70% Of American Christians Do Not Believe Non-Christians Will Go To Hell; One American Does Not Care

I am always amazed that so many people care about the religious views of Americans. The most pernicious types on this are the Jon Meacham-types - who try to make a virtue of the "deep faith" of Americans - he's made a good living writing about it. But then there are the other types who try to prove how "broadminded" these religious types are. Charles Blow is one of those:

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life. This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that.

That's nice and all, but who really cares? Let people believe what they want to believe. So long as these religious beliefs are not dictating to others. There is a certain danger in caring about the religious views of Americans - it makes it a part of our public political life. Me, I am more interested in what the Founding Fathers thought about the mixing of religion in public politics - "Congress shall make no Law . . ." After that, my interest wanes. I do not care what percentage of American Christians think I am going to burn in hell. So long as they do not bother me here on Earth, I am good to go.

Speaking for me only

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    This reminds me of the Scopes Trial (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Saul on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:10:27 AM EST
    Brady, Brady, God talks through Brady.
     If someone has not seen the movie Inherit the Wind you are missing a good movie.

    Caring about the religious views (5.00 / 6) (#8)
    by Anne on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:40:12 AM EST
    of others comes under the category of "but what if they're right?"  Which I think is a subcategory of "Let me check a Poll and then I'll tell you what I believe."

    The problem I have is that after years of the religious views of others encroaching into government and legislative territory, I was really looking forward to the re-establishment of that line between the public and the private, and instead, we await the inauguration of a president who has shown signs that he's a little too comfortable with the presence of religion in the public square, is a little too preachy about it, and seems to have appointed himself the newest arbiter of the moral, complete with lectures for those of us who might not "get it."

    And complete with people like Rick Warren.  

    Unfortunately, I think Obama is much more a "but what if they're right?" person, someone who is so anxious to please everyone that he will lose sight of what his constitutional responsibilities in theis area are, and an already seriously weakened wall between church and state will continue to erode.  I get the uncomfortable feeling that Obama may believe that he is uniquely equipped to lead the charge to finally sorting out the place of religion in America, and will try to find a way to make America a more godly nation in ways that involve the government and legislation.

    I hope I'm wrong, but the signs so far are not pointing in that direction.

    "But what if they're right" is how (none / 0) (#21)
    by ThatOneVoter on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:31:47 AM EST
    fundies imagine non-believers. Like the existetial argument that many of them use:"Life is just soooooo horrible and meaningless if my mommy jesus doesn't exist, so why don't you believe?"
    Such a poverty of imagination.
    In this country, agnostic means you think that maybe Jesus really did rise from the dead, not that you have an open mind.

    I remember a time when it was (5.00 / 7) (#9)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:47:16 AM EST
    almost considered offensive to quiz someone about what their faith may or may not be.  I miss that time.

    Pre-John Kennedy campaign (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by oldpro on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:02:16 AM EST
    for President.

    That's my memory, anyway.

    The two things nobody talked about...sex and religion.

    Now it's practically ALL anybody talks about, separately or in combination.

    So much for liberation...


    And now a word from some founding fathers (5.00 / 1) (#41)
    by FoxholeAtheist on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 02:50:38 PM EST
    Thomas Paine: "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. ... Each of these churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."

    John Adams: "Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!'"

    Thomas Jefferson: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of god: because, if there is one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than blindfolded fear." (Note: As a deist, not a Christian, Jefferson often did not capitalize "god.")

    James Madison
    : "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise. ... During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."

    That about covers it. (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by oldpro on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 03:11:10 PM EST
    They speak for me.

    Actually, oldpro, (5.00 / 1) (#44)
    by caseyOR on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 03:15:41 PM EST
    I believe the verboten topics were money and religion.

    Oops! Forgot about money... (none / 0) (#47)
    by oldpro on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 05:09:58 PM EST
    ...probably because we never had any to speak of!  All three were verboten in social circles (unless the circle only included men) but the public discussion was somewhat different, as I recall; money and corruption was certainly a topic and various public religious figues got a lot of play, from Billy Graham to Father Coughlin...not to mention the Pope!

    You're right, tho...people didn't discuss with their neighbors or even family, their money, their sex lives/attitudes or their religion.


    Bingo in 5 numbers (none / 0) (#34)
    by wurman on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 12:01:24 PM EST
    Whoa. A rare feat, that... (none / 0) (#42)
    by oldpro on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 03:10:22 PM EST
    All luck, of course.  Better buy my lottery ticket today and see if it holds!

    I still think it is (none / 0) (#16)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:15:49 AM EST
    Actually, where I come from it's considered fairly rude to ask unsolicited questions about someone else's religion.

    I believe there are parts of the country where it is not, though. . .


    the infestation of religion (5.00 / 3) (#14)
    by pluege on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:10:17 AM EST
    in US politics is pernicious, corrosive, pervasive, and dangerous.

    Its one thing to not care about what other people's religious beliefs are (a view I heartily endorse), but today's pervasive use of false and phony litmus tests of religiousness in American politics is extremely dangerous and should be of great concern to everyone: the religious, the faithful, and the non-participants.

    We have currently entered a phase of religion in public life very similar to that of security in which a competition of one-upmanship among politicians and talking heads substitutes for any rational substantive discussion (note, this is by design of the ignorant and insecure). Religion in politics should not be discussed at all. The government is not allowed by law to endorse any religion. Period.

    This is true (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:12:20 AM EST
    I think that is implicit in my point.

    The discussion of what percentage of American Christians believes non-Christians will burn in hell is a question that need not be of political importance - indeed SHOULD NOT be.

    I guess that point in my post got lost.


    I worry more (5.00 / 5) (#18)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:27:53 AM EST
    about our President claiming to have a "personal relationship with Jesus." If I said the same thing, substituting Zeus for Jesus, they might lock me up.

    Your post is sooo....,on the mark. (none / 0) (#22)
    by Aqua Blue on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:36:05 AM EST
    As a fish out of water in the bible belt, I encounter intense intrusion on my liberty to believe as I wish.   Prayer in public/civic situations drives me up a wall...council meetings, school board meetings, even Democratic breakfast meetings.   You get the idea.  

    Infringement on separation of church and state is getting more profound and scary.


    Well, that's the bible belt (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:37:42 AM EST
    Anywhere where it's considered polite to ask on first discussion what church you attend is a place I don't care to live. But that's much of America--especially the south.

    Lol.. i've even been asked that (none / 0) (#25)
    by ThatOneVoter on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:39:56 AM EST
    by an Indian graduate student, the first time I met him.

    I still don't know how I'd answer that question (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:42:24 AM EST
    for a complete stranger. I'd like to think I'd say "none of your effing business--bless your heart!"

    Maybe you answer the question with (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by Anne on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 11:06:49 AM EST
    a question, something along the lines of, "Hey, as long as we're asking really personal questions, here's something I'd like to know: how much money do you make?"

    Or, depending on who's asking:

    "I'll tell you that if you'll tell me the name of your plastic surgeon."

    "Hey, speaking of personal questions, how's your sex life?"

    "Uh, oh - did I not get all the chicken feathers off me?"


    I was singing in a church choir for (none / 0) (#29)
    by ThatOneVoter on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:46:50 AM EST
    a few months, because I love to sing, and a church choir is a good opportunity for it.
    I studied singing for several years in the 80's, and like to be able to do something with it.
    In the end, I couldn't take it.. people were so serious and godly and sincere, and these were the Episcopalians!
    One person, who has a Ph.D, told me in great seriousness that my father would be looking down from heaven at me when I sang a solo one week.
    I actually found that quite disturbing. Does he really think that? Or does he think I'm 6 years old? Ugh.

    Heh (none / 0) (#50)
    by CST on Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 11:27:26 AM EST
    I get asked all the time.  When I tell people my neighborhood, I always get asked "which parish"?   Not because people are asking about my religious beliefs, but because they assume them and want to know what part of the 'hood I live in.

    Then I go on to tell them I am not Catholic, but I live near "St. X's".

    Definitely not in the bible belt, just surrounded by Irish-Catholics.


    I'm in the bible belt, or on tthe (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by ThatOneVoter on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:38:48 AM EST
    edge of it. What bothers me is how many otherwise sensible people are stark raving nuts. I find it hard to make friends.

    Actually (5.00 / 2) (#19)
    by Steve M on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:28:16 AM EST
    you have misstated the conclusion a bit.  The study found that 70% of religious Americans, not 70% of Christian Americans, believe that adherents of other religions can also achieve eternal life.

    The full results of the survey question are here; I find them interesting although others may not.  For example, only 57% of evangelical Christians believe someone else is getting into Heaven, and only 53% of them believe there is more than one way to interpret the tenets of their religion.  For mainline Protestants, the same numbers are 83% and 82%, respectively.

    Even 77% of Catholics believe there is more than one way to interpret their religion; that doesn't surprise me, frankly, but has anyone told the Pope?  I'm with BTD in that people are free to hold whatever views they want as long as they don't bother everyone else.  But I think tolerance and openness are still the values of the mainstream, no matter how much certain people seek to serve as counterexamples.

    See? (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:30:44 AM EST
    Told ya I did not care. Got the number all wrong.

    Haha (none / 0) (#35)
    by Steve M on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 12:40:35 PM EST
    Point taken!

    As a youngster in Catholic grade school (none / 0) (#45)
    by caseyOR on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 03:31:12 PM EST
    In the very early 1960s, when I was a sixth-grader, I had my first brush with heresy. Father Royer wrote on the blackboard "Outside the Church there is no salvation." He explained that it meant that one had to be Catholic to get into heaven.  He then asked my class who believed this. Some hands went up; asked who didn't believe, the other hands went up. He then announced that what he had written was holy dogma; that, as Catholics we must believe it; and that not to believe it was heresy.

    After explaining that heretics were doomed to spend eternity in the fires of hell, he again asked his two questions. Only one hand went up when he asked who still did not believe that only Catholics got got heaven. That hand was mine. Father Royer told me I was marked for hell. And thus began my split with the Catholic Church.

    This happened at a time when it was a sin for a Catholic to attend the religious services of any other religion, including other Christian religions. I spent quite a bit of time doing penance for going to synagogue for my friends' bat and bar mitzvahs.

    I don't know if schoolchildren are still taught this stuff. I do know the Catholic Church took an unfortunate turn away from Vatican II with John Paul II; a turn that Benedict XVI continues.


    In view of the role that evangelical pastor (none / 0) (#46)
    by FoxholeAtheist on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 03:49:59 PM EST
    Rick Warren is playing at Obama's Inauguration, it's well worth noting that Evangelical Christians are more rigidly doctrinaire (ergo divisive) about their religious beliefs than other Protestants and Catholics.

    Evidently, Evangelical churches are 29% more doctrinaire than "mainline" Protestant churches; and 24% more so than Catholics.

    *This may be a bit OT, but Rick Warren is also giving the keynote address for the Annual MLK Commemoration at Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, on January 19, the day before the Inauguration. Interestingly, the Pew Research study shows that "historically black churches" are only 4% less doctrinaire than Evangelicals.  

    [By "doctrinaire" I mean the degree to which people believe there is only one way to interpret the teachings of their religion, as indicated by the study.]


    but, but, but..... (5.00 / 1) (#38)
    by TimNCGuy on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 01:03:41 PM EST
    "So long as they do not bother me here on Earth, I am good to go."

    That's the rub isn't?  Because with the evangelicals, they seem to be under the impression that if you ask them not to bother you in your earthly life you are infringing on their right to practice their faith.

    They need to get over it.

    And also (none / 0) (#48)
    by cal1942 on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 08:46:39 PM EST
    persecuting them.

    That is exactly the problem (none / 0) (#49)
    by ruffian on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 08:58:29 PM EST
    If they believe you are going to hell, as 43% appear to believe, they think it is their moral obligation to "save" you.

    The are incapable of leaving the rest of us alone - their convenient theology forbids it.


    The USA is the most backward wealthy nation . (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by ruthinor on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 02:14:56 PM EST
    Science in this country is way behind where it could be, and the major reason for this is fundamentalism.  Frankly, I'm sick and tired of these people who believe in the second coming but think that evolution is some far out whacky idea.  Instead of catering to these people, which almost all politicians do, they should be put in their place for the religious extremists that they are.

    Politicians cater to this though (none / 0) (#2)
    by Saul on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:12:11 AM EST
    When running for office they try to be supportive to all the different religions.  Got to get those votes you know.

    Pot, kettle (none / 0) (#3)
    by DaveOinSF on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:18:50 AM EST
    I'm always amazed that so many people care that so many people care about the religious views of Americans.

    I'm always amazed (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:35:58 AM EST
    that so many people care to comment about things they do not care about.

    Pot, kettle indeed. Unless of course, my not caring is very important to you.


    It is interesting... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:21:21 AM EST
    in a sociological sense, what people believe and why...but other than that, yeah...who cares.

    Ira Gershwin would agree with you. (none / 0) (#10)
    by oldpro on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:57:57 AM EST
    Who Cares?

    Who cares what the public chatters?
    Love's the only thing that matters!
    Who cares
    If the sky cares to fall in the sea?
    Who cares what banks fail in Yonkers
    Long as you've got a kiss that conquers?
    Why should I care?
    Life is one long jubilee,
    So long as I care for you
    And You care for me!


    Let it rain and thunder!
    Let a million firms go under!
    I am not concerned with
    Stocks and bonds that I've been burned with.

    I love you and you love me,
    And that's how it will always be.
    And nothing else can ever mean a thing.
    Who cares what the public chatters?
    Love's the only thing that matters!



    This isn't just an American thing, is it? (none / 0) (#5)
    by EL seattle on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:32:12 AM EST
    I'd love to see the results if there were similar polls in the UK (preferably circa 1970 or before) that posed the same question to Catholics and Protestants.  And maybe the results of similar polls in areas that have tension between Shia and Sunni populations.  And maybe from some cities in India and Pakistan this month.

    I'd bet that if you took a poll like this among any particular population at any given time, the results could be separated out into two categories:  "Live and Let Live", and "Kill 'Em All".  It's just a question of percentages going up or down between those two positions over time.  That's my opinion, anyway.

    "Other Religions" (none / 0) (#7)
    by ricosuave on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 09:38:25 AM EST
    "Other religions" usually means other brands of Christianity in this context.  Non-christian religions are not seeking "Eternal Life" or "salvation" like Christianity is.  The fact that we discuss religion in purely Christian terms (like calling it "faith") here in America makes me skeptical of the real level of "broad-mindedness" out there.

    I wonder how many of your 70% answer yes to the question of "Is the USA a Christian nation?"

    Hell was a dump site in Jerusalem (none / 0) (#11)
    by BarnBabe on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:00:46 AM EST
    You might compare it to a crematorium in Potter's Field really. Maybe it is 70% because 70% don't really believe in hell especially when so many people choose that method of disposal of their dead bodies. Cheaper and takes up less space. As for heaven, growing up I just always believed if you were a good person you got to move to another planet out there in the solar system. A galaxy far away.

    As a non practicing Catholic, I even question what Moses was smoking when he wrote on the tablet. But, they were decent rules to teach to people and children as a basic for good people. So many of the Church's laws were man made. Actually, all of them really. And changed to suit the person in charge. It is so sad that so many wars have been and are still being fought over religion. Whoops, # 6 being broken as we speak, and I wonder about how many religious people broke many of the others. Do you think a religious leader was worried about hell when breaking a few of those rules? Nope, they just asked forgiveness and that cleared up the going to hell.  

    Reminds me of the joke (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by oldpro on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:05:23 AM EST
    in high school about the kids who went out and 'sowed their wild oats' on Saturday night and went to mass Sunday morning to pray for a crop failure!

    Charles Blow (none / 0) (#17)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:24:00 AM EST
    writes columns that are not worthy of the New York Times. He's in a category with Bill Kristol.

    Can Kristol do graphic design? (none / 0) (#27)
    by Cream City on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:44:43 AM EST
    Apparently, there's an opening at the NYT -- since that's what Blow's job is there.  I try to figure out just what Blow's qualifications are for a political column.  Anyone got ideas on that?

    I have no idea (none / 0) (#28)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:46:27 AM EST
    I get the feeling that he has the goods on someone.

    Yes (none / 0) (#30)
    by Faust on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 10:58:32 AM EST
    You are absolutely right to emphasize that the core issue is seperation between church and state.

    However it's not hard to see why people get sidetracked here. LARGE swaths of Americans have religious beliefs and religious voting blocks have non-trival ammounts of power. The whole Rick Warren phenomenon is really an outgrowth of the way in which certain power centers continue to grip the imagination of our collective psyche.

    It would be best to simply hammer on the fact that we should not be making policy on the basis of peoples religious beliefs, but I must say it does not stirke me as amazing that people get sidetracked by it. I suspect until such time as an atheist can get elected to the Presidency people are going to continue to be very interested in what religious people believe.

    amen, btd. (none / 0) (#32)
    by sancho on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 11:23:41 AM EST

    It is implicit in all religions' (none / 0) (#33)
    by pluege on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 11:28:39 AM EST
    preaching that nonbelievers of their faith are going to hell, that all of humanity is going to hell according to the faithful.

    if your religion doesn't claim (none / 0) (#36)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 12:49:16 PM EST
    that the adherent's of all other religions, or all atheists are going to go to hell, then really, what point is there to your religion's existence?

    the whole function of religion (at least most) is to keep you on the righteous path, that you may enter god's kingdom upon your release from this mortal plane. it must be that religion's version of the righteous path (though all seem fairly consistent on the do's n don'ts), otherwise, you're screwed.

    absent this certainty, your religion has no legitimate basis for existing.

    frankly, i was taught it's rude to ask someone what their religion is, and i really don't care: you can be a very religious ass*ole, or a really nice atheist.

    My all time favorite poll was a (none / 0) (#37)
    by JSN on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 12:57:52 PM EST
    poll by the Des Moines Register that reported that more Iowans trusted the Iowa Highway Patrol than trusted God.

    Some folks say . . . ! (none / 0) (#39)
    by wurman on Sat Dec 27, 2008 at 01:36:35 PM EST
    From John Milton's Paradise Lost:
    The mind is its own place, and in itself
    Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n

         And Satan said----
    Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
    And in the lowest deep a lower deep
    Still threat'ning to devour me opens wide,
    To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav'n

    A modern review of the Greek & Hebrew words that are sometimes translated as "Hell" is interesting.

    I've often wished that Jefferson had been in the USA, rather than France, when the Constitution was written.  Then perhaps a version of the following line might possibly have ended up as the initial part of the First Amendment:

    But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
    -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

    More than half the humans on Earth live in China & India.  And much like Big Tent, very few of them care what 70 percent of the American population thinks about the ultimate fate of "non-Christians."  Nor do I.