America's Religious Beliefs & Practice
by Mike McManus
A major new report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on
America's "Religious Beliefs and Practice: Diverse and Politically
Relevant" could not have been better timed from my personal point of
view, because this is my 1,400th weekly column that I call "Ethics &
Religion." For 27 years I have been writing about the remarkable
paradox that we are the most religious modern nation, yet often the
The Pew Forum notes, for example, that 54 percent of Americans attend
religious services once or twice a month and 39 percent worship weekly.
By contrast, according to Gallup Polls, in most European countries only
a tenth attend services weekly.
Yet the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world. The
marriage rate has plunged 50 percent since 1970. Why? Cohabitation has
diverted tens of millions from getting married. There were 21 million
never-married Americans in 1970, but 60 million in 2006.
The most surprising conclusion of the Pew report is that "A strong
majority of those affiliated with a religion...do not believe their
religion is the only way to salvation." In fact, seven in ten say many
religions can lead to eternal life. One would expect that of Mainline
Protestants, but even 57 percent of Evangelicals assert that "many
religions lead to eternal life, and more than half say "There is more
than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion."
That is not how Jesus viewed his mission: "I am the way and the truth
and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14.6)."
Richard Cizik, Vice President of the National Association of
Evangelicals, cited this Scripoture verse, adding, "I believe that Jesus
is not just the Way, the Truth, and the Life for me, but for everybody.
Evangelicals have always had a exclusivism that no longer exists for a
substantial percent of the population, unfortunately."
The Pew Forum's director, Luis Lugo, not surprisingly, has a different
view, "The fact that most Americans are not exclusive or dogmatic about
their religion is a fascinating finding."
Baptists and other evangelicals are alarmed by the report, while some
dismiss it. However, Pew interviewed 35,000 people in English and
Spanish, 35 times larger than the typical national poll. It must be
Barack Obama was quoted this week from a 2007 speech: "Whatever we once
were, we're no longer a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also
a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu
nation, and a nation of nonbelievers."
Pew disagrees, noting that 78.4 percent of Americans said they are
Christian. Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus account for only 2.4
percent; the unaffiliated are 16 percent.
Pew reports that 92 percent of Americans believe in God, but disagree on
His nature. While eight of ten evangelicals believe in a personal God
who answers prayers, only 60 percent of Catholics and Mainline
Protestants agree. Jews and Buddhists disagree by a 2-1 margin, and
assert that God is an "impersonal force." Three-fourths of Americans
believe in life after death, and an equal number believe in heaven.
However, only 39 percent of Jews believe in an afterlife and 48 percent
of the unaffiliated. Hell's existence is more controversial. Eight of
ten Evangelicals, Muslims and members of black churches believe in hell,
but only half of Mainliners, 60 percent of Catholics and a quarter of
Jews and Buddhists.
Nearly six in ten Americans of all faiths pray daily, but only a quarter
of Jews and the unaffiliated. About four in ten Christians meditate
weekly vs. 61 percent of Buddhists and and 72 percent of Jehovah's
"Politics and religion in the United States are intertwined," Pew
reports. For example, those who attend services weekly and say religion
is important in their lives, are much more likely to call themselves
conservatives. For example, weekly attenders of all faiths believe
abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Only three in ten of
infrequent worshipers agree.
Religious participation has no influence on other issues. People of all
faiths or no faith agree that there should be stricter environmental
standards and more government aid for the poor.
Pew's report is evidence that America's faith is vibrant and healthy,
unlike that of many nations where it can lead to war.
* * *
On a personal note, I want to thank the newspapers that publish this
column, and you the readers, who read it. I can be reached with
comments, questions or suggestions by writing this newspaper.
30+ Years / 1700+ Columns
2017: Column 1861: Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part II
Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part I
Texting While Driving - A Killer
Why Have "Religious Nones" Tripled?
Norma McCorvey Roe of Roe v. Wade
The Worst Valentine: Cohabitation
Pornography: A Public Health Hazard
Christianity Gives Women Equal Opportunity
Sextortion Kills Teens
Assisted Suicide Is Growing
same sex marriage,
abortion and infanticide,