Since I have a decidedly nontraditional attitude toward spirituality, it was reassuring to see that a Newsweek/Beliefnet poll found that 79% of Americans answered “Yes” to the question, “Can a good person who doesn’t share your religious beliefs attain salvation or go to heaven?”
Of course, I’d feel even better if I could get that assurance directly from whatever higher power is responsible for doling out salvation.
Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Christians appear to be more tolerant than I have been giving them credit for. Evangelical Protestants were the least tolerant, but 68% still were willing to give a heaven pass to non-believers.
I wonder though, whether those answering the question were thinking of Wiccans when they heard “person who doesn’t share your religious beliefs,” or merely a Christian denomination other than their own.
About a third of both Protestants and Catholics said that they often or sometimes explore the spiritual ideas of other faiths. This is encouraging also. Non-Christians were more eclectic, with about half falling into this category.
That’s the good news about tolerance. The bad news is the gullibility of religious Americans. Which essentially means Americans, because 87% of people in this country identify themselves as Christian (85%), Jewish (1%), or Muslim (1%). The United States is one of the most religious nations and, not coincidentally, one of the least informed about science.
I was channel surfing through the cable news channels yesterday and caught the results of a CNN poll about evolution and creationism. The anchor said, “Americans are equally familiar with both explanations of how we came to be. And roughly the same number of people believe each theory is true.”
Oh, Lord! God help us!
On the whole Americans believe that evolution, which is backed up by extremely solid scientific evidence, is as true as creationism, which is backed up by precisely zero scientific evidence. How gullible can our citizens be? (Answer to my own question: gullible enough to believe lots of other things without evidence, like Bush’s economic and Iraq policies).
Amazingly, 61% said that evolution should be taught in public school science classes and 54% said the same about creationism. The poll results should have been 100% and 0%. Creationism and intelligent design deserve to be discussed in a religion class, but not a science class.
Better yet, they should be examined in a psychology class, as this Time magazine letter writer said in the August 29 issue:
I appreciate columnist Charles Krauthammer’s clear and unequivocal statement on the dangers of the creationist intrusion into science instruction [Aug. 8]. I am a behavioral scientist and university professor, and I have always been dismayed that behavioral-science departments do not include major sections on the power of religious thought and belief. But the theory of “intelligent design” [which claims there is a supernatural influence in the origin of life, as opposed to Darwinian evolution] is neither good science nor good religion.
How can well-meaning people genuinely think that our culture will advance by turning our backs on rational thought and empirical evidence? Whether it be fundamental questions like the origin of the species or such applied problems as HIV prevention, global warming and lack of health care, the empirical world will always win out. Self-serving or politically and religiously “correct” beliefs—whether from the right or the left—only distract us from a real understanding of ourselves and our world, to our eventual cost.
David J. McKirnan, Ph.D., Dept. of Psychology, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago
The more I thought about it, tolerance and gullibility aren’t really opposed at all. I shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that religious Americans are tolerant of other people’s beliefs, because religiosity is founded on faith-based acceptance of unproven propositions about the cosmos.
So just as the religious have no problem giving nearly equal weight to evolution and creationism, they also have no problem giving nearly equal weight to alternative spiritual beliefs. Everything is possible in the realm of faith. No facts required. Simply believe.
I wish Americans were a lot less tolerant of religions. Especially their own. For this would lead them to be less gullible of religious dogma. Especially their own.
As I frequently observe here in the Church of the Churchless, I’m highly intolerant of intolerance. And one of the worst forms of intolerance is ignoring scientific facts. In my opinion it’s fine to tolerate religious beliefs so long as they remain personal, private, and non-political.
But when blind religious faith tries to shove clear-eyed scientific fact out of the science classroom, it’s time to push back.
Hard. Reality deserves to be fought for.