For someone who is both a religion junkie and a numbers junkie, the fabulous new Pew Religious Landscape survey has left me a bit giddy. Every page tells an amazing story. Eventually, we’ll parse this more thematically but for now I want to just tell you which stats I put exclamation points next to, and why.
The Spirituality of Atheists – 21% of Atheists believe in god. What this means is that Atheism has become a cultural designation, rather than a theological statement. Some are likely declaring themselves atheists as a statement of hostility to organized religion, rather than to God. This might help explain polls showing rising numbers of Atheists.
Very vs. Somewhat Religious – We tend to think of religious differences as being between believers and non-believers. The more significant difference is around intensity – those who are certain and those ware less certain, those for whom religion is a major part of life and those for whom it’s smaller part. For instance, 83% of Protestants and 87% of Catholics say religion is “very” or “somewhat” important in their lives. But break it down and a fascinating story emerges: 70% of Protestants say it’s “very” important compared to 56% of Catholics.
Evangelicals Similar to Muslims – In many questions, the group most similar to evangelicals was Muslims. For instance, 79% of evangelicals say religion is very important in their lives. The compares to 56% for the population as a whole, 56% among Catholics, 31% among Jews – and 72% among Muslims.
Faithful but Not Religious – 71% are absolutely certain about their belief in God, 56% say religion is “very important in their lives” but 39% attend services weekly. What this means is that a huge chunk of the population strongly believe in God but don’t attend weekly services, and about a quarter of those who say religion is very important don’t attend services.
The Certainty Gap – About equal percentages of Protestants and Catholics say they believe in God. But while 90% of evangelicals say they’re certain about God only 72% of Catholics do, and only 41% of Jews do. 99% of evangelical Protestants and 97% of Catholics say they believe in God in general – but 90% of evangelicals are “absolutely certain” about it while 72% of Catholics are.
The Heaven-Hell Gap – 74% of Americans believe in heaven but only 59% believe in Hell. So where do serial killers go when they die?
Prayer is the National Religious Practice — While 39% attend services weekly 75% pray weekly. It is the dominant form of spiritual engagement. 31% say they receive ‘definite and specific answers from God at least once a month.”
Homosexuality – Most people disagree with the following statement: “Homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society.” The exceptions (i.e. the folks who mostlyy do want to discourage homosexuality) are: Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims.
Tolerance — 70% of Americans say “many religions can lead to eternal life” and 68% that there “is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.” Most amazing, 57% of evangelicals say many religions can lead to eternal life. Given that one of the most important teachings of evangelical Christianity is that salvation comes ONLY through Christ, this finding ought to rattle Christian leaders.