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Many faiths have 'nominals' who live their religion in name only

Published: Friday, Oct. 4 2013 12:10 p.m. MDT

Researchers call them "mushy Christians" or "survey Christians." A recent story identified them as the "nominals" - people who claim a religious identity but may live it in name only.

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Researchers call them "mushy Christians" or "survey Christians." A recent story identified them as the "nominals" — people who claim a religious identity but may live it in name only.

In the ongoing parsing of the Pew Research Center's survey of American Jews, Religion News Service's Cathy Lynn Grossman wrote a smart analysis that looked beyond Jews who said they "belong to the tribe" by way of culture and ancestry, not religion.

In examining survey research into other faiths, she found what she called "nominals" among Christians, too.

"They’re proud — but not practicing — Catholics," Grossman wrote. "They’re Protestants who don’t think Jesus is essential to their salvation."

Researchers told RNS that they call them "survey Christians" who default to their religious heritage, or "mushy Christians" who are indifferent to religious doctrine and practice.

The "nominals" are like the "nones," those who don't claim any religious affiliation, in that they won't return to their inherited faith as they get older, according to scholars Grossman interviewed.

"Believers today are still interested in a communal expression of faith. They just want a more 'nimble' religion," author and scholar Phyllis Tickle said.

Jon Sweeny, a Catholic whose wife is a rabbi, wrote in the Washington Post that his faith may not fit traditional norms or definitions but that doesn't make him more or less religious than any other believer.

"Religious identity is not what it used to be. It certainly is not necessarily singular. In fact, I am finding more and more affinity, today, with people who feel simultaneously religiously committed and religiously amorphous," he wrote. "I am a Catholic whose spiritual practice is mostly Jewish. That may sound strange to you, but it is not as odd as it seems. It makes sense in my life."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @deseretbrown

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