Thursday, April 21, 2011

New report suggests that Americans are leaning more towards universalism

In light of all the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins (see my review), the following adds some interesting thought for fodder.

The Barna Group has released a new survey suggesting that many Americans, including those who identify themselves as “born again” are leaning more towards universalism and inclusivism.

What do you think these numbers are saying to us?

Most Americans believe they, themselves, will go to heaven. Yet, when asked to describe their views about the religious destiny of others, people become much less forgiving. Some people might be described as inclusive—that is, embracing the notion that everyone—or nearly everyone—makes it into heaven. Others possess a generally exclusive take on faith, viewing the afterlife in a more selective manner.


A new analysis of Barna Group trend data explores whether Americans embrace inclusive or exclusive views of faith as well as how they operate within a context of religious pluralism, or the multi-faith nature of U.S. society. The research examines what Americans believe, whether there have been changes over time, and the degree to which younger generations are different from older adults.

Universalism
Broadly defined, universalism is the belief that all human beings will be saved after death. On balance, Americans leaned toward exclusive rather than inclusive views. For example, 43% agreed and 54% disagreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons.”

Similar splits in public opinion emerged for the statements, “All people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs” (40% agreed, 55% disagreed) and the sentiment, “All people are eventually saved or accepted by God, no matter what they do, because he loves all people he has created” (40% versus 50%).

However, even as millions of Americans believe God saves everyone, most still place strong responsibility on human effort and choice regarding their ultimate destiny. Nearly seven out of 10 adults agreed with the idea “in life you either side with God or you side with the devil; there is no in-between position” (69% versus 27%). And about half of adults concurred that “if a person is generally good or does enough good things for others, they will earn a place in heaven” (48% agreed, while 44% disagreed).

Pluralism
One aspect of exclusion and inclusion is how Americans’ relate to faiths other than their own, which is particularly important in a pluralistic, multi-faith society. On the evangelistic side, a slim majority of Americans (51%) believe they have “a responsibility to tell other people their religious beliefs.”

At the same time, more than three out of every five adults (62%) said it is important “to have active, healthy relationships with people who belong to religious faiths that do not accept the central beliefs of your faith.”

In a mash-up of pluralism and universalism, 59% of adults believe that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God even though they have different names and beliefs regarding God.” Americans are less likely to endorse the idea that “the Bible, the Koran and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths,” although 43% agreed, conforming closely to the percent of Americans who endorse inclusive ideas about faith.

One of the interesting findings regarding Islam was the fact that residents of Texas (62%) were equally likely as residents of New York (62%) to believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same deity. Florida residents (58%) were statistically similar. Yet, the inhabitants of the nation’s most populous state, California, were less likely than average to embrace this view (48%).

Christians’ Perspectives
When looking at the Christian community, born again Christians were more likely to be interested in sharing their faith with others as well as more likely than average to say they desire active, healthy relationships with people of other faiths. [Born again Christians are defined by Barna Group as those who have made a commitment to Jesus Christ and who believe they are going to heaven because of their confession of sins and accepted Christ as their savior. It is not based upon self-identifying with the label “born again.”]

Nevertheless, despite their own personal faith convictions, many born again Christians embrace certain aspects of universalist thought. One-quarter of born again Christians said that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God (25%) and that it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons (26%). An even larger percentage of born again Christians (40%) indicated that they believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

See the full report here.

HT: Scot McKnight

2 comments:

  1. Which Afterlife?

    In his new book "Love Wins" Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from "the greatest achievement in life," my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote "In God we all meet."

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  2. "Most Americans believe they, themselves, will go to heaven."

    I'm beginning to see a problem already.

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