Believers often take comfort in numbers, especially in America where people like to identify with winners. And so the 23 June 2008 released Pew Forum poll on religion in America will be heartening to those believers especially those who suffer anxiety about holding a minority viewpoint when it comes to thinking about God. And it does seem that many American believers find strength only in numbers or that somehow majority numbers prove the truthfulness of a proposition. Is this the result of having even their religious thinking dominated by “democratic majority rules” ideas or is it some kind of “might is right” thinking? One wonders how these Christians would have survived in the Roman Empire, under Islamic domination, or in the atheist Soviet Union, where Christians made up a distinct minority. Do Americans really find strength in their faith or in God, or do they really rely on the majority opinion to determine what they believe? Perhaps some of this explains why some American Christians find their “faith” so threatened by science, cosmology or evolution.
Ninety Two (92%) percent of Americans claim to believe in God or a universal spirit. Strangely enough 21% of those claiming to be atheist also say they believe in a God or universal spirit. That reminds me of the statistics I’ve seen in Russia where more Russians claim to be Orthodox Christians than claim to believe in God; or as one priest stated it, not all Russians who claim to be Orthodox believe in God. It all may only show how difficult it is to do a reliable poll on religious belief, especially when each person is self defining the terms he/she uses.
Despite the obvious problems polling on religious topics may have, they do offer us some type of portrait of American beliefs. The Pew fellows tend to emphasize American tolerance and flexibility in their beliefs as a good point. A majority of those who actively pray tend to be more conservative in their values such as on issues of abortion and homosexuality. Interestingly 60% of those polled “want the government to do more to help the needy and support stronger environmental laws.” All of these points I would think show that the religious faith of Americans do affect the moral values by which they live and engage the world. There is a close connection between theological belief and personal morality. Because of this connection and because of the number of people claiming a belief in God, religious discussion does have a proper role in our elections despite what some claim to the contrary. And despite how some politicians and religious lobbies distort this proper role in public debate.
And in this presidential election year, candidates might note that a majority of believers want the U.S. to concentrate more on domestic issues and think the U.S. is too focused on foreign issues.
To see what the Pew Poll had to say about Orthodoxy see my Bilingual Orthodoxy