Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Religious beliefs in US: Understanding or Ignorance?

A new Pew survey has revealed some interesting statistics about religion in America: the majority of religious Americans believe that there is more than one way to attain salvation and more than one way to interpret religious teachings.

This article in the Boston Globe suggests that this is a sign of understanding and acceptance in the US, while this article in the SF Chronicle suggests it may be more an issue of ignorance.

Although the Boston Globe's argument has some merit (and is certainly more positive), I agree with SF Chronicle's take on this one:

Some believe the survey's findings illuminate superficiality in American faith practice.

"Religion in America is 3,000 miles wide, but it's only 3 inches deep," said Professor D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist and religion demographer at Rice University. "The issue is not that Americans don't believe in anything. It's that they believe in practically everything. It's possible for Americans to hold together contradictory beliefs at the same time."

The survey found that there are Catholics who meditate, while Lindsay said other surveys have found Protestants who pray to the Virgin Mary.

Interesting statistics:

70% of those claiming religious affiliations believe multiple religions can lead a person to salvation, while 68 percent say there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their religion.

58% of Catholics believe society should accept homosexuality, a view that is greatly at odds with U.S. Catholic bishops, including those in the Bay Area.

21% of self-defined atheists believe in God - leading scholars to think that these atheists see how they identify themselves as a position against organized religion, not divinity.

Muslims get a mention here:

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.

If this study underscores anything to American Muslims, I think it is the importance of having solid knowledge of the basic beliefs of our faith in order to save ourselves from getting lost in the "hodge podge".

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