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Old 06-24-2008, 09:42 AM   #1
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Americans See Truth In A Range Of Faiths

Americans see truth in a range of faiths, massive study finds
State among nation's least religious

By Michael Paulson, Boston Globe Staff | June 24, 2008

The United States is a nation of believers: most Americans say they believe in God, they pray, and they attend worship services regularly; they also believe in angels and demons, in heaven and hell, and in miracles.

But they also say, contradicting the teachings of many faiths, that truth comes in many forms. Large majorities of Americans say that many religions - not just their own - can lead to eternal life, and that there is more than one way to interpret religious teachings, according to a massive new study of religion in America conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and released yesterday.

"Even though the country is highly religious . . . most Americans are, in fact, not dogmatic about their faith," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum.

New Englanders are among the least likely to say they are religious, according to the study. Massachusetts lags behind the nation - often near the bottom of all states - in the percentage of its residents who say they are certain that God exists, that they believe the word of God is literally true, that religion is very important in their lives, or that they attend worship weekly or pray daily.

The study confirms a fact known widely by scholars of religion in public life: the more often people attend worship, the more likely they are to be politically conservative. Mormons and evangelical Protestants are the most likely to be doctrinally orthodox and politically conservative, while Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists are more liberal in both their theology and their politics, the study finds.

But there is tremendous diversity within each faith - among evangelical Protestants, for example, only 52 percent describe themselves as conservative, and 30 percent say they follow government and public affairs only some of the time. Although evangelicals have traditionally been viewed as Republican voters, the poll suggests a significant minority do not view themselves as conservative, a fact reflected this year as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tries to reach out to evangelical voters.

"The diversity within Americans' religious communities is not as widely reported as perhaps it should be," said John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum. "There is a tendency to focus on the most vocal members of religious traditions, that often happen to be the most orthodox, or the most traditional, or the most observant, largely ignoring people of more moderate views, or who are largely nominal in their religiosity."

The study of Americans' religious beliefs and practices is the second analysis of an unusually detailed study of faith in America, a Pew poll of a representative sample of 35,000 Americans interviewed by telephone last year. The first report, released in February, examined the religious affiliation of Americans, and found a remarkable degree of fluidity, in which 44 percent of Americans have switched faiths or denominations, and that Protestants, who founded the nation, are poised to become a minority here.

Scholars are already zeroing in on the study's new findings about the openness of Americans to multiple paths to salvation and multiple interpretations of religious teachings. The study found that 70 percent of Americans - and even 57 percent of evangelical Protestants - believe that many religions can lead to eternal life, while 68 percent of Americans say there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religions.

"As Americans rub shoulders with people of other religious traditions, they are less judgmental, and less likely to offer pronouncements about other people's eternal life," said Rice University sociologist D. Michael Lindsay.

But the flexibility of most Americans toward church teachings is likely to trouble many church leaders. Many Christian churches, for example, teach that Jesus is the only way to salvation; the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the nation's largest Protestant denomination, declares that "There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord." And many churches assert their authority to interpret religious teachings; the Catholic Church, for example, says in its catechism that the task of interpreting the Bible "is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church."

"While one applauds what could be thought of as an openness to other religions, one has to wonder if this is essentially bland secularism," said Todd M. Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

The poll, like many others, finds Americans claiming to be deeply faithful - 92 percent say they believe in God. But conceptions of God vary - 60 percent, including most Christians, say they believe God is a person, while 25 percent, including pluralities of Jews, Buddhists and Hindus, believe God is an impersonal force.

Although the Catholic church is known for its ardent opposition to abortion, the poll finds Catholics almost evenly split on the issue, with 48 percent saying abortion should be legal in most cases, and 45 percent saying it should be illegal.

On gay rights, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics and mainline Protestants are the most likely to say homosexuality should be accepted, while Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims and evangelical Protestants are the most likely to say homosexuality should be discouraged. Overall, 50 percent of Americans said homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 40 percent said it should be discouraged.

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Old 06-24-2008, 10:29 AM   #2
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I'm glad to hear about this. Some people see Americans as being staunchly and holier than thou Christian, and this survey proves that Americans are more open than that.
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