- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Most Americans say that many roads lead to heaven, according to a U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released Monday by the Pew Forum.

Seventy percent of all Americans say their religion is not the only path to eternal life, according to the second half of a massive survey of 35,000 Americans that charts religious attitudes and beliefs.

Only two religious groups did not agree with the phrase “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Eighty-four percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses and 61 percent of Mormons disagreed with that phrase, followed by 43 percent of evangelical Christians - the next largest group.

The poll showed “an enormous diversity” in American religion, said John Green, a senior fellow at Pew. “I was stunned.”

Pew released the first part of the survey in February. Both parts were based on polling conducted from May 2007 through August and had a margin of error of less than one percentage point.

The survey found that 78.4 percent of the U.S. population is Christian, 4.7 percent follow other religions, 0.8 percent don’t know and 16.1 percent are unaffiliated.

About 92 percent of all Americans profess a belief in God, the survey said. However, only six in 10 say God is a being with whom one can have a relationship.

Twenty-five percent of those polled - including large concentrations of Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and Hindus - said God is an impersonal force.

Religion helps shape one’s political affiliations, according to the survey, which listed half of all evangelicals and two-thirds of all Mormons as Republican.

Two-thirds of all Jews and Buddhists lean Democratic, as do three-quarters of the members of historic black churches and 63 percent of all Muslims and Hindus polled.

Although evangelicals have dominated recent elections, their political leanings are more in flux this year, Mr. Green said.

“They are more open to persuasion than in the last election,” he added. “There are votes to be had by making appeals to religious groups.”

In religiously diverse United States, two out of every five people say they meditate at least once a week and one-third say they receive a definite answer to prayer at least monthly.

Seventy-four percent profess belief in heaven, whereas 59 percent say they believe in hell.

Mormons, who have an extensive theology concentrated on the afterlife, polled the highest, at 95 percent, in belief in heaven. Only 59 percent of the Mormons, compared with 82 percent of historical black and evangelical Christians, said they believed in hell.

The survey estimated weekly religious attendance at 39 percent, lower than the 41 percent that has been estimated by the National Opinion Research Center in 2002.

Two 2005 studies - one by sociologists Dave Olson, a researcher for the Evangelical Covenant Church - estimated that about 20 percent of all Americans go to church weekly.

Jehovah’s Witnesses lead all groups in church attendance figures. The survey showed 71 percent attend more than once a week, a percentage that Pew research fellow Greg Smith called “eye-popping.”

Thirty-one percent of all Mormons said they attended more than once a week, followed by evangelicals and members of historically black churches, who said they were in church more than once a week.

Under the “few times a year” category, Jews led at 37 percent, followed by Hindus at 34 percent.

Jews were the least religious of the 13 groups polled. Forty-one percent called religion “not important” in their lives, compared with a national average of 16 percent.

Jehovah’s Witnesses (86 percent), historically black churches (85 percent) and Mormons (83 percent) led the survey in responses to the importance of religion in their lives.

The same three led on most questions, such as frequency of prayer and frequency of getting answers to prayer.

Historically black churches led (62 percent) on whether their religious text is literally true, followed by evangelicals (59 percent) and Muslims (50 percent).

Historically black churches (62 percent) and evangelical Christians (59 percent) said the Bible should be interpreted literally, while majorities of Mormons, Catholics and mainline Protestants said it should not.

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