As I continue to blog my way through American Grace, the book I named Book of the Year for 2010, I thought it worth noting this observation about the American people and their religious perspectives.
Robert Putnam and David Campbell enlighten us about the realities of American religious life. We may be more "religious" than most other Western nations, but our religious preferences can be well described with a phrase traditionally reserved for Episcopalians -- "In all things moderation." We're spiritual, even religious, but we're not fanatics. There is a small core of what the authors call "True Believers," but they make up only 10% of the population. This is a group that, according to the authors, that "live in religiously monochromatic social environments." That is, they tend not to marry outside their religious group and are much more insistent that their children remain true to the true faith. Perhaps more importantly, they have fewer social/kinship ties to people outside their faith community (American Grace, pp. 546-547).
Here is a kicker that needs to be considered, and I'll be coming back to this point later, is that while 52% of "True Believers" are Evangelicals -- that is, they believe that their faith alone is the true faith -- 75% of Evangelicals cannot be categorized as "True Believers." And the reason for this? Well, the message that comes through time and again is that our pluralistic context means that we are simply not able to write off what the authors call our "Aunt Susan's," the members of our kinship circle who are outside our faith tradition. But, even more common than having someone of another faith in our kinship circle, is our wider friendship circile. The authors note:
There is a lot of "exclusivist" yelling going on in our socieity today, but it would appear that these voices represent a very small percentage of the American population. Of course, as I'll show later, clergy are much less likely than laity, to believe this way!
Most Americans have at least one close friend of another religion, and many have multiple friends of other faiths. Even over a short period of time, we have seen that a small increase in such religious bridging corresponds to warmer feelings toward at least two relatively unpopular religious groups (Mormons and non-religious). Furthermore, we have seen that a religious bridging can expand American's sense of who is fully a member of the national community. (p. 548).