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Survey of Religion in U.S. Finds a Broad Tolerance for Other Faiths

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October 2008

Although a majority of Americans say religion is very important to them, nearly three-quarters of them say they believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.  
The New York Times (June 24, 2008) reports: “The report, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, reveals a broad trend toward tolerance and an ability among many Americans to hold beliefs that might contradict the doctrines of their professed faiths. For example, 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that ‘many religions can lead to eternal life,’ including majorities among Protestants and Catholics. Among evangelical Christians, 57 percent agreed with the statement, and among Catholics, 79 percent did. ... More than 80 percent of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists agreed with the statement, and more than half of Muslims did.”  
Scholars who reviewed the survey said that the findings seems to undercut the conventional wisdom that the more religiously committed people are, the more intolerant they are. “It’s not that Americans don’t believe in anything,” said Michael Lindsay, assistant director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. “It’s that we believe in everything. We aren’t religious purists or dogmatists.”  
According to the report, more than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion. The survey indicated that the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated, accounting for 16 percent of American adults.  
The survey estimated weekly religious attendance at 39 percent, lower than the 41 percent that has been estimated by the Gallup Poll but considerably higher than 31 percent estimated by the National Opinion Research Center in 2002. Jehovah’s Witnesses lead all groups in church attendance figures. The survey showed 71 percent attend more than once a week. Thirty-one percent of Mormons said they attended more than once a week, followed by evangelicals and members of historically black churches, who said they were in church more than once a week. Under the “few times a year” category, Jews led by 37 percent, followed by Hindus at 34 percent.  
The Washington Times (June 24, 2008) notes that, “Jews were the least religious of the 13 groups polled.” Forty-one percent called religion ‘not important’ in their lives, compared with a national average of 16 percent.”

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