STUDY | Research finds Americans still believe in God, but not so much in the institutional sense as they once did
June 24, 2008
BY MIKE THOMAS
By a huge margin, America remains one nation under God – but not in the way it once was. That’s according to the newest findings of a multipart survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The study found that people’s beliefs have become more individualistic and less institutional.
“Religion is about conversion, self-surrender as opposed to self-righteousness,” Cardinal Francis George said.
Still, while lots of us have apparently fallen away from the more traditional aspects of various faiths, many continue to believe in heaven (74 percent) and hell (59 percent) as reward or punishment in the afterlife.
Not surprisingly, 15 percent fewer folks think they could be – as Salieri so poetically puts it in the film “Amadeus” – consigned to flames of woe.
The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, says that’s due in part to the way in which religions have softened their messages over the years to include more salvation and less damnation. In short, less fire and brimstone.
Reese also theorizes that denial probably plays a role as well.
“Put it this way; I think probably half of those people [in the survey] think God is so loving he wouldn’t send people to hell,” Reese says, “and the other half simply don’t want to think about hell because it makes them uncomfortable.”