Monday, April 18, 2011

Barna Group Study: What Americans Believe About Universalism and Pluralism

Most Americans believe they, themselves, will go to heaven. Yet, when asked to describe their views about the religious destiny of others, people become much less forgiving. Some people might be described as inclusive—that is, embracing the notion that everyone—or nearly everyone—makes it into heaven. Others possess a generally exclusive take on faith, viewing the afterlife in a more selective manner.

A new analysis of Barna Group trend data explores whether Americans embrace inclusive or exclusive views of faith as well as how they operate within a context of religious pluralism, or the multi-faith nature of U.S. society. The research examines what Americans believe, whether there have been changes over time, and the degree to which younger generations are different from older adults.

Broadly defined, universalism is the belief that all human beings will be saved after death. On balance, Americans leaned toward exclusive rather than inclusive views.(Read article)

Study Results Summarized: Universalism
  • "It doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons.” Results: 43% agreed and 54% disagreed with the statement
  • “All people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs” Results: 40% agreed, 55% disagreed
  • “All people are eventually saved or accepted by God, no matter what they do, because he loves all people he has created” Results: 40% agreed, versus 50% disagreed
  • “In life you either side with God or you side with the devil; there is no in-between position” Results: 69% disagreed, versus 27% agreed with the idea.
  • “If a person is generally good or does enough good things for others, they will earn a place in heaven” Results: 48% agreed, while 44% disagreed 
Study Results: Pluralism
One aspect of exclusion and inclusion is how Americans’ relate to faiths other than their own, which is particularly important in a pluralistic, multi-faith society. On the evangelistic side, a slim majority of Americans:
  • 51% believe they have “a responsibility to tell other people their religious beliefs.”
  • 62% said it is important “to have active, healthy relationships with people who belong to religious faiths that do not accept the central beliefs of your faith.” 
In a mash-up of pluralism and universalism:
  • 59% of adults believe that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God even though they have different names and beliefs regarding God.” 
  • 43% Americans agreed to endorse the idea that “the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths.” 
  • 62% of the residents of Texas were equally likely as residents of New York to believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same deity. 
  • Florida residents 58% were statistically similar. Yet, California was less likely to embrace the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same deity 48%. 
The president of the Barna Group, pointed out that “the difference between the Christian community and the cultural norms is even more pronounced among the youngest generations. In other words, younger born again Christians’ attitudes about religious inclusivity and exclusivity are more divergent from their peers than is currently true of their parents’ generation. This gap represents increasing pressure on young believers to understand those differences and to find meaning and confidence in their faith convictions.