The recent survey is the second part of a comprehensive study of American religion that Pew conducted. The first study, which was released last winter, made headlines for its finding that a large number of Americans had switched to other churches from the ones in which they were raised.
The key finding of the new study is that Americans are seldom dogmatic about their own beliefs being the only way of salvation. Eighty-five percent of Mainline Protestants and seventy-nine percent of Catholics agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life” and eighty-two percent of mainline Protestants and seventy-seven percent of Catholics agree that “there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of my religion.”
The figures for evangelical Protestants show a somewhat different pattern. Fifty-seven percent agreed with the first statement about many religions leading to eternal life, and fifty-three percent with the second one. The exceptions are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, 54 percent and 77 percent of whom, respectively, say there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.
American church historian Martin Marty adds that the new survey also reveals a growing convergence of mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics in the U.S. “At most four percentage points separate Catholic numbers from Mainline Protestants on all but four issues” of the sixteen asked of respondents, Marty writes in his e-newsletter Sightings (June 30).
The only wide separation is on legal abortion, with only thirty-two percent of the Mainline Protestants thinking it should almost always be illegal and, forty-five percent of Catholics thinking the same. Minorities in both think that “homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society” but thirty-four percent of mainline Protestants say so, and only thirty percent of Catholics agree.
The survey report can be downloaded at http://religions.pewforum.org/reports.
Richard Cimino is the founder and editor of Religion Watch, a newsletter monitoring trends in contemporary religion. Since January 2008, Religion Watch is published by Religioscope Institute. Website: www.religionwatch.com.