Youths who use social media are less committed to one religion and are more likely to develop a "pick-and-choose" approach to customise their faith - regardless of what their religious tradition teaches, a new study has found. "On Facebook, there is no expectation that one's 'likes' be logically consistent and hidebound by tradition," said Paul K McClure from Baylor University in the US. "Religion, as a result, does not consist of timeless truths. Instead, the Facebook effect is that all spiritual options become commodities and resources that individuals can tailor to meet their needs," said McClure. Social media users also are more likely to see it as acceptable for others of their faith tradition to practice other religions, he said. However, the so-called "spiritual tinkerers" are not necessarily more likely to believe all religions are true. Social networking site users are between 50 to 80 per cent more likely to be flexible about varied religious beliefs and practices, according to the study. The findings were based on an analysis of data from the US National Study of Youth and Religion.
Researchers used three waves of telephone surveys with youths and their parents from 2002 to 2013. The first wave surveyed 3,290 English and Spanish-speaking youths between the ages of 13 and 17 and followed them until they were ages 22 to 29. Survey respondents answered three questions about their faith. The first question was "which statement comes closest to your views of religion?" The options were - only one religion is true; many religions may be true; or there is very little truth in any religion. The second question was "do you agree or disagree with this statement - some people think that it is okay to pick and choose religious beliefs without having to accept the teachings of their religious faith as a whole." The third question was "do you think it is ok for someone of your religion to also practice other religions, or should people only practice one?" Respondents and their parents also were asked how often they attended religious services in the past year, not including weddings, baptisms and funerals. Their choices were never; a few times a year; many times a year; once a month; two to three times a month; once a week; and more than once a week. "What this study suggests is that social technologies have an effect on how we think of religious beliefs and traditional institutions," said McClure. "In particular, those who spend time on social networking sites like Facebook are more likely to think it is perfectly acceptable to experiment with other religions and claim they do not need to remain committed to the teachings of a singular tradition," he added. The findings were published in the journal Sociological Perspectives.