Beliefnet/Newsweek poll on religious views

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I took this Newsweek poll online a few days ago, and now overall results are tabulated. There was an earlier, phone version of the poll, done by Beliefnet and Newsweek, which reached far fewer people. Both show some interesting results. You can read about the earlier version here. Unfortunately, results of the earlier poll are tabulated in a more effective way so it's possible to get a little more information about who responded how -- but the statistics aren't as good.

Here are some interesting points:
When asked, "Can a good person who isn't of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation, or not?" 79% of people said yes, including 68% of professing evangelical protestants, 83% of professing non-evangelical protestants, 91% of Roman Catholics, and 79% of non-Christians (earlier poll). The later, online poll had significantly fewer people saying yes, and results aren't broken down by religious identification.

The polls found 85% (telephone) and 71% (online) of people identifying themselves as Christian. Yet 55% (telephone) and 51% (online) of people attend worship services once or twice a month or less. And 55% (telephone) and 52% (online) of people read "the Bible, Koran, or some other sacred text" less than once or twice a month. (On the flip side, I guess it's reassuring that 40-some percent of people do these things more than once or twice a month).

[UPDATE: It's worth also noting this comment in this Newsweek article:

Of 1,004 respondents to the NEWSWEEK/Beliefnet Poll, 45 percent said they attend worship services weekly, virtually identical to the figure (44 percent) in a Gallup poll cited by Time in 1966. Then as now, however, there is probably a fair amount of wishful thinking in those figures; researchers who have done actual head counts in churches think the figure is probably more like 20 percent.
]

Most people (70-80%) also believe (according to these polls) that God created the universe.


5 Comments

Can a good person who isn't of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation, or not?

That's a terrible question for a poll. Consider the following two questions:

A. Can a good person who isn't and never will be of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation?
B. Can a good person who isn't currently of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation?

I imagine many, perhaps most, hear the poll question as A. I hear it as B, because that's what the question actually says. It's pragmatics that makes people hear it as A. Semantically, it's equivalent with B. The exclusivist Christian will answer yes to that question, as long as it's still possible for the person to repent and follow Christ. I imagine a minority of the people saying yes are exactly that, exclusivists who hear it the way I do.

Good point. I hadn't thought of that aspect. But there is another problem with it, I think: What does it mean "of your religious faith"? The survey tried to group people into categories like evangelical protestant, non-evangelical protestant, Catholic, etc. In that context, I don't think it would be too difficult for an evangelical protestant, for example, to understand the question as asking, "Can someone who is not an evangelical protestant...?" My answer to that would be yes, as well: Only those who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ can be saved, but such people are by no means limited to belonging to evangelical protestant churches.

I hadn't thought of that, probably because it's so ingrained in me that if you're a Christian your faith is Christianity, and anyone who is a genuine believer is of your faith.

Don't forget the vast majority of Christians who believe that children younger than the "age of accountability" will go to heaven. Technically, those children don't belong to any faith, and that may be part of what people are thinking of when they answered the question.

It would be nice if they would be somewhat more precise with their questions. It would be interesting to know how many professing Christians really believe that non-Christians will go to heaven (absent repentance and faith, even allowing for some "age of accountability").

I do, however, think the point about church attendance and Bible reading is somewhat more clear cut.

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