about. Before you know it, everything was an utter mess. The fact that we have this window of opportunity is really to our advantage. A little bit of pain in the short term, but potential healing for the long term."
He called for the media to "have a conscience" and not play to people's worst interests.
"I've been doing a lot of research on what influences people to think what they think and do what they do, and what we've discovered is that the media are cumulatively the most influential element in people's lives - much more influential than everything else combined," Mr. Barna said.
"So OK, the nation's in a mess. How did it get in a mess? Part of it has to go back to the messages that the media continually feed the people."
He believes that if the seven faith tribes assert themselves and promote their shared values, the United States will reverse the recent decades of "cultural chaos and disintegration."
- David Yonke
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