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Religious beliefs of Americans

Concerning their own and other religions

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Poll results on:

bulletHow Americans view religion in general
bulletHow Americans view salvation outside their faith tradition
bulletHow Americans view their own spirituality and faith
bulletHow religiously inclusive are Americans?
bulletHow Americans describe themselves
bulletA biblical world view
bulletGender differences

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How Americans view religion in general:

A survey of American adults commissioned by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press was released on 2002-MAR-28. It found that:

bulletIs religion good or bad?
bullet80% believe that religion in the world is beneficial.
bullet13% believe that religion is a bad thing.
bulletDo religions play a role in causing war?
bullet65% believe that religion in general has either a "great deal" or "fair amount" to do with causing wars and civil conflict.
bullet29% believe that religion has either "only a little" or "no" role in causing war.
bulletDo religions encourage violence?
bullet47% believe that some religions encourage violence more than others.
bullet41% disagree. 20

The survey found that: "The most secular and liberal elements of the country are more critical of the role of religion in general terms, but have a more favorable view of Muslims and Islam. Conservative groups, including white evangelical Protestants, hold the opposite opinions. They are more supportive of the role of religion in the world, but hold more negative views of Muslims."

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How Americans view salvation outside their faith tradition

Beliefnet conducted a poll of their visitors in 2005-Fall. They asked the question: "Can good people outside your faith tradition attain salvation as you understand it?" They left the definition of "tradition" up to their visitor. Some probably interpreted it to mean denomination; some as their religion's particular wing that they belong to (conservative, mainline, liberal); some as their religion.

Results were:

bullet57%: "Yes, fully, if they are sincere in their efforts to know or worship a deity."
bullet29% "No, and there are consequences."
bullet9% "I don't know.
bullet3% "Yes, but not fully."
bullet1% "No, but they are not punished."

Some might scratch their heads in confusion over these results. They seem to indicate that there are many members of faith traditions all over the U.S. who feel secure in their own salvation but who believe that members of all other faith traditions are doomed. Yet many members of those faith traditions that they reject, also reject them.

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How Americans view their own spirituality and religious faith:

One of the most important pieces of religious information is that about 76% of American adults consider themselves to be Christians. This value appears to be dropping at almost one percentage point per year. If this rate holds, then most Americans will not consider themselves Christian by late in the 2020's.

However, this datum does not tell us anything about the seriousness with which adults consider their faith. One source described the results of a 1993 in-depth survey of about 4,000 American adults. They concluded that:

bullet30% are totally secular in outlook.
bullet29% are barely or nominally religions.
bullet22% are modestly religious.
bullet19% regularly practice their religion. 1

A USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll sampled 1,037 American adults in late 1999. 2 They found that:

bullet30% described themselves as "spiritual" but not interested in attending church.
bulletAbout 54% of respondents said they are religious, but 45% of those said they are more likely to follow their own instincts than denominational teachings. 

The religious makeup of Canada appears to be similar to that of the U.S.

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How religiously inclusive are Americans?

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, released on 2002-MAR-28, described one rather curious question on religious inclusiveness. They combined two concepts within a single question. They asked 2,202 adults:

bulletWhether they considered their own faith group to be the "one true faith," or
bulletWhether they believed that followers of many different religions can attain eternal life.

There are two problems with this question:

bulletA person might regard their own religion to be the one true faith, and yet believe that followers of other religions will still attain eternal life.
bulletMost Christians believe that everyone will attain eternal life. However, many believe that the majority of people will spend eternity in being tortured in Hell.

For what it is worth, their results were:

bullet18% believe that their religion is the "one-true faith"
bullet75% believe that many religions can lead to eternal life
bulletAlmost half (48%) of "highly committed white evangelical Protestants" say that many religions can lead to eternal life. This shows that many conservative Christians oppose the foundational teaching of their denominations that the unsaved will go to Hell.

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How American adults describe themselves:

Item American Population Born-again Christians * Ref.
As born-again 41%   18
As Evangelicals 8%   18
Mostly conservative on political & social issues 30% 40% 19
Mostly liberal on political & social issues 12% 6% 19
As religious 70% 88% 19
As committed Christians 62% 86% 19

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Biblical world views:

A wordview is a personal perspective on humanity, deity and the rest of the universe which is often based on a person's religious, spiritual and philosophical beliefs. A biblical worldview is a worldview based on a specific interpretation of the Bible. There are many biblical worldviews, reflecting various conservative, mainline, liberal, Gnostic, post-Christian and other belief systems.

The Barna Group defines a conservative Protestant biblical worldview as including eight beliefs:

bulletAbsolute truth exists.
bulletThe source of moral truth is the Bible.
bulletThe Bible is without error in all of its teachings.
bulletThat eternal spiritual salvation cannot be earned through works while on earth
bulletJesus led a sinless life while on earth.
bulletEveryone has a responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others.
bulletSatan is a living force, not just a symbol of evil.
bulletGod is the creator of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient who still rules the universe today.

In 2005-AUG, Barna found that only 8% of adult American Protestants, 5% of adults generally and fewer than 0.5% of Roman Catholics "have a [conservative Protestant] biblical world view." 21

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Gender differences:

A telephone poll was conducted by the Barna Group during 1999 and the first two months of 2000 among 4,755 adults over the age of 18 who reside in the 48 contiguous U.S. states. The sampling error is within 2%. They show major gender-related differences in some matters of belief. Some of their findings are: 

Item Males Females
Are Christian 83% 90%
Are evangelical Christian ** 8% 9%
Are "born again" 36% 46%
Describe self as "spiritual" 63% 79%
Describe self as "deeply spiritual" 50% 69%
Faith is critical to their life 60% 75%

** The Barna Group has a very restricted definition of who is an evangelical. Only about "... one out of every five self-proclaimed evangelicals (19%) meets the Barna Group’s nine-point definition." 22

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Thomas C. Reeves, "The Empty Church: Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore?" Simon & Schuster: New York, NY (1998), Page. 64." Cited in http://www.adherents.com/Na_169.html under the topic "religious - modestlyRead reviews or order this book
  2. USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll for 1999-DEC, as reported in ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29.
  3. "Angels are in; Devil & Holy Spirit are out," results of a survey conducted in 1997-JAN by Barna Research. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See: http://www.barna.org/PressAngels.htm
  4. "Religious beliefs vary widely by denomination," 2001-JUN-25, Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/
  5. MetroVoice of Central New York, newspaper, Jamesville NY, 1996-MAY
  6. Maranatha Christian Journal, 1997-APR-22
  7. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  8. 1965 Gallup Poll, described by Charisma. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  9. Gallup Poll, described on 2000-JUN-7 by Charisma. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  10. USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll for 1999-DEC, as reported in ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29.
  11. 1999 Poll by the Survey Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley CA. Reported in the Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON) newspaper on 1999-OCT-9.
  12. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  13. International Social survey Program (ISSP), 1991 & 1993. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  14. "Answers to frequently asked questions," at: http://www.barna.org/ (link may be broken)
  15. T. Hargrove & G.H. Stempel III, "Poll indicates a haunted nation." Nando Times, 1999-OCT-27. Describes a poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University during 1999-SEP/OCT. Margin of error: 4%
  16. A poll conducted for Newsweek magazine in 1999-JUN.
  17. Millennium Study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch. Reviewed by Maranatha Christian Journal for 1999-DEC-13 at: http://www.mcjonline.com/ Church attendance data at: http://www.intersearch.tnsofres.com/You can obtain a free software to read this type of file from Adobe.
  18. "The state of the church, 2000," Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/
  19. "How Americans See Themselves," results of a survey conducted in 1998-JAN. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See: http://www.barna.org/
  20. "Americans Struggle with Religion's Role at Home and Abroad," The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2002-MAR-28, at: http://people-press.org/
  21. "Most adults feel accepted by God, but lack a biblical worldview," The Barna Group, 2005-AUG-09. at: http://www.barna.org/.
  22. "Survey Explores Who Qualifies As an Evangelical," Barna Group, 2007-JAN-18, at: http://www.barna.org/

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Copyright 1999 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-MAY-13
Latest update: 2010-DEC-31
Author: B.A. Robinson 

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