America's level of religious tolerance appears to be better than we had thought it was. In fact, it seems there aren't as many claiming possession of the definitive truth about God and salvation.
America's level of religious tolerance appears to be better than we had thought it was.
In fact, it seems there aren't as many claiming possession of the definitive truth about God and salvation.
A major survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, released on Monday, shows that seven in 10 people think those folks embracing faiths different from theirs can get to heaven or attain eternal life. When asked the question a little different way, 68 percent agreed that "there is more than one true way to interpret the teaching of my religion."
Those represent eye-opening findings in the face of the history of religions where prophets and anointed holy ones have always claimed to have made the ultimate breakthrough to God.
How does that sit with the much-quoted John 14:6?: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me."
Some Christians, at least, are saying those who don't accept Christ are going to be OK anyway. The findings of the survey - people can believe otherwise and still get to heaven - probably won't sit well with the preachers on the 24-hour Christian TV stations who have long warned about such relativist thinking, about cutting slack for those who believe something else. "Everybody can't be right," they would insist. Catholics (79 percent) agreed more often than evangelical Christians (57 percent) that "many religions can lead to eternal life."
Those findings and others from Pew (from a survey May to August 2007) suggest the state of America's religious and spiritual faith seems healthy. In a nation founded on religious liberty, this is good news.
Pew's headline for that part of the study was "Americans Are Not Dogmatic About Religion." Not surprisingly, global faiths long known for coexistence, especially Hindu and Buddhist, registered high in their agreement to the concept that "many religions can lead to eternal life." The lowest acceptance of that were Jehovah's Witnesses (16 percent), Mormons (39 percent) and evangelical Christians (57 percent). "Most Americans also have a nondogmatic approach when it comes to interpreting the tenets of their own religion," the Pew study found.
This week's report is the second part of Pew's findings from 35,000 Americans. In February, it looked at people's affiliations to specific faiths. It examined shifting memberships, partly because of the forces of immigration. The high influx of Hispanic Catholics has buoyed Roman Catholic Church counts in the U.S., offsetting losses to other faiths.
The Part I study also found that more than 25 percent of adult Americans had left the faith of their childhood to move to a different faith or no faith. It also found that "unaffiliated" Americans represented 16 percent of the population.
Interestingly, the Bible is regarded as the "word of God" by two-thirds of respondents, but those people are split between those who interpret Scripture literally (33 percent), with each word coming from God and those (27 percent) who believe it can't be taken literally. When it comes to other texts, 67 percent of Buddhists and 53 percent of Jews said that their own sacred texts were written by humans and are not the word of God.
Whether one is affiliated with a religious faith or tradition does not necessarily reflect one's spirituality. Forty-one percent of those not affiliated with faiths said religion is somewhat important in their lives and seven in 10 said they believe in God. Twenty-seven percent of those people attend worship services "at least a few times a year."
The New York Times talked to Michael Lindsay, assistant director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University, about "The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey." He said Americans don't believe in just anything, yet "we aren't religious purists or dogmatists."
When people's frequency of worship attendance was matched to their political/ideological identity, a picture appeared. They were asked whether they were conservative, moderate or liberal. Fifty percent of conservatives, 31 percent of moderates and 12 percent of liberals said they went to church or temple weekly. Those going "seldom" or "never" fell this way: 24 percent conservatives, 37 percent moderates and 30 percent liberals.
Finally, of those who said they prayed daily, 44 percent were conservatives, 33 percent were moderates and 15 percent were liberals. For those in the seldom and never praying group, 22 percent were conservative, 38 percent were moderate and 32 percent were liberals.
Say Pew researchers: "The connection between religious engagement and political attitudes appears to be especially strong when it comes to hot-button social issues such as abortion or homosexuality." For instance, about six in 10 Americans who attend religious services at least once a week say abortion should be illegal in most, or all, cases, while only three in 10 who attend less often share that view. That pattern holds across several religious traditions, they said.