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 , 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.
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).
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%).
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.
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