Beliefnet
Americans have relied on their religious faith to cope with the Sept. 11 tragedies. That was probably to be expected. The surprise is that, instead of demonizing them, the nation has become more respectful of Islamic Americans.

Three months after the attacks on New York and Washington, 78 percent of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center were persuaded that religion's influence in American life is growing. Eight months earlier, little more than one in three Americans had agreed with that statement.

In the same interval, favorable views of Islamic Americans increased from 45 percent to 59 percent, although two in five Americans suspect the violence was at least partially motivated by religion. Islam, which is poised to overtake Judaism as our nation's second most populous faith, bids fair to endear itself to America.

Every day my e-mail contains the latest bulletins from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based interest group that is anything but defensive or shrill. Each release begins with a "hadith," or bit of gentle wisdom from the prophet Mohammed. My wife has taken to collecting them. She also persuaded a young American relief worker who converted to Islam to speak at our church. He got a big welcome and turnout. But it was only when our local pet protection league started quoting Mohammed as a cat lover that I grasped the extent of good will that has prevailed since 9-11.

Church attendance has not increased since the tragedies, but remains at four in 10 Americans worshipping weekly and a third attending less frequently. Three of five Americans maintain that religious faith plays an important role in their lives about the same as before.

What does seem to have changed is that Americans who were already highly religious are praying more and spending more time with their families. Overall, Americans express high respect for all the major faiths: 78 percent for Catholics, 77 percent for Protestants and 75 percent for Jews. Our regard for Muslims, although much greater than before, lags at 59 percent.

The Pew poll discovered that although one in eight Americans believes that war is never justified, more than half the pacifists (55 percent) support the current resistance to terrorism.

Some 170 years ago in his "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville reflected that "Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions. ... I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion for who can search the human heart? but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions." He added: "This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society."

In our current crisis we have proved the Frenchman to be right about us once again.

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