- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

A first-ever worldwide poll on religious beliefs shows that religion outranks politics in importance to individuals and that people think politics, not religion, fuels violence.

Designed by the Zogby International polling firm and the University of Rochester’s religion department, the survey is a rare attempt to obtain empirical data about global religious beliefs and practices.

“Religion is far more important to people than politics,” said John Zogby, president of Zogby International. “Most groups acknowledge the possibilities of multiple paths to religious truth and the majority of communities surveyed do not associate religion with trouble, unrest and violence in their own countries.”

What’s unusual about the survey is the number — 4,388 — and breadth of the interviews, conducted from January through March this year in seven countries. Most of the interviews were conducted in person. The poll is available online at www.zogby.com.

Groups polled included Russian Orthodox Christians, South Korean Christians and Buddhists, U.S. Roman Catholics and Protestants, Indian Hindus and Muslims, Israeli Jews and Muslims, Saudi Arabian Muslims and Peruvian Catholics.

Included in the U.S. sample were self-identified born-again Christians, a third of whom said they were political liberals.

Religion is a “high priority” in the lives of more than two-thirds of the Israeli and Indian Muslims, Hindus, born-again American Christians and South Korean Christians, the poll revealed. But less than 60 percent of the Saudi Muslims, Israeli Jews, Buddhists and Russian Orthodox said religion is a priority.

The South Korean Christians polled as the most religious, and they, Muslims, Hindus and born-again Christians said they practiced their religion at least weekly. Muslims scored the highest in daily observance.

Those who practice their religion the least include the Israeli Jews, South Korean Buddhists and Orthodox.

The participants were presented with a series of goals, such as achieving economic security, spending time with family, being actively religious, being actively political, being well-educated, learning a valuable skill and traveling, and asked to rank them in order of priority. The Korean Christians were the only ones who placed religious activity at the top.

All other groups put education and family time above religious involvement, although the born-again American Christians joined the Koreans in placing religion above economic security.

All groups, except the Orthodox, placed politics last or second-to-last in priority.

William Green, professor of religion at the University of Rochester, said American Catholics and mainline Protestants gave almost identical answers to many questions. For instance, 15 percent of the former and 16 percent of the latter believe that their religion offers the one true path to God.

Seventy-nine percent of Saudi Muslims, 65 percent of South Korean Christians, 49 percent of Indian Muslims and 41 percent of American born-agains believe that their faith has an exclusive claim to truth.

“But that means almost 60 percent of the born-agains fall outside of that,” Mr. Green said of the Americans, “which means a majority of them are prepared to admit the viability of other religions.”

However, tolerance has its limits for several groups when it comes to intermarriages. South Korean Christians, Hindus, Israeli Jews and Muslims disapprove of people marrying outside their religion, whereas Peruvian Catholics, American Catholics and Protestants overwhelmingly endorsed interfaith marriages.

“Too often,” Mr. Zogby said, “we view religion as something that creates chasms and separates. We found there are strains of commonality among the religious groups we tested. We all share a lot of religious traditions, myths and ethical codes.”

The prospect of a religious society doesn’t terrify people, he said, although the possibility of a theocratic government does. Only South Korean Buddhists disagreed with the idea of a more religious society being good for a country.

“Religion is hardly a mandate for extremism,” Mr. Zogby said. “People see it as a good thing that produces good values.”

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