In February I blogged on the first report issued by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life based on their expansive U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The first report surveyed the religious affiliation of Americans. The second report, released a few weeks ago, focuses on the religious beliefs and practices of Americans, and how these relate to our social and political views.

I would highly recommend you read the 18 page summary report, if not the full 268 page report (personally I don’t have the stomach for the latter). But I would like to share some of the findings I found most interesting:

  • 70% of religious Americans say many different religions lead to God. Even 57% of evangelicals hold to this view. When more than half the members of the most conservative Christian group are religious pluralists, we have serious problems on our hands. Either the exclusivity of the Gospel is not being proclaimed in churches, or not being defended.
  • 78% of Americans believe in absolute moral values. This is much higher than figures posted by the Barna Research Group (22%), and is reassuring. I have to assume that such a large difference must be due to the way the question is worded in the respective surveys. I don’t know how Barna words his questions, but Pew worded theirs as follows: “There are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong.” The respondent was requested to rate their level of agreement with this statement. I think it is pretty straightforward. This, combined with the sheer number of participants, makes me lean toward Pew’s findings, and abandoning Barna’s as unrealistic.
  • 92% of Americans believe in God. Not everyone in a religious tradition believes in the existence of God. Buddhism, for example, is typically atheistic (although strangely enough, 75% of American Buddhists believe in God). But I would expect for all of the adherents of theistic religions to believe in God. Strangely enough, they don’t. Only 99% of evangelicals do, and 97% of Catholics. The only Christian group in which everyone polled believed in God was Mormonism. Oddly enough, 21% of atheists confessed to belief in God. I’ll never figure that one out!
  • 60% of adults believe God is personal; 25% believe he is an impersonal force.
  • Only 3 in 4 people believe in life after death, and heaven. This was lower than I expected, especially given the number of theists in this country (92%).
  • Six in ten Americans (59%) believe in hell. The gap between belief in heaven and hell has been reported to be much higher in other surveys I have read. It was interesting to see the gap between belief in heaven and hell in various religious traditions. While 95% of Mormons believe in heaven (the highest of any religious tradition), only 59% believe in hell. Jehovah’s Witnesses experience an even larger gap. Only 46% believe in heaven, but a measly 9% believe in hell (the lowest of any religious tradition—even lower than atheists!). I found this very ironic given the centrality these doctrines play in JW theology. Those who were most likely to believe in both heaven and hell were evangelicals (86% vs. 82%).
  • Christianity is not the only religion in which those who profess the name often do not confess to its doctrines. Only 62% of Buddhists believe in nirvana, and only 61% of Hindus believe in reincarnation. These are staple doctrines of these religions, so we would expect a higher number of adherents to these doctrines. This goes to show that there are many cultural adherents to other religions, who either do not know the teachings of their religion, or reject them.
  • 79% of Americans believe miracles occur today.
  • About 40% of Americans attend religious services weekly.
  • While more than twice as many people cite personal experience (34%) than religious views (14%) as the main influence on their political views, the researchers found a strong link between religious beliefs and political views.
  • Only half of Evangelicals identified themselves with the Republican party.
  • Those most opposed to abortion and homosexuality are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and evangelicals. Those least opposed are Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists.
  • The more people pray, attend religious services, are certain of God’s existence, the more politically conservative they tend to be.