07/06/2008 - A massive survey of 36,000 Americans just released by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (www.pewforum.org) contains plenty of material to both delight and dismay almost everyone.
Secular people worried that fundamentalist religion is sweeping across the country can relax. Fully 70 percent of all Americans think many religions can lead to eternal life, and even a solid majority (57 percent) of evangelicals agree. Seventy-eight percent of Americans say they believe in absolute moral standards, but a majority (52 percent) say they rely primarily on practical experience for their moral norms. Personal experience seems to trump any external source for moral guidance.
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The portrait that emerges is that of a tolerant, open society of believers. They are largely unlike the too-prevalent image of rigid, fiery believers, they appear to make up their own minds, or at least say they do - which may distress religious leaders who'd like their flocks to to embrace historic orthodoxy. Whatever one's religious or political views, this important study offers much to ponder - some to celebrate and much to seek to change.
Read the full op-ed Religion in America is Open, Tolerant on the Philadelphia Inquirer's Web site.
Ronald J. Sider is president of Evangelicals for Social Action.