Pondering recent surveys on Americans and religion, I can't help thinking there's a good reason we've become a nation of "cafeteria Catholics," semi-observant Jews and half-hearted proponents of what our faiths tell us: We pick and choose because so much of what each religion has on its buffet is centuries past the sell-by date. Because of that, for many of us, there is a gaping disconnect between what we wish religion and spirituality could provide and what they serve up.
Imagine a science textbook written in the year 3000 BC, or even one published in the year 1 AD. Both would probably contain some true things, and a tremendous bunch of hooey. Now imagine we encountered people who proclaimed these texts "the eternal truth" and demanded that we believe in them. We would laugh until our sides hurt and we fall down and beg, "Please . . . no more about the Earth being 8,000 years old and sitting at the center of the universe. You really think you just happened to be born on the heavenly body at the exact middle of the universe?"
That's similar to what people who tell us we need to follow the Bible or Quran or other ancient holy book as written, or perceive them as true, or adhere faithfully to one of the ancient religions are doing.
Do you think you can base a modern religion on a book and traditions that instruct us on the proper treatment of slaves? The shunning of menstruating women, and the subjugation of women in general? The abomination of homosexuality? The burning of witches?
We now know better about morality than when the holy books were written, just as we know more about science.
Yet many Americans and their religious leaders continue to pretend this isn't true, that all the ancient wisdom is wise, and the word of God. We are like Wile E. Coyote, believing that if we look down and realize we are suspended in midair, we will plummet to Earth.
The latest survey on religion to catch my eye, released by the Pew Research Center, tells us that nearly three-quarters of Americans say religious influence in public life is waning, and the majority think it should have more of a place in public life. What does it mean when 61 percent of Catholics say the waning influence of religion in American life is a negative development, but 52 percent of Catholic respondents to the poll supported same-sex marriage, while only 35 percent were opposed? Polls also show at least 60 percent of American Catholics support ordination of female priests. So people who oppose the teachings of their own religion are upset that this religion doesn't have more influence on American life?
I'm a Jew, part of the majority of Jews who don't believe the Bible about stoning adulterers, avoiding delicious shrimp and bacon and cheeseburgers, and mourning as dead the people who marry non-Jews.
We believe in religion, but we no longer believe in the religions we have. We believe in God, so many of us, but not the God our ancient and creaky tomes (and our ancient and creaky clergy) offer. We yearn for more morality and spirituality but don't know where to pull them from.
The beauty of the Constitution is that it's a living document. When it became clear we were wrong about oppressing women and owning blacks, we changed it. Maybe it's time we had a living holy book, too. We will continue to become more moral. We will continue to better our understanding of what a just God would want. And we will continue to thirst for spirituality in our lives.
We shouldn't be stuck with guides for living and praying written when putting witches to death and being fair to slaves were, according to those who penned the books, the big issues on God's mind.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.