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New Survey on American Attitudes About Religion

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.

And this:

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?”

Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    Survey:

    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.

    I hope the question was presented better than this answer. If by respect they mean we should fiercely defend adherents’ rights to publish and promote their religious books than I’m with the 95% – that being the liberal-Islamic crowd ;) . If by respect they mean our rights should be limited in terms of our right to freely ridicule those books’ contents, than I’m with the 5%.

  2. DaveL says

    I want to hear from the 3 in 10 Blacks and Hispanics who think discrimination against whites is as big a problem these days as discrimination against people of colour.

  3. Michael Heath says

    Survey:

    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).

    I assume that 30% is almost totally dominated by what appears to be nearly all conservative Christians (22% – 28% of the population), leaving few others to convince (retirees of mainline churches who watch Fox News?). Since the former group enjoys a majority and growing share of voting power in the Republican party, its influence is greatly disproportionate to its total share of the population. So we should be alarmed that 30% is so high.

  4. DaveL says

    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.

    I find this is a major axis of analysis concerning the question of “original intent”. It’s an all-too-human failing to articulate a set of grand principles for oneself only to balk when faced with putting those principles into practice. So in such cases which is the original intent – the ideals that we set for ourselves or the myriad ways in which we’ve fallen short? I for one favour the former, but it seems to me most social conservatives favour the latter.

  5. Artor says

    “So when one is asked whether Islamic values conflict with “American values” once must first ask, “Whose Islamic values?”

    I’d like to add, “Whose American Values?” to that question. There are some whose American values consist of Jeebus, kill teh gayz, and bomb the hell out of all the Mooslems. In their case, it doesn’t much matter whose Islamic values are under consideration.

  6. Michael Heath says

    Ed:

    So when one is asked whether Islamic values conflict with “American values” once must first ask, “Whose Islamic values?”

    I would answer that Islam is at odds with American values, but no more so than Christianity or Judaism.

    From my perspective there are many Muslims, Jews and Christians who are able to subscribe to both American values and their religion. But the fact some have found ways to accommodate both shouldn’t have us avoiding what all three religions promote – even their more liberal denominations, which is in opposition to American values and the basis of those values – modernist enlightenment thinking, especially the reliance on evidence and reason by discarding with holy dogma and claims of divine revelation. So there’s a tension which exists that keeps one less committed to “American values” (really enlightenment values).

    So to accomodate both, a religious believer in at least one of the Abrahamic religions must be less of a religionist than one’s religion demands. What we encounter is secularism slowly winning out which has resulted in a gradual eroding of religion dominating the public square by those seeking to adhere to enlightenment principles (with a huge backlash by conservative Christians that drowns out the growing disillusionment with religion). It’s this very favoring of secularism coupled to rising financial security which has caused Europe’s churches to hollow-out, once one walks away from both fear and holy dogma as the sole defining reference where one also rejects some of the dogmatic edicts, there’s really not much reason to attend church. The threat of hell on earth and Hell for all eternity remain effective motivators but only with those with conservative mindset given an attribute of that mindset is being fearful by nature.

    There are some exceptions of course, arguably Barry Lynn though I don’t include him, but they are few and far between (John Kerry and Hillary Clinton might be two exceptions where yes, I know she’s prayed with other members of The Family). Here I use the term exception to note a person who leaves their religious beliefs behind when they enter the public square and depend almost solely on justifying their position with secular-derived positions and hold those secular positions in high regard. Even then the politically liberal religionists of the world still rely on dogmatic arguments to influence others, e.g., liberals relying on Jesus’ admonitions promoting some aspects of social justice, such as helping the old, feeble, poor, and young, where Jews and Muslims have equivalent stories and edicts. It’s this continued reliance on religious arguments and a demand to submit one’s fealty to a higher authority than to the defense of others’ liberty rights which keeps me in the camp the two belief systems abstractly conflict while not always effectively conflicting – where the abstract still holds for many on many issues, even liberals.

  7. slc1 says

    Re Michael Heath @ 11:38 AM

    At least at one time, during her Senate sojourn, Secretary Clinton was associated with C Street. Not exactly calculated to inspire confidence in Ms. Clinton’s secularism.

  8. Michael Heath says

    SLC:

    At least at one time, during her Senate sojourn, Secretary Clinton was associated with C Street. Not exactly calculated to inspire confidence in Ms. Clinton’s secularism.

    Which I noted when I referred to The Family in the post you respond to, they owned a building on C Street which gained notoriety. However they also sponsored a lot of benign events and I’ve encountered no evidence Ms. Clinton’s faith filters reasonable positions and behavior that can be taken by any secularist.

  9. gopiballava says

    I want to hear from the 3 in 10 Blacks and Hispanics who think discrimination against whites is as big a problem these days as discrimination against people of color.

    That’s another one of those questions that you have to be careful about how much you think about it or, perhaps, should have been better phrased.

    There are political commentators who bring up every example of anti-white discrimination they can think of, and amplify it to make it out like it’s the norm rather than the exception.

    So, giving fodder to bigots could be perceived to be the bigger problem.

    If the question was, “Which groups are more likely to be discriminated against?” is probably the question most people are thinking of.

  10. The Lorax says

    But what about the discrimination rate against individuals age 18 to 28 that routinely watch “My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic”?!?!?(I’d give my left nut for an interrobang right now)?!?

    Screw the whites, protect the bronies and the pegasisters!

    From whence cometh our heuristics?
    Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

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