Monday, January 26, 2009

Many Paths to Paradise


The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, my favorite source of social science on religion in America, has news on a recent study regarding beliefs about salvation. Check it out:

"A majority of all American Christians (52%) think that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life. Indeed, among Christians who believe many religions can lead to eternal life, 80% name at least one non-Christian faith that can do so. These are among the key findings of a national survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life from July 31-Aug. 10, 2008, among 2,905 adults.

Figure 1The survey is designed as a follow-up to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted in 2007, which reported that most Americans who claim a religious affiliation take a non-exclusivist view of salvation, with seven-in-ten saying that many religions can lead to eternal life while less than one-quarter say theirs is the one, true faith leading to eternal life. But what exactly do these respondents have in mind when they agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life?” Is this primarily an example of most Christians (who account for nearly 80% of the U.S. adult population) acknowledging that some Christian denominations and churches besides their own can lead to eternal life? Or are most people interpreting “many religions” more broadly, to include non-Christian faiths?

The new survey asks those who say many religions can lead to eternal life whether or not they think a series of specific religions (including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism) can lead to eternal life, as well as whether they think atheists or people who have no religious faith can achieve eternal life. The findings confirm that most people who say many religions can lead to eternal life take the view that even non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal salvation. Indeed, among Christians who say that many religions can lead to eternal life (65% of all Christians), the vast majority (80%) cite an example of at least one non-Christian religion that can lead to salvation, and fully six-in-ten (61%) name two or more non-Christian religions. Even among white evangelical Protestants, nearly three-quarters (72%) of those who say many religions can lead to eternal life name at least one non-Christian religion that can lead to salvation." (Read the whole report here)

I'm reminded of commentary in a letter addressed by the Universal House of Justice to the World's Religious Leaders:

"...Bahá'ís see in the struggle of diverse religions to draw closer together a response to the Divine Will for a human race that is entering on its collective maturity. The members of our community will continue to assist in every way we can. We owe it to our partners in this common effort, however, to state clearly our conviction that interfaith discourse, if it is to contribute meaningfully to healing the ills that afflict a desperate humanity, must now address honestly and without further evasion the implications of the over-arching truth that called the movement into being: that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one."
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World's Religious Leaders, p. 5)

It may be that the trend identified in the above study offers a glimmer of the emerging consciousness of the truth that "God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one." If so, it is an encouraging sign.