Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Americans Unwilling to Bar Heaven’s Gate

Before leaving the topic of American Grace, I should mention the authors’ notably upbeat conclusion. They argue that despite the substantial religious divisions among Americans (both by denomination and between the most and least religious), the vast majority of Americans are very tolerant of each other.

They say the source of this high degree of tolerance is (simply) the high level of diversity among our extended family and friends. Due to a high degree of intermarriage and religious mixing (outlined by survey data), they surmise most people know an “Aunt Susan” or a “Neighbor Al” who is an undeniably good person of a different religious affiliation.

Admirably, Americans are very generous in allowing that people who don’t share their faith can still go to heaven. Putnam and Campbell report the percentages by affiliation of those who believe “people of other religions can go to heaven”(p.535): evangelicals affirm this 83% of the time, whereas all other groups are at 90% or more (Mormons are the highest at 98%).

But the authors note that this question could be ambiguous with regard to what the respondent conceives of when he or she hears “other religions”. So they asked Christians whether people “not of my faith, including non-Christians, can go to heaven”(p.537): Mormons stayed at 98%, Mainline Protestants and Catholics drop from the 90’s to the low 80’s, and Evangelicals drop to 54% (still much better than one might have guessed).

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