Culture: August 2005 Archives

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.

Eugene Volokh has some interesting numbers on Americans' attitudes toward homosexuality over time and in different age groups. A few of his observations are noteworthy. Over half of Americans are still opposed to any homosexual sex as immoral. I wouldn't have guessed that it was over half, but then again I've lived in blue states my entire life. The most interesting element is that there doesn't seem to be much of a shift in attitudes within each generation over time. In some age groups there's no statistical shift. That means that exposure to gay people and portrayals of gay people in the media doesn't change people's attitudes to whether homosexual sex is wrong, even if it will lead to people's being more accepting of gay people, as it almost surely does. This also shows that a large enough percentage of the population must be able to consider gay sex wrong and yet accept gay people. I wonder if these distinctions are easier for people to make if they happen to think gay sex is wrong than they are by those who don't. In my experience, it's the latter group that seems unable to consider the possibility that anyone could take both of those stances, even though a large percentage of Americans do exactly that.

One of Eugene's conclusions is less sure but very interesting. There seems to be a bigger change in these attitudes in the generation that grew up before 1973. That means this isn't at all a result of the gay rights movement but is more likely a direct result of the sexual revolution. Those who were young during that movement are the first generation to approve more of homosexual sex. It's true that later factors explain why the next generation is more approving than the previous one, but the big change was simply the sexual revolution, and then those raised in that period communicated their values to those in the next generation effectively enough that the next generation had more permissive attitudes.

What becomes clear in the comments is that the 55% figure for who thinks gay sex is wrong is a marked contrast to the 80% of Americans who associate themselves with the major theistic religions. Now it's true that some of those people are involved with liberal religious groups that don't take their scriptures seriously enough to accept what they say on this issuue, but I don't think those people are over 25% of the population (some of the 55% are surely non-religious to begin with, though I suspect not many, but that would mean more than 25% would associate with the main religions while approving of gay sex). I don't know the numbers on all those. Does this make more sense if you do know them, or is there an alarmingly high percentage of Americans who say they follow a religion but don't really believe what that religiohn teaches?

From Gadfly's Muse:

If we preach the sanctity of marriage then let every man live with the wife of his youth (Mal. 2) and let our witness to the world be one of honoring that institution as holy. If we are indistinguishable from the world in our divorce rates, our adultery, our fornications, then how can we proclaim that political recognition of homosexual marriage threatens "family values"?

The overall post is an excellent argument for Christians to watch the way they describe their views and to serve as a model for reasoned discourse. The reason most people think evangelical Christians are stupid and have idiotic views is because enough of the people who claim to speak for evangelicals on political issues make themselves look stupid and make their views look idiotic, even if they're not. But what's just as important as learning how to speak into the mindset of a culture that shares very little of your underlying convictions, that finds very little of your assumptions plausible, is whether you live what you say.



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