There's been a lot of dialogue on blogs lately about the PEW Research Center's recent poll on religion in the U.S. A great deal of that has centered on how people are now more than ever switching denominations. A substantial number of people are no longer members of the denomination within which they were raised. I think there are a number of reasons for this (and obviously if you're really interested in this sort of thing shop around for more insight than I can give!) My feeling though is that people today are armed, or can be at the stroke of a key, with much more information about religion and what various faiths profess than ever before. I grew up Presbyterian and all I ever knew about Lutheranism is that they couldn't join our Cub Scout troop. Catholics? Well, they went to church on Saturday and you couldn't play on the school playground at that time because you made too much noise. I knew nothing about Baptists or Methodism or Anglican religions because they didn't exist in my home town. I would never have thought about checking out the Catholic church, lest someone find out. Today, I can surf around find out what Methodist believe, what Lutherans profess, and what it means to be an Episcopalian. What's more intriguing is that I can do this from the privacy of my own home. I can even check out Islam, Judiasm, and Budhism. People are now more than ever able to find a faith that fits their belief system - down to being able to read sermons to get a feel for what theological background a specific pastor might hold. I'm still undecided if that's all good, all bad, or somewhere in the middle.
During the course of my studies at St. John's, I've certainly been exposed to many more theological topics than your average person that fills a portion of a pew on Sunday. Sometimes I feel like that kid in the candy store ... wow, that sounds interesting .. how did they ever come up with that idea? .... where and why did we loose that tradition? It's been particularly interesting when we get to comparing things - from a decidedly Catholic perspective - with thoughts from the reformers or modern Protestant theologians. There are times when I can't imagine what in the world some of the reformers were thinking. At other times I'd like to stand up and cheer. Overall I feel the discussions we have as theology students are incredible - even as I'm often the only non-Catholic in the discussion. In fact, I hate to say it, but I think the discussions are much more balanced than if the roles were to be reversed. One reason I say this because in general the other students often have more questions for me about Methodism (often times ones I need to check on - which in itself has been invaluable for me) than I do about their faith.
I feel fortunate to be able to explore all these naunces of religion and form and reform my faith. It's been really good, albeit at times stressful, to be in an academic setting once again. To be able to respectfully debate and toss around ideas is incredibly stimulating. I'm blessed for the opportunity and for a family and faith community that has been insanely supportive.