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(RNS) Grounded in more than a million interviews, Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport's new book argues that religion is a vital force in America, and will remain so for many years. By Daniel Burke.

17 Comments

  1. Newport may have done little research in answering questions. . . (quote) “And thirdly, one way you grow is to have high fertility rates. Mormons are doing that well because their theology encourages big families”. . . maybe too little in his explanations. . .

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is mainly a church of converts. It was formally organized in 1830 with 6 members and today (as of 2010) has a membership of over 14 million with approximately 8 million residing outside the United States. There are members now in 176 nations/territories. This growth has continued with almost a million new members now being added every three years. Growth consists both of convert baptisms and natural growth through the birth of children. Children on record (birth of children in the church – 2009) increase was approx. 120,000. Converts were 280,000 (2009).

    • While it’s true that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints grows more by converts than by high fertility rates, I read it as him using our church as the best example there is of his high fertility comment. I did not read it as saying that it is the highest growth method for our church.

  2. “While most Americans believe that getting rid of religion is an impossible goal, much of the developed world has already accomplished it. Any account of a “god gene” that causes the majority of Americans to helplessly organize their lives around ancient works of religious fiction must explain why so many inhabitants of other First World societies apparently lack such a gene. The level of atheism throughout the rest of the developed world refutes any argument that religion is somehow a moral necessity. Countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on Earth. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate and infant mortality. Conversely, the 50 nations now ranked lowest in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious. Other analyses paint the same picture: The United States is unique among wealthy democracies in its level of religious literalism and opposition to evolutionary theory; it is also uniquely beleaguered by high rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, STD infection and infant mortality. The same comparison holds true within the United States itself: Southern and Midwestern states, characterized by the highest levels of religious superstition and hostility to evolutionary theory, are especially plagued by the above indicators of societal dysfunction, while the comparatively secular states of the Northeast conform to European norms. Of course, correlational data of this sort do not resolve questions of causality–belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God; each factor may enable the other; or both may spring from some deeper source of mischief. Leaving aside the issue of cause and effect, these facts prove that atheism is perfectly compatible with the basic aspirations of a civil society; they also prove, conclusively, that religious faith does nothing to ensure a society’s health.
    Countries with high levels of atheism also are the most charitable in terms of giving foreign aid to the developing world. The dubious link between Christian literalism and Christian values is also belied by other indices of charity. Consider the ratio in salaries between top-tier CEOs and their average employee: in Britain it is 24 to 1; France 15 to 1; Sweden 13 to 1; in the United States, where 83% of the population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead, it is 475 to 1. Many a camel, it would seem, expects to squeeze easily through the eye of a needle.” —- Sam Harris

    • Where to start? Let’s see…regarding the specious argument that the Bible is myth and legend, this lie has been demonstrably proven false by hundreds of books that show the archaeological references of the Old and New Testaments to be historically accurate, along with many of the events recorded therein. As for the opposition to evolutionary thought, there are active debates on both sides of that theory with the most important conclusion being that evolution cannot explain the ultimate origin of matter and order in the universe we see or the universes about which some hypothesize. God is essential for there to be morality because where else would absolute standards of right and wrong have their genesis if not in One who is has established all things and set them in place. Surely we don’t have to look very far to see that human beings are incapable of governing themselves based on their own sin tainted values. And while Christians may not be perfect, which is a given since we know that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of sins, the world has been an immeasurably better place for the impact of Christ and his followers. Statistics have shown for decades that Christians are the most generous people on the planet, having established hospitals, nursing homes, child-care facilities, and a host of charities too numerous to count simply out of obedience to Jesus. There is more indeed to be done and Christians have failed miserably to do the right things throughout history but it is laughable to think that humanity out of its own conscience would ever achieve the same level of love and concern for others.

      • @ Terry

        Where to start? Let’s do a bullet-point response:

        1. “hundreds of books that show the archaeological references of the Old and New Testaments to be historically accurate, along with many of the events recorded therein.”

        Response: Hundreds? Not that I’m aware of… I think maybe you don’t understand what a myth is. Most myths do in fact contain historical references. We don’t assume that, because The Iliad mentions Troy that the Greek gods are real. We don’t assume that, because Geo. Washington was a real historical figure that the myth of the cherry-tree chopping is real. The power of myths is that they integrate a people’s real history with non-literal morality tales. Unless you assert that snakes and donkeys used to have verbal abilities, we have to admit that the Bible is a myth in the precise academic sense.

        2. “evolution cannot explain the ultimate origin of matter.”
        Response: Why would a biological theory (and a theory means that there is a lot of data to justify it by the way) attempt to explain questions of physics? Of course, evolution has nothing to do with cosmology. That’s like insisting that the heliocentric model of the solar system must be invalid because it can’t explain how the lungs work.

        3. “God is essential for there to be morality because where else would absolute standards of right and wrong have their genesis if not in One who is has established all things and set them in place.”

        Response: Is this the same God who ordered through his servants the slaughter of women and children in Joshua? Is it the same God who prompted his servant to say “kill all the boys” in Numbers 31? Thankfully, we recognize these as ahistorical myths. The idea that morals are absolute is laughable. Various cultures establish a variety of morals based on several factors…geography, history, etc. Morals develop as humans (social animals) seek the best way to allow the social group to survive and thrive. Those behaviors that encourage thriving stay on and are codified as “morals.” It’s a pretty simple process. We also see moral codes in the higher primates (bonobos display altruism for example).

        4. “Statistics have shown for decades that Christians are the most generous people on the planet, having established hospitals, nursing homes, child-care facilities, and a host of charities too numerous to count simply out of obedience to Jesus.”

        Response: While I notice you didn’t actually post these alleged statistics, I agree that religious people may tend to be more charitable, but we are basically talking about religion as a social-connecting agency. In cultures where people have the opportunity to connect (as in meeting as a church or other religious body), it is natural that they will then take care of their own communities. As shown in the previous comment, nations that score the highest on happiness index studies also tend to be the most irreligious. Christianity is like any human belief system -capable of doing good and, when coupled with absolute government power (as in the Middle Ages), capable of committing the most heinous of atrocities. What we really see is that, left to their own reason and rationality, humans join together to do good things.

        • I find it interesting that you slam the post about not stating where his data comes from. It might interest you to know that, contrary to your assertion (and the assertion of other posters) that many ‘First World’ countries are mostly atheists or non-believers, these statistics belie your comment:

          1) Finland- 77% identify as Lutheran
          2) Norway- 79% identify as Protestant
          3) Australia- 61% identify as Christian, another 18% as other religions
          4) Sweden- 69% of the population belongs to the Church of Sweden
          5) Switzerland- 72% identify as Christian, another 8% as other religions
          6) Iceland- 77% of the population belongs to the Church of Iceland (Lutheran)
          7) Canada- 77% identify as Christian, 9% as other religions
          8) Belgium- 56% identify as Catholic, 12% as other religions
          9) United Kingdom- 71% identify as Christian, 6% as other religions
          10) Denmark- 80% of the population belong to the Church of Denmark

          Most of the countries that you asserted were atheist or non-religious are, in fact, not so. They are predominantly religious, and, coincidentally, predominantly Christian.

          While it is true that the level of religious adherence in all areas of the First World has waned, people there still believe in their religion enough to identify as being a member. They are not atheists. In Japan, it is true that most people do not consider themselves to be religious, about 80% of the population. In the Netherlands, about 50% of the population identifies as religious. Those are the only two of those you claimed to be non-religious that actually are. However, in Japan, most of the 80% who do not adhere to a religion do participate in Shinto-Buddhist ceremonies throughout the year. Only 20% of those in the Netherlands identify as atheist, The rest just say: non-religious.

    • In the above passage Sam Harris is as deceitful as always. His many lies only prove that atheists are amoral because they have no fear of God. Thank you for posting this example of atheist deceit, David.

  3. I don’t agree with where Harris’ reasoning takes him — to atheism (but I do appreciate his data and analytic processes most of the way). I’m a complicated animal as a “panentheist”. Whether it is this “3rd option” or one called something else, my several decades of study of Christianity, its foundations and theology, other religions, human development and sociology, etc., tells me neither traditional theism NOR atheism is up to explaining root issues, including the MECHANISMS that appear to drive evolution and provide for some amount of social cohesion, etc.

    Harris has some valid points about the down-side of religion, and he does seem to single out the less sophisticated “literalist” type as involving much of that. As to citing the % of people in numerous countries he refers to as
    “the least religious societies”, I think his statement holds, while the stats cited by NHMtnClimber are also probably correct and valid (I’ll trust the author). Beneath those surface numbers, however, I don’t think there is much doubt that Lutheran or other church membership means something much less religiously involved or biblically literalist and morally “conservative” in, say Scandinavia, than it does in the U.S. If you do doubt this, do a little checking.

    By the way, for anyone interested in something “between” traditional Christian theology and total disbelief, the “panentheism” I cited is the understanding of and way of explaining God the best some of us think anyone can, to this point. The broader system in which it sits is often called Process Theology. (Wikipedia has a good summary.)

  4. Titanium Dragon

    Harris, unfortunately, is an idiot. But it isn’t really surprising. Being religious has been proven to correlate with lower intelligence, after all. But he doesn’t note that, now does he?

    No, he pretends that it makes you healthier. But it doesn’t. The reality is that the reason that religious people have historically lived slightly longer has to do with the fact that they have built-in social support groups as they get older, and having friends makes you live longer. Thus, -any- social activity will improve your health.

    Had he ever actually done any research on this, he would know this. But sadly, he did not.

  1. […] God is alive and well in America, says Gallup chief He spoke recently to Religion News Service about his Southern Baptist roots, why mainline Protestants need to have more babies, and why companies should reward employees who attend church. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read more on Religion News Service […]

  2. […] Q: What’s the single most important trend in American religion today? A: One trend that I’m asked a lot about is the rise of the “nones,” about which there’s a huge amount of publicity, but which is often misinterpreted. When Gallup asked the question about religious identity back in the 1950s, almost zero would say they have “none.” People would say “Baptist” or “Catholic” even if they were not particularly religious. Now, 18% of Americans, according to Gallup polls, say they do not have a particular religious identity. That doesn’t mean that 18% are atheists — only 5% or 6% say they don’t believe in God — but people are changing how they express their religiosity…. Read this in full at http://www.religionnews.com/2013/01/07/god-is-alive-and-well-in-america-says-gallup-chief/ […]

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