Uncertainties About the Role of Doubt in Religion

Publication: The New York Times

Author: Peter Steinfels

07/19/2008 - “Belief in God isn’t quite the same thing in 1500 and today,” writes Charles Taylor in “A Secular Age” (Harvard University Press, 2007), his formidable exploration of how the conditions of religious belief — and of unbelief, too — have changed for modern Westerners.

Religious faith was once the air everyone, even the doubter, breathed. Today, religious faith, in its many forms, stands as but one possibility alongside a range of nonreligious outlooks that the honest believer cannot simply dismiss as deluded or depraved.

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At first glance, the latest findings from the United States Religious Landscape Study, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, promise a way of examining those alternatives. This survey of more than 35,000 Americans asked people not only whether they believed in “God or a universal spirit” (92 percent did), but also whether the believers were “absolutely certain, fairly certain, not too certain, or not at all certain.” While 71 percent replied “absolutely certain,” a sizable portion (17 percent) fell into the “fairly certain” category.

What if one explored this latter group’s answers to other survey questions? How important, for example, was religion in their lives? How often did they pray or attend worship services? How convinced were they that there would be life after death?

Read the full article Uncertainties About the Role of Doubt in Religion on the New York Times' Web site.

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