Feature

American religion: Tolerance or ignorance?

Americans are very religious, but open to other faiths' paths to salvation, according to a new study, said Manya Brachear in a Chicago Tribune blog.

What happenedA survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, and most are unexpectedly tolerant of other religions. Almost three-quarters of religious adherents said they think that faiths other than their own can lead to salvation. “Americans believe in everything,” says Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay. “It’s a spiritual salad bar.” (USA Today)

What the commentators saidThe survey affirms earlier findings that Americans are highly religious and take their religion seriously, said Manya Brachear in the Chicago Tribune’s The Seeker blog. But the shift toward accepting multiple paths to salvation, especially among traditionally “it’s Jesus’ way or the highway” evangelical Christians, “seems to indicate a major shift.” Their various denominations aren’t heading that way, so “how can this be?”

“How, indeed?” said Erin Manning in Beliefnet’s Crunchy Con blog. The answer is that Americans’ religious “self-label doesn’t amount to much.” Today’s “American religion consumer” embraces “a cafeteria-style religiosity” that lets them opt out of things their religions teach for tenets that are “individually pleasing.” Well, religion isn’t some “consumer product,” and Christianity isn’t a “brand.” Truth is, “we’ve lost our command of theology, doctrine, and history. And probably geometry, too.”

Even American atheists are shopping around, said Ed Stoddard in Reuters’ FaithWorld blog. Or maybe they’re just confused. Of the respondents who identified themselves as atheists, 21 percent said they believe in God and 8 percent "expressed absolute certainty” about it. Even 17 percent of agnostics said they are sure God exists.

So what this survey really shows, said Ken Grandlund in the blog Bring It On, is that there's more to America than the “two sides of the religious equation—nutjob evangelical and raging athiest”—that serves as the “standard media view.” Americans, it seems, are “just regular folks who hold their own beliefs dear” without feeling the need to “mold this nation into a theocracy.” Somebody should tell the televangelists.

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