Monday, April 13, 2009

The Theological Tide is Turning

A recent survey of the Barna Research Group suggests that many American Christian's beliefs mirror those long held by Baha'is. Below are three examples:

Four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective. A minority of Christians indicated that they believe Satan is real by disagreeing with the statement: one-quarter (26%) disagreed strongly and about one-tenth (9%) disagreed somewhat. The remaining 8% were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan. Much like their perceptions of Satan, most Christians do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living force, either. Overall, 38% strongly agreed and 20% agreed somewhat that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” Just one-third of Christians disagreed that the Holy Spirit is not a living force (9% disagreed somewhat, 25% disagreed strongly) while 9% were not sure. When asked whether it was important to them to have “active, healthy relationships with people who belong to religious faiths that do not accept the central beliefs of your faith,” about two-thirds of the self-professed Christians claimed it was important. Thirty-six percent agreed strongly with the notion, and 29% agreed somewhat, while 11% disagreed strongly and 16% disagreed somewhat. The other 8% did not have an opinion. (Read the whole report here)

Such trends in American Christian belief bode well for dialogue and fellowship between Christians and Baha'is around issues that may have divided us in the past. It also suggests that for at least some Christians the grip of biblical literalism is slipping. This is a positive development from a Baha'i perspective:

"As they have literally interpreted the Word of God, and the sayings and traditions of the Letters of Unity, ...they have therefore deprived themselves and all their people of the bountiful showers of the grace and mercies of God." (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 81)