The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the second part of its U.S. Religious Landscape Study today, a broad survey of the way we Americans think about and live out our various faiths, including those who profess no faith.
I am a national correspondent for ReligionLink, and as such, was given an advance copy of the study’s findings so that I could write up what we call a “tip” to help other reporters decipher the findings and write deeper and more intelligent stories about it. You can see the tip, if you like. As part of the assignment, I also wrote up a long list of story ideas culled from my reading of the study, which we hope reporters will follow. (This was a team effort, with lots of help from ReligionLink’s assistant editor extraordinaire, Mary Gladstone, and our fabulous websmistress, Kate Fox. Nothing would get done without them).
One of the things that interested me about the study – at least in terms of this blog – is that Pew found that 58 percent of all Americans say they pray daily outside of a house of worship. Another 17 percent said they pray weekly. That’s a whopping 75 percent of us – 3 out of four people – who pray regularly.
What I want to know from you who read this blog is, do you think that number is high, low or about right? I have to admit I found it a bit high, especially the daily number. If I had been polled, I would have said weekly and I’ve written about book about prayer! I just don’t manage to do it every day. Do you? In any kind of a formal way? Discuss . . . .
But the headlines you will all see tomorrow – or hear tonight on the evening news – will be that we are an incredibly tolerant nation when it comes to religion. That’s because the study found 70 percent of people said they believe there is more than one true path to eternal salvation. Yes, that’s interesting, but what was fascinating to me is that when Pew broke the number down by religious groups, more than half – 57 percent – of evangelicals agreed with that statement. That is shocking, because the definition of an evangelical Christian is that he or she believes Jesus Christ is one true God. As I suggested for a story idea in the ReligionLink tip, does this mean the evangelical community is largely ignorant of what its doctrine really states? Or are individual believers redefining what it means to be a 21st century evangelical?
The study was full of other interesting facts, if you are a religion geek like me. Here’s my favorite tidbit – 21 percent of of people who identify themselves as atheists say they believe in God. Among agnostics, the number is 55 percent. Go figure. Again, is this ignorance or a willful blurring of the lines? I dunno. What I do know is that this study is going to be fodder for stories, debates and conversation about religion in America for a long time.