The god life

June 24, 2008

A lot of people — including the guy who directed the survey — are expressing surprise that America is such a tolerant nation when it comes to religion:

Overwhelming majorities of Americans say they believe in God (or a “universal spirit”). But substantial majorities from all major religious categories also say they believe their religion is not the only path to eternal life, and that there’s not just one correct version of their faith.

[. . .]

The researchers also said the results indicate that it’s wrong to assume that Americans can be pigeonholed on the basis of religion. There is a wide diversity of beliefs and behaviors, even among people who say they belong to the same religious group, said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum with a long history of studying faith-related polls.

“I was stunned by just how diverse it was,” he said. “The diversity goes all the way down.”

But this goes beyond mere tolerance. People aren’t just saying, “My church is the right way to heaven, but that guy is allowed to believe whatever he wants to.” They’re saying, “Well, maybe there is more than one path, and both of us will get there.” If that is so, what’s the point of being a Catholic or a Methodist, a Muslim or a Buddhist? The survey hints at that: About half of those surveyed said they wanted their churces to express their views on day-to-day social and political questions. So, while 92 percent say they believe in God, it seems they’re OK with a decided secular drift in their churches.

I don’t think we should take that 92 percent as gospel — a lot of people tend to tell pollsters what they think they should say rather than what they actually think. As the story notes, about 40 percent told the pollsters they attend church regularly, which is in line with other surveys. But actual studies of regular church attendance put it at about 20 percent of the population.

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