Wednesday, January 14, 2009

American Beliefs

Well, this isn't new news, but someone wrote a new article on it, and someone else sent it to me, so I'll address it here (click here to see the full article).

Recently a poll of church-goers was done, and the results were widely reported as showing "Unorthodox Beliefs" among Christians.

This article comments that "American individualism has made its imprint on Christianity." This, I believe, is sadly true. We can see Protestant ideas forming the initial individualism of America, and then we can see that American Protestantism was itself affected by the stronger individualism that American culture reflected back at it. Today, it seems to me, even most Catholics have absorbed this American individualism, and with it ideas more befitting liberal Protestants.

The article mentions a few of the results of the survey:
Christians expressed a variety of unorthodox beliefs in the poll. Nearly half of those interviewed do not believe in the existence of Satan, one-third believe Jesus sinned while on earth, and two-fifths say they don't have a responsibility to share their faith with others.
Now, this is certainly unorthodox, and is actually pretty pathetic. We obviously have to try harder to teach the faith to people. Parents need to realize their children won't learn their religion (or morality) on their own (even if they go to catechism classes). Priests and ministers need to speak loud and clear about the truth, and give people reasons to believe this truth. People other than Mormons need to go knocking on doors.

But the supposedly biggest news of the article was this:
The most striking divergence from orthodoxy, however, was first revealed in the 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. That comprehensive survey of 35,000 Americans found a majority of Christians saying that people of other religions can find salvation and eternal life.

The results stirred controversy among some Christian leaders for whom Jesus as the only path to salvation is a paramount teaching. Some questioned whether those surveyed about "other religions" might have been thinking of Christian denominations or traditions – such as Protestants referring to Roman Catholicism – rather than non-Christian faiths.

Pew undertook a follow-up survey, which it released in late December. That poll found 65 percent of American Christians (including 47 percent of Evangelicals) do indeed think that many different religions can lead to eternal life. Among these Christians, 80 percent cited one non-Christian faith as a route to salvation; 61 percent named two or more.

Now, I don't know the exact wording of this survey, nor can I imagine how those surveyed understood the meaning of the survey, but this just does not strike me as proof of unorthodox belief.

As Catholics, we believe there is one path to eternal life. That path is Jesus Christ. We also believe he established many steps along that path, such as baptism, faith, love, etc. But we also believe that a person who does not explicitly know the path can still follow Christ to the extent that their knowledge allows, and thus attain eternal life.

In this way it could be correct to say that other religions can lead to eternal life, since those religions do help their adherents to grow in many ways closer to Christ without even realizing it. This is especially true of Judaism, so when the article says, "Sixty-nine percent of all non-Jews say Judaism can lead to eternal life..." I'm not all that bothered.

Of course my complaint may be for naught, since the article does say, "29 percent say theirs is the one true faith." If this means what they make it sound like it means, then only 29 percent of respondents actually believe their religion is objectively true, and not just "true for them." But I guess I'd have to know the exact wording of that as well.

Personally, I think the biggest news may be this:
The survey also asked about views on how one obtains eternal life. Among all adults with a religious affiliation, 30 percent say correct beliefs are what counts, 29 percent say salvation depends on one's actions during life, while 10 percent say both are essential.
I actually find it bizarre that only 10% of people believe that both beliefs and actions are essential, but I also find it odd that 30% of respondents are unaccounted, and once again we'd have to see the exact wording of the question and the available answers to really know everything.

I'm not sure why the News Media thinks it can filter results like this in any sensible way when they don't generally have any clue what religious people are talking about.

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