“Religion,” “faith,” “spirituality” – or whatever you choose to call it – it’s still acknowledged and respected as the founding motivation for this country. Let’s not forget our history lessons, folks, and the fact that religion was one of the main reasons why the Puritan/Pilgrims came here from England. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to faith.
According to the survey, a strong majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, including majorities of nearly every religious tradition, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion. This openness to a range of religious viewpoints is in line with the great diversity of religious affiliation, belief and practice that exists in the United States, as reported in the survey of more than 35,000 Americans.
The survey reiterates that this doesn’t suggest that Americans don’t take religion seriously. In fact, more than half of Americans say religion is very important in their lives, attend religious services regularly and pray daily. Nationally in the U.S., 56 percent reprt that religion is a very important part in their life, while here locally in the Tri-State, between 51-60 percent claim the same.
Here’s how the Tri-State’s top three religions break down:
- Indiana: 39 percent – Evangelical Protestants; 34 percent – Mainline Protestants; and 18 percent – Catholics.
- Kentucky: 49 percent – Evangelical Protestants; 17 percent – Mainline Protestants; and 14 percent – Catholics.
- Ohio: 26 percent – Evangelical Protestants; 22 percent – Mainline Protestants; and 21 percent – Catholics.
Not Necessarily Preaching to the Choir
The Landscape Survey revealed that nationally, Americans display a high degree of similarity on some basic religious beliefs. For instance, Americans are nearly unanimous in saying they believe in God (92 percent), and large majorities believe in life after death (74 percent) and believe that Scripture is the word of God (63 percent). In the Tri-State, that breaks down like this:
- Believe in God: Indiana: 71 percent; Kentucky: 83 percent; Ohio: 72 percent.
Here are some other findings from the survey:
- There’s considerable diversity with respect to both the certainty and the nature of these beliefs. Americans’ beliefs about God are a good example of this diversity. Nearly all adults (92 percent) say they believe in God or a universal spirit, including seven in 10 of the unaffiliated. Indeed, one in five people who identify themselves as atheist (21 percent) and a majority of those who identify themselves as agnostic (55 percent) express a belief in God or a universal spirit.
- More than three-quarters of American adults (78 percent) believe there are absolute standards of right and wrong, with a majority (52 percent) saying they rely primarily on practical experience and common sense for guidance regarding right and wrong.
- Far fewer say they rely mainly on their religious beliefs (29 percent), and fewer still say they rely on philosophy and reason (9 percent) or scientific information (5 percent). Only among Jehovah’s Witnesses (73 percent), Mormons (58 percent) and members of evangelical churches (52 percent) do majorities say they rely primarily on their religion for guidance about right and wrong.
Not a Holy Trend
The U.S. has largely avoided the secularizing trends that have reshaped the religious scene in recent decades in European and other economically developed nations – but not entirely. The Landscape Survey documents, for example, that the number of Americans who are not affiliated with a religion has grown significantly in recent decades, with the number of people who today say they are unaffiliated with a religious tradition (16 percent of U.S. adults) more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with a religion as children (7 percent). It remains to be seen how this trend toward secularization will ultimately impact religion in the U.S. But what is clear is that religion remains a powerful force in the private and public lives of most Americans, a fact amply illustrated by the findings of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey discussed in this report.
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