THANKING GOD FOR VIOLENT DEATH
A Hamas leader is quoted in this story as thanking God for the death of his son in the struggle against Israel. To reduce terrorism, this kind of thinking will simply have to change. But how? What will it take to convince radical Islamists that suicide bombers and similar violence not only is morally wrong but also hurts their cause? Whoever is the next American president will need the world's best thinking about this.
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RELIGIOUSLY, WHAT DOES AMERICA LOOK LIKE?
I will give you a more comprehensive analysis in my column tomorrow, but on this Leap Day, I want to jump into some new religious statistics, ones I mentioned on the blog this past Tuesday.
Earlier this week, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. It's a quite comprehensive look at the religious makeup of the nation. In fact, it contains so much information that the Pew folks have divided it into three reports. The first one, just released, focuses on religious affiliation. Two later reports -- the first one due out in late April -- will drill down into all of that.
Indeed, the first part of the whole work contains so much information that analysts will be looking at it for a long time. The religious dynamics of our nation are changing and I think it's vital that we understand what's happening so we can learn how to deal with it in constructive ways and not degenerate into the kind of sectarian strife and even violence that plagues other countries.
But one of the more memorable statistics to come out of this first report shows how dynamic religion in America is (minus Alaska and Hawaii, where no polling was done). For instance, the study found that 44 percent of all America adults (there are about 225 million such folks) have left the religion of their childhood either for a different branch of the same religion, a different religion altogether or no religion at all.
As for the latter "unaffiliated" category, the study found that though this category made up 16.1 percent of adult Americans, only about one-quarter of that group identified themselves as atheist or agnostic (a total that has stayed pretty steady over the years, despite all the recent publicity atheists are getting by writing best-selling books). The rest of the unaffiliated were religious or spiritual to varying degrees but simply unaffiliated now.
Similarly, as study leaders pointed out, they were studying belonging, not believing, so they were unable to tell how many people are affiliated with a religion but are not believers. I know some of those folks, as I'm sure you do, too.
The non-affiliated group is growing because the number of people joining it outnumber the quite significant number of people who leave it to join a religion.
Another finding is one I've written about previously, which is that Protestants, who as recently as the 1980s made up about two-thirds of the adult U.S. population, have dwindled to the point that they are barely a majority, 51 percent, of the American adult population. By previous estimates I thought that by now Protestants were, in fact, a minority (though a plurality) of adult Americans, but that's not quite what these figures show.
Well, dig around a little on the Pew site and see what you find interesting. As I say, there's much here to digest, and lots of us will be trying to do that in various ways over the next weeks and months.
Oh, and one of the top Southern Baptists in the country says the new Pew study should motivate evangelical Christians to get out and evangelize. Also: Some Jewish leaders say the Pew sample size wasn't big enough to tell much about Jews in America.
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P.S.: Speaking of religious research, a Canadian researcher at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in Ontario is looking for people to participate in a survey about what it means to be Christian today. If you are Christian and you'd like to think about being part of that work, click here.
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ANOTHER P.S.: I'm sorry some of you have had trouble signing up to leave comments here. For help, go to "How to comment" under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (As I mentioned above, my column tomorrow will try to draw some important lessons out of all these religious statistics.)