The Pearly Gates Are Wide Open

A new Newsweek/Beliefnet poll shows a stunning level of acceptance of other people's faiths.

One of the central tenets of evangelical Christianity is that to be saved-to earn admission into heaven-you must accept Jesus Christ as your savior. Yet 68% of "born again" or "evangelical" Christians say that a "good person who isn't of your religious faith" can gain salvation, according to a

new Newsweek/Beliefnet poll

.



This is pretty amazing. Evangelicals are among the most churchgoing and religiously attentive people in the United States, and one of the ideas they're most likely to hear from the minister at church on a given Sunday is that the path to salvation is through Jesus. Apparently, rank-and-file evangelicals have a different view. [

Editor's Note:

Readers have suggested a variety of possible reasons why evangelicals may have answered this way. Beliefnet will present an entire package on the salvation issue on Friday]

Nationally, 79% of those surveyed said the same thing, and the figure is 73% for non-Christians and an astounding 91% among Catholics. The Catholics surveyed seemed more inclined to listen to the Catechism's precept that those who "seek the truth" may gain salvation-rather than, say, St. Augustine's view that being "separated from the Church" will damn you to hell "no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living."

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For a few thousand years, wars have been fought over this point; countless sermons have been given-by people of all faiths-to prove the opposite point. It is one of the main ways that clergy of any given faith can explain why it's important for people to show up at their particular church and read their particular sacred text.

How could so many Americans be tossing aside such a central element of theology? I think the Newsweek cover story that grew in part out of this poll has the best theory. Americans have become so focused on a very personal style of worship-forging a direct relationship with God-that spiritual experience has begun to supplant dogma.

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Steven Waldman
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