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A personal account of understanding the purpose of religion and church

Religious Beliefs and Practices Chapter 1: Religious Beliefs and Practices This chapter examines the diverse religious beliefs and practices of American adults. It looks first at the various degrees of importance Americans assign to religion in their lives and explores their views of God, Scripture, miracles and other religious beliefs. It then moves into a discussion of worship and other congregational activities, followed by a look at devotional practices, spiritual experiences and other practices.

The chapter concludes by examining beliefs about religion, including how exclusive people are in their claims to salvation, as well as by examining the ways in which members of different religious traditions think about morality. These four measures will be used in the next chapter as lenses through which to examine social and political attitudes within the religious traditions.

These measures were chosen because they each touch on an important element of religious experience — overall attachment to religion, religious belief, frequency of private devotional activities and engagement in communal religious activities. Just as the first report of the Landscape Survey detailed the remarkable diversity that exists in the religious affiliation of adults in the United States, the pages that follow document the great diversity the survey finds in the religious beliefs and practices of Americans.

Many measures confirm that the United States is, indeed, a very religious country. Americans are largely united in their belief in God, for instance, with majorities even of people who are unaffiliated with a particular religious tradition expressing belief in God or a universal spirit.

  • In its day, a constitutional prohibition that the state would not establish or restrain personal faith was truly revolutionary;
  • Less than half of Buddhists and Hindus, and less than a quarter of Jews, say angels and demons are active in the world;
  • Among the general adult population, there are no substantial differences in attendance at worship services by education;
  • Religion and politics can be polarizing, precisely because they deal with important matters that are deeply personal and close to our passions.

Large majorities also believe in miracles and an afterlife. Yet there are significant differences in the exact nature of these beliefs and the intensity with which people hold these beliefs. For example, while most Americans believe in God, there is considerable variation in the certainty and nature of their belief in God. The survey also finds considerable diversity within religious groups. For instance, Americans who are not affiliated with any religion often report having some specific religious beliefs and practices.

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The reverse is also true; some adults who say they belong to one religion or another nevertheless say religion is not too important in their lives and report having few religious beliefs or practices. For instance, a large majority of Americans who are affiliated with a religion, including majorities of most faith groups, say there is more than one religion that can lead to eternal life and more than one way to interpret the teachings of their faith.

And though the overwhelming majority of the public expresses a belief in absolute standards of right and wrong, the survey suggests that this belief is shaped as much by practical experience as by religious beliefs. Slightly more than half of Catholics and members of mainline Protestant churches say religion is very important in their lives. Religion is important even among a large segment of those who are unaffiliated with a particular religious group.

  • But the opposite is true among members of evangelical churches, where those with a college degree are more likely than those with a high school degree or less to profess certain belief in a personal God;
  • Size of Congregation Among U;
  • Although large majorities of all Christian traditions say the Bible is the word of God, the extent to which they say it should be taken literally varies widely;
  • Older Americans are considerably more likely than younger Americans to profess certain belief in a personal God;
  • Slightly more than half of Catholics and members of mainline Protestant churches say religion is very important in their lives;
  • It then moves into a discussion of worship and other congregational activities, followed by a look at devotional practices, spiritual experiences and other practices.

The unaffiliated population who represent 16. See the first report of the U. Religious Landscape Survey for details on divisions within the unaffiliated population. Importance of Religion and Demographic Groups The survey finds that women are significantly more likely than men to say religion is very important in their lives. In general, older adults are more likely than younger adults to say religion is very important in their lives.

This pattern also holds across many religious traditions, but it is particularly strong among Catholics and members of mainline Protestant churches.

There is no generation gap, however, among Mormons, Jews and Muslims. Within these groups, those who are younger are about as likely as those who are older to say religion is very important to them.

Among the general public, adults with less education tend to be most likely to say religion is very important in their lives; this is also true for the unaffiliated and for Muslims.

The Real Meaning of the Separation of Church and State

For most religious traditions, however, there are only small differences in the importance of religion across different levels of education. Even among those who are not affiliated with a particular religious group, seven-in-ten say they believe in God or a universal spirit. There are also differences in the way members of different religious traditions conceive of God. This holds true for most religious traditions with the exception of Mormons, Buddhists and Hindus, where men and women profess roughly the same levels of absolute belief in a personal God.

Older Americans are considerably more likely than younger Americans to profess certain belief in a personal God. In other traditions, however — especially members of evangelical, mainline and historically black Protestant churches — young people are about as likely as their older counterparts to express certain belief in a personal God.

Overall, Americans with a college education tend to be slightly less likely to believe with certainty in a personal God compared with those without a degree. But the opposite is true among members of evangelical churches, where those with a college degree are more likely than those with a high school degree or less to profess certain belief in a personal God.

This is also true, though to a lesser extent, among Catholics and members of historically black churches. Scripture There is considerable variance in the approach religious groups adopt toward their sacred texts. In fact, majorities or pluralities of these groups say their sacred texts are written by men and do not constitute the word of God. Although large majorities of all Christian traditions say the Bible is the word of God, the extent to which they say it should be taken literally varies widely.

But the unaffiliated tend to be less certain about this belief than members of most other religious traditions. However, only about a quarter are absolutely certain about this belief. Miracles and the Supernatural The Landscape Survey finds that belief in miracles and supernatural phenomena are widespread among U. Less than half of Buddhists and Hindus, and less than a quarter of Jews, say angels and demons are active in the world.

  1. Religious Landscape Survey for details on divisions within the unaffiliated population.
  2. Large majorities also believe in miracles and an afterlife.
  3. Americans are largely united in their belief in God, for instance, with majorities even of people who are unaffiliated with a particular religious tradition expressing belief in God or a universal spirit.
  4. The reverse is also true; some adults who say they belong to one religion or another nevertheless say religion is not too important in their lives and report having few religious beliefs or practices.
  5. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.

Attendance at Religious Services and Demographic Groups Women in several Christian traditions are more likely than men to attend religious services at least once a week, with the largest gap existing among members of historically black churches.

Among Muslims, however, men are much more likely to attend services weekly, and among Mormons, Jews and the unaffiliated, the figures are roughly equal. Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say they attend services at least once a week. There are similar, though somewhat less pronounced, generational differences among all three Protestant traditions.

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices

Notable exceptions to this pattern are Mormons, Jews and Muslims, among whom younger individuals are at least as likely as their older counterparts to say they attend religious services on a weekly basis. Among the general adult population, there are no substantial differences in attendance at worship services by education.

But within certain Christian traditions, including members of evangelical, mainline and historically black Protestant churches as well as Mormons, those with more education tend to attend church somewhat more often than those with less education. Members of non-Christian religions tend to be less likely than Christians to report official membership in a house of worship. These findings could indicate that a sizable number of people who say they have no particular religious affiliation have family members who belong to a religious congregation.

Alternatively, it could indicate that many who do not identify with a particular religion nevertheless belong to a religious congregation. Size of Congregation Among U. It should also be pointed out that, historically, Catholic parishes were known for having very large congregations.

Six-in-ten Americans with children under age 18 living at home arrange for them to attend such programs. Prayer and Meditation A majority of U. Prayer and Demographic Groups As with other measures of religious involvement, women are considerably more likely than men to say they pray daily, and this pattern holds to varying degrees across many religious traditions. Similarly, older adherents pray at least once a day at much higher rates than their younger counterparts, both among the public overall and across several religious traditions.

College graduates are less likely than others to say they pray daily. Among Catholics and members of mainline and historically black churches, however, these differences are relatively small. And among Mormons and members of evangelical churches, college graduates are noticeably more likely than others to say they pray daily. In addition to the general question about prayer, the Landscape Survey asked Buddhists and Hindus a more specific question about how often they pray at a shrine or other religious symbol in their homes.

The Landscape Survey also finds that a significant number of U. Scripture Reading About a third of U. Nearly half of U. Among all other religious traditions, majorities say they seldom or never participate in these kinds of a personal account of understanding the purpose of religion and church. Sharing the Faith With Others The Landscape Survey finds wide variance across religious groups in the frequency with which they report sharing their faith with others. The unaffiliated were asked how often they share their views on God and religion with religious people.

Jews and the unaffiliated are among the groups that are least likely to say they receive answers to prayers, which is perhaps not surprising given that they are also among the groups least likely to pray regularly. Within these traditions, members of Pentecostal churches are particularly likely to say they have witnessed a healing. Speaking in Tongues Speaking in tongues, a practice often associated with Pentecostal and charismatic churches, is not particularly common among Christians overall.

Not surprisingly, speaking in tongues is especially common within Pentecostal denominations in both the evangelical and historically black Protestant traditions. By comparison, very few members of mainline Protestant churches report speaking or praying in tongues regularly. Seven-in-ten Americans with a religious affiliation say that many religions can lead to eternal life.

How Strictly to Interpret the Faith? Jews, Buddhists and Hindus also tend to favor adjusting to new circumstances. Beliefs About Morality Nearly eight-in-ten U. Americans demonstrate a practical bent when it comes to the sources to which they look for guidance on such matters.