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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Religious Snapshot, Pt. 2

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the second installment of its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey yesterday, and, like the first time, the findings have been picked up—and apart—by nearly every major news outlet in the country. The survey, which sampled 35,000 Americans, hoped to get beyond religious labels to discover how people's religious views and affiliation shape their social and political values.
America remains a nation of believers, which comes as no surprise, with 92 percent of respondents—including one-fifth of self-described atheists—saying they believe in God. But here are two shockers: The majority of Americans who are affiliated with a religious denomination don't think their religion is the only path to eternal life; this includes evangelicals (57 percent), mainline Protestants (83 percent), Roman Catholics (79 percent), Jews (82 percent) and Muslims (56 percent). And 68 percent of Americans say "there's more than one true way" to interpret the teachings of their religion. The question now seems to be whether these findings reflect a trend toward growing tolerance among religious people or whether they show that religious people dismiss or don't understand the doctrines of their faith.
When it comes to the findings that might shed light on the relationship between religion and science, more than half of mainline Christians (56 percent), Catholics (67 percent), Jews (65 percent), and Muslims (51 percent) say their religion should either "adjust to new circumstances" or "adopt modern beliefs and practices." And while 78 percent of Americans say there are "absolute standards of right and wrong," only 29 percent turn to their religion to define those standards. The majority—52 percent—rely primarily on practical experience and common sense, while 9 percent look to philosophy and reason, and 5 percent use scientific information. —Heather Wax