CBS’s Teichner: Americans Abandoning Organized Religion for ‘Spirituality’

Martha Teichner, CBS Reporting the lead story on CBS’s Sunday Morning, correspondent Martha Teichner touted a new on-line poll conducted by Parade magazine about religion in America: “nearly a quarter of the respondents call themselves spiritual, not religious. And how about this? Half the people polled say they seldom, if ever, attend religious services.”

One supposed religious expert Teichner spoke with about the poll findings was Barnard College professor and Episcopal priest Randall Balmer, who argued: “And so you have all these religious options out there and we Americans are good consumers.” Teichner asked: “So you’re saying that Americans choose their faith or their spirituality in very much the way they shop a mall.” Balmer replied: “I think they do.” In 2006, Balmer wrote Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.

The Parade magazine cover story about the poll was written by Christine Wicker, author of The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. In addition, Wicker is also a contributing writer for the left-wing blog The Huffington Post. Just days prior to the 2008 presidential election, Wicker authored a post entitled “Evangelical Leaders Using God Like a Hired Gun,” in which she claimed: “They tried branding Obama the anti-Christ. They tried linking him with Islamic terrorists....They’ve used their pulpits to endorse McCain...None of these tactics has brought their errant minions under control. So using God like a hired gun to terrorize the town’s people, the evangelical Christian mullahs are declaring that Obamageddon is at hand.”

Teichner went on to discuss faith in America with TV psychic John Edward: “Edward sees no conflict between his own Catholic upbringing and what he calls his gift. Even if in this century the Church does.” Edward ranted against organized religion: “Major organized religion has failed people by not evolving with the society and becoming more open to the reality of things, and trying to hold tight to the dogma of fire and brimstone and control and fear. That’s going to be the downfall of church.”

Picking up on Edward’s condemnation, Teichner next turned to a woman who abandoned her faith all together: “Carlene Bauer was deeply unhappy in the Evangelical churches of her childhood. She became a Catholic, but then, after 9/11, left the Catholic Church, too.” Bauer explained her atheism: “I guess when you grow up thinking that God is the cause of nearly everything, it’s hard to think how could he have let this happen. I’m not listening to God anymore. It’s okay if I walk away.”

The only person featured in the story who did not display open hostility toward religion was a Rabbi at the very end, who only truly appreciated Judaism after she learned yoga: “Rabbi Sigal Brier is the opposite, religion found by way of yoga. Growing up, her Judaism was more a fact of life than the calling yoga became....Instead of leading her away from her traditional faith, yoga is how she happened to become a rabbi.”

Here is a partial transcript of the segment:
9:00AM TEASE:

CHARLES OSGOOD: That today is the Sabbath is a matter of faith for Christians, just as Saturday is the day observed by Jews and Friday is the day of worship for Muslims. That doesn’t begin to suggest the diversity of faith in this country. Martha Teichner will be exploring that terrain in our Sunday Morning cover story.

RANDALL BALMER: And so you have all these religious options out there and we Americans are good consumers.

MARTHA TEICHNER: So you’re saying that Americans choose their faith or their spirituality in very much the way they shop a mall.

RANDALL BALMER: I think they do.

MARTHA TEICHNER: Startling? A new survey of faith in America in today’s Parade magazine found that nearly a quarter of the respondents call themselves spiritual, not religious. And how about this? Half the people polled say they seldom, if ever, attend religious services. Later this Sunday Morning, a barometer of belief.

....

9:08AM SEGMENT:

MARTHA TEICHNER: According to the Parade Magazine poll, nearly six out of ten respondents believe that all religions have validity, and nearly two-thirds expect to connect with dead loved ones when they themselves die. So the fact that seances were held in the White House after the Lincolns lost two of their sons doesn’t seem quite so bizarre, or that the Ouija Board Parker Brothers sells as a toy was the patented version of home-made ‘talking boards,’ nineteenth century spiritualists used, supposedly to contact the beyond. The online Parade Magazine poll found that nearly one in five respondents claim they’ve actually had contact with the dead.

JOHN EDWARD: Somebody’s claiming they were buried with gum. Somebody was buried with gum. You buried somebody with chewing gum?

MARTHA TEICHNER: It should come as no surprise then that just about that same number, one in five of those polled, watches someone like well-known psychic medium John Edward on television.

JOHN EDWARD: Alright. Would this be like a father figure to you?

WOMAN: It’s my dad.

JOHN EDWARD: Okay. And do you still see his assistant?

WOMAN: Yes.

JOHN EDWARD: He wants you to tease her like ‘what she couldn’t spare a few more slices or like – like I couldn’t have the whole pack?’

MARTHA TEICHNER: Edward sees no conflict between his own Catholic upbringing and what he calls his gift. Even if in this century the Church does.

JOHN EDWARD: Major organized religion has failed people by not evolving with the society and becoming more open to the reality of things, and trying to hold tight to the dogma of fire and brimstone and control and fear. That’s going to be the downfall of church.

CARLENE BAUER: You got the sense that anything that didn’t have anything to do with church was bad and would corrupt you, and I knew that Jesus – that wasn’t Jesus as much as it was the churches I had grown up in.

MARTHA TEICHNER: Carlene Bauer was deeply unhappy in the Evangelical churches of her childhood. She became a Catholic, but then, after 9/11, left the Catholic Church, too.

CARLENE BAUER: I guess when you grow up thinking that God is the cause of nearly everything, it’s hard to think how could he have let this happen. I’m not listening to God anymore. It’s okay if I walk away.

MARTHA TEICHNER: Bauer has written a memoir of her break with God, which, listening to her, it’s clear was agonizing. Her pain is buried in another poll statistic: More than one out of every four respondents practice no religion at all. But if she is the face of religion lost, Rabbi Sigal Brier is the opposite, religion found by way of yoga. Growing up, her Judaism was more a fact of life than the calling yoga became.

SIGAL BRIER: Yoga opened my heart, kept me in my body, and allowed my soul to do the dance it needed to find Judaism.

MARTHA TEICHNER: Instead of leading her away from her traditional faith, yoga is how she happened to become a rabbi.

SIGAL BRIER: I was able to bring the – the light, the – the fire of – of the practices of yoga into shine – to shine upon Judaism, and Judaism came to life.

MARTHA TEICHNER: There is little in the Parade magazine poll to describe people who are devout but not necessarily in a traditional way. This statistic, maybe, that six out of ten respondents still say religion is an important part of their lives, but no poll number can begin to convey the enormity of what that really means.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC