Monday, September 11, 2006

Americans remain a people of great faith: 95 percent believe in God and just 11 percent have no religious affiliation, according to a survey released yesterday by Baylor University.

The survey gave a spectrum of the nation’s spiritual leanings: 88 percent said God favors no particular political party, and seven out of 10 approved of prayer in schools.

“If you tell us you’re a mainline Protestant, that alone tells us very little about your political views,” said Paul Froese, one of the study authors. “But if you tell us about your image of God, we can tell a lot about you.”

The survey by Texas-based Baylor, the largest Baptist university in the world, challenged the idea that the nation’s faith is waning, questioning recent polls that have reported a near doubling of nonbelievers — from 8 percent to 15 percent since 1988. Those polls are “often used by academics and the press to indicate a growing secularization in the United States,” the survey said.

Baylor researchers factored in the rising number of nondenominational churches, mega-churches, local influences and behavior patterns, which have not been addressed by the National Election Studies or the General Social Surveys.

“Our results do not suggest religion is on the wane, but rather that Americans are losing a strong denominational identity,” said Kevin Dougherty, another study author.

The findings indicated a burgeoning but diverse religious vitality. Even among the unaffiliated respondents, 63 percent said they believed in God or a higher power; a third said they prayed.

“Americans largely agree that God exists, but they do not agree what God is like, what God wants for the world or how God feels about politics,” said Christopher Bader, also a report author.

A sizable majority of Americans remains humble on the global stage: 69 percent do not think God holds the United States above other nations. The survey assessed respondents’ image of God based on four categories — authoritarian, benevolent, critical or distant — each influencing moral and political beliefs.

About one in three favor the authoritarian God. Of that number, more than 80 percent believe abortion is wrong if the family cannot afford the child or if the woman does not want the child.

The authoritarian demographic also is the likeliest to approve spending money on the military (favored by 63 percent), to support the Iraq war (63 percent) and believe that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the September 11 attacks (54 percent).

The survey also named a dozen “religious identity labels” to further define the American spiritual landscape. Most respondents defined themselves as Bible-believing, followed by born again, mainline Christian, theologically conservative and evangelical.

Amid all the lively faith, did the respondents actually attend church? The survey found that among evangelical Protestants, 45 percent attended religious services weekly or more often; the figure was 43 percent among black Protestants, 24 percent among mainline Protestants, 33 percent among Catholics and 7 percent among Jews.

Twelve percent of evangelicals said they “never” attend religious services; the figure was 14 percent among mainliners, 11 percent among blacks, 9 percent among Catholics and 29 percent among Jews.

The survey of 1,721 adults was conducted Oct. 8 to Dec. 12. It has a margin of error of four percentage points.

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