(CBS) America has long been the World’s great melting pot of people … and their faiths. People take different paths to a higher power.
But in Deborah Steen Ross’ house, CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports, those paths don’t just cross, they collide. In what Ross calls ‘individualized’ spirituality.”
“This is Taoism, this represents the yin and the yang,” she said.
How many religions does she have represented in her home?
“Oh my goodness, I haven’t even counted!” Ross said.
Why can’t she make up her mind and pick one?
“Because I find that one, any one, religion is too — it’s too closed for me,” she said.
Most religions leave Ross feeling trapped.
“A particular religion is a box, it has a particular set of rules,” Ross said. “Do this, don’t do that, or you’re going to hell.”
She may be extreme, but she’s not unique. According to a CBS News poll, 36 percent of Americans say they now combine the teachings or philosophies from different religions.
“It’s part of a giant universal human quest or meaning,” said author and religious scholar Karen Armstrong.
Armstrong says this trend is no surprise in a global society.
“That doesn’t mean that they’re abandoning their own religion, but they are quite naturally and spontaneously without any great fanfare turning to the other faiths for wisdom,” she said.
It is a uniquely American trend. Just look in the Encyclopedia of American Religions. It lists more than 21,000 different religious groups. That’s twice as many as 25 years ago.
“Western liberal society has placed a lot of emphasis on the individual,” Moise Waltner of the Interfaith Center of New York said.
He believes too many American’s treat faith like cafeteria food. He says mixing religion is no religion at all.
“It’s the role of the believer to conform their will to what the tradition is, not the other way around,” Waltner said.
Raised Christian Scientist, married to a Jewish Rabbi, Rev. Debora Steen Ross attends synagogue, helps run an interfaith seminary and meditates before a collection of religious symbols every morning.
“At the heart of every religion it’s the same thing,” Ross said. “It’s love. So if they’re all the same at the root, why would we not honor all of them?”
Critics call it a fad. Believers call it faith. For Deborah Ross and her friends, it’s about love and choice. Love what you choose; choose what you love.