- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

The outpouring of religious activity in America after the September 11 terrorist attacks has subsided, the crisis-driven spark not catching fire, according to polls and researchers.
"In the immediate aftermath, church attendance went up six points," said George Gallup Jr., of the Gallup Organization, which conducts opinion polls. "A similar rise was found in the number of people who said religion was very important to them."
After a few weeks, however, "the attendance figure went back to pre-attack levels," he said. Still, "I know that this is not the whole story. Bible sales have gone up, and I would speculate that interest in spirituality has, too," he added.
A short-lived spike in religious activity was also found in a major Barna Research Group poll, while the Harris Poll found that confidence in military and White House leadership shot up after September 11, but organized religion received no higher praise.
"On the confidence index, there was no change for organized religion," Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, said in an interview.
"If a sense of crisis continues, as it does in a real war, then these concerns do not necessarily come down," Mr. Taylor said. "With the absence of 'big news' about a war, the concerns decline. We have a short-term memory."
The Harris poll found that between December and January the U.S. economy jumped back to being the top priority of Americans, though their sense of "alienation" from people of power and wealth in the country has dropped.
"There is a lower level of alienation than we've seen since 1972," Mr. Taylor said. The alienation index had risen from a 52 percent average in the 1970s to 63 percent in the 1990s, but it began declining after 1995 and hit 51 percent after the attacks.
The Barna poll results, released Nov. 26, said that while churchgoing went up about 25 percent "immediately after the attack," two months later it was back to normal.
For a half century, about four in 10 Americans have told pollsters they were at a house of worship in the past week.
George Barna, president of Barna Research, which does polling on Christian trends, said that the quick drop in church attendance suggests that people found "moments of comfort" but nothing compelling enough to make them return.
"Few of them experienced anything that was sufficiently life-changing to capture their attention and their allegiance," he said, describing the eight-week experience as "a wake-up call to church leaders" who want their institutions to be relevant.
The Barna poll also found that in the first eight weeks of the national crisis, the number of Christians who were "absolutely committed" 42 percent stayed about the same.
The poll reported that the "most startling shift" was the skyrocketing number of Americans who are moral relativists; this despite such a dramatic illustration of evil September 11.
In January 2000, 38 percent of Americans polled agreed that "there are moral truths that are absolute," but the number dropped to 22 percent in November. Those most likely to believe in moral absolutes were baby boomers, ages 37 to 55, and people who attend conservative churches.
Also, there was a four percentage point drop in people who believed God has absolute power, and a five percentage point increase in people who considered that "Satan, or the devil," was real.
Though Bible sales went up in the aftermath of the attack, according to reports, just 18 percent of the Barna poll respondents said they turned to the Bible for moral guidance.
Most relied instead on their "feelings," or what their parents had taught them.
Finally, the Barna poll said that core Christian beliefs and other measures of religious activity did not intensify or increase between August and November.
Regular Bible reading (39 percent), church volunteering (23 percent) and weekly prayer (85 percent) ended up the same, the poll said.
Despite the apparent business-as-usual attitude toward faith, a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll released in December found more Americans agreeing that "religion's influence in American life is growing," a jump from 37 percent to 78 percent between March and December 2000.
In the same period, respondents developed a "better opinion" on Muslims, the polls showing a jump from 45 percent to 59 percent.

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