Your God’s Cool Too

Today is a reminder that while there are plenty of religious nutjobs in America, we’re pretty lucky all things considered. Israel bombed Gaza today and Pakistan is mobilizing troops away from Afghanistan (WTF?) and towards India. But, an op-ed article published in The New York Times today called, “Heaven for the Godless?“, not only bodes well for me (oh, the irony) but offers a sense of temperance among believers in the U.S.; all this much to the chagrin of evangelists, which is awesome.

The author, Charles Blow, references a couple of recent studies by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which conclude that somewhere between 65% and 70% of Americans believe “religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life”. The piece also says the studies concluded that, “Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go”.

Other tidbits from the article in relation to Christianity include:

  • only 39 percent of Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God;
  • only 18 percent think that it’s just a book written by men and not the word of God at all;
  • only 1 percent of Christians, when asked what it would take to achieve eternal life, said living life in accordance with the Bible.

These conclusions clearly speak toward tolerance. I believe the isolationist society we’ve built, and continue to embrace, contributes to these figures, even though they were surprisingly low to me. Blow posits that just being a decent human being is good enough in the eyes of many to achieve eternal life:

One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.” He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.

The commonality in all religions is common sense, and never has a war started over common sense. It’s when reasonable men start believing unreasonable things that they start battling.

The world has been offering up some pretty depressing news lately. The results of this study reinforced an idea I’ve held for some time, and that’s that if we continue to raise awareness and educate people, the need to defend the lunacy of religions will fade and the ability of all people to get along will be unavoidable.


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  2. keith

    I read this too but was a little more frustrated with the rhetoric than this opinion presents. It seems a little singular and one dimensional. How do these statistics compare to what might be called “measures of tolerance” in other societies? Are 39, 18 and 1% any different relative to results in Egypt, Iran, India, China….?

    It is also interesting how the conversation jumps from references to “Christians in America” to “All Christians”.

    I happen to share your opinion in regard to religion and tolerance but I am also tired of the sloppy analytic approaches allowed even in what I consider a favorite Rag. The NYT.

    BTW. How do you conclude we (USA?) are becoming isolationist? By what measure? Free flow of cultural materials? Economic trade? Or, are you opining on the way the current admin has arrived at decisions (The Decider’s move into Iraq for example?)?

  3. Vihar Sheth

    There are lies, damned lies and statistics! I won’t claim I’ve scrutinized the NYT’s analysis methods but the publication is on a short list of those I trust, though it’s been known to have published false stories.

    As far as my comment on isolationism, I’m speaking of social interaction among the citizens of America. Suburbs upon suburbs and our addiction to cars keeps us from talking to people and meeting those who are different. Unlimited sprawl has given people a cheap way to place themselves among a homogeneous population, and thereby maintain their ignorance.

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