A new survey by the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute has some fascinating results about American attitudes toward religion and race. Some of the news is good on the general issues, but things can look different when viewing more specific issues. For example:
Americans strongly affirm the principles of religious freedom, religious tolerance, and separation of church and state. Nearly 9-in-10 (88 percent) Americans agree that America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular. Ninety-five percent of Americans agree that all religious books should be treated with respect even if we don’t share the religious beliefs of those who use them. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans agree that we must maintain a strict separation of church and state.
Of course, once that last question gets into specific issues like Ten Commandments displays on public property, the results can be quite different.
One of the fascinating results of the study is how differently those who get their information from Fox News view the world from those who get their news from other sources. For example:
Nearly half (46 percent) of Americans agree that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. A slim majority (51 percent) disagree.
- A slim majority of whites agree that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups, compared to only about 3-in-10 blacks and Hispanics who agree.
- Approximately 6-in-10 Republicans and those identifying with the Tea Party agree that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups.
- Nearly 7-in-10 Americans who say they most trust Fox News say that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. In stark contrast, less than 1-in-4 Americans who most trust public television for their news agree.
By a margin of 2-to-1, the general public rejects the notion that American Muslims ultimately want to establish Shari’a law as the law of the land in the U.S. (61 percent disagree, 30 percent agree).
- Over the last 8 months agreement with this question has increased by 7 points, from 23 percent in February 2011 to 30 percent today.
- Nearly 6-in-10 Republicans who most trust Fox News believe that American Muslims are trying to establish Shari’a law in the U.S. The attitudes of Republicans who most trust other news sources look similar to the general population.
Those who trust Fox News are twice as likely to buy into all that “creeping Sharia” nonsense. I can’t say I’m surprised.
But I don’t like questions like this:
Americans are evenly divided over whether the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life (47 percent agree, 48 percent disagree).
- Approximately two-thirds of Republicans, Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement, and Americans who most trust Fox News agree that the values of Islam are at odds with American values. A majority of Democrats, Independents, and those who most trust CNN or public television disagree.
- Major religious groups are divided on this question. Nearly 6-in-10 white evangelical Protestants believe the values of Islam are at odds with American values, but majorities of Catholics, non-Christian religiously unaffiliated Americans, and religiously unaffiliated Americans disagree.
The question assumes something obviously untrue, that there is a single set of “Islamic values” that is consistent. That is no more true of Islam than it is of Christianity. As I keep saying, there are lots and lots of different versions of each religion. The Christianity of RJ Rushdoony could hardly be more different than the Christianity of Barry Lynn. The Islam of Osama Bin Laden could scarcely differ more from the Islam of my boss, who fights tirelessly for equal rights for women and gay people. So when one is asked whether Islamic values conflict with “American values” once must first ask, “Whose Islamic values?”