Contemporary religion in America is a “salad bar where people heap on upbeat beliefs they like and often leave the veggies--like doctrines--behind.” According to a Pew Forum Religion & Public Life's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released this past week, there are so many ways of seeing God that “the highest authority is now the lowest common denominator.”
• The survey found that 92% of American adults believe in God, and 58% say they pray at least once a day. But only 51% believe this "God" is actually "personal."
• 78% overall say there are “absolute standards of right and wrong,” but only 29% rely on their religion to delineate these standards. The majority (52%) turn to "practical experience and common sense," with 9% relying on philosophy and reason, and 5% on scientific information.
• 74% say “there is a heaven, where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded,” but far fewer (59%) say there's a “hell, where people who have led bad lives and die without being sorry are eternally punished.”
• 70%, including a majority of all major Christian and non-Christian religious groups, say “many religions can lead to eternal life.”
• 68% say “there's more than one true way to interpret the teachings" of their faith.
• 50% say “homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society."
• Only 9% believe education should be in any way "related to" their faith.
• Only 44% are concerned to “preserve their faith's traditional beliefs and practices.” Meanwhile, most Catholics (67%), Jews (65%), mainline Christians (56%) and Muslims (51%) say their religion should either "adjust to new circumstances" or "adopt modern beliefs and practices."
• One in four Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox Christians expressed some doubts about God's existence, as did 60% of all Jews. But at the same time, 21% of self-identified Atheists said they believe in God or a universal spirit, with 8% "absolutely certain" of it.
Not surprisingly, the study's authors say there's a “stunning” lack of alignment between the beliefs and practices of most Americans and their professed faiths. Thus, they concluded that religion in America is "three thousand miles wide but only three inches deep."