"Americans are switching religious affiliation in ever-greater numbers or abandoning ties to organized denominations altogether," says the Los Angeles Times in its write-up of a new study on religious ties by the Pew Research Center. (Survey over here.) Denominations are generally held together by doctrine, a belief in a set of beliefs that sets them apart from those with different beliefs. But these aren't so valuable to most churchgoing believers.
It's a subject covered well by the sociologist Alan Wolfe in The Transformation of American Religion, but it's nothing terribly new. Americans have taken their religion with a healthy dose of pragmatism, with no appreciation for the nuances of doctrine, a "What are you going to do for me today?" attitude, for some time. The effects have been entirely deleterious, as far as I can tell, with churchgoers having little understanding of what the worshipper next to them actually believes about the God they are both praying to (to borrow one of Wolfe's formulations). Richard Hofstadter:
"There has been a progressive attenuation of the components of religious ritual, Protestantism at an early point got rid of the bulk of religious ritual, and in the course of its development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries went very far to minimize doctrine. The inspirational cult has completed this process, for it has largely eliminated doctrine-at least it has eliminated most doctrine that could be called Christian. Nothing, then, is left but the subjective experience of the individual, and even this is reduced in the main to an assertion of his will. What the inspirational writers mean when they say you can accomplish whatever you wish by taking thought is that you can will your goals and mobilize God to help you release fabulous energies."---Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, 1962. (Emphasis added.)