Sharing Your Faith Part 2 of 6: Religious Survey of the U.S.A.

In the first class of the “Sharing Your Faith” seminar, we discussed the findings of a survey done by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life—the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

Based on interviews with more than 35,000 American adults, this extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details the religious makeup, religious beliefs and practices as well as social and political attitudes of the American public.

The Pew Forum web site shows the results of various aspects of the survey in a very user-friendly format. In class, we discussed the section titled Affiliations. There are sixteen main categories including Evangelical Protestant Churches, Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Unaffiliated to name a few. In case you’re interested in the nitty gritty details of what the denomination breakdown is under each category, check out their web site—it’s user-friendly like I said.

Living in the Twin Cities area here in Minnesota, one tends to get the idea that there are A LOT of Muslims in Minnesota percentage-wise judging by the number of hijabi sightings one has on a regular basis, and judging by the locations of those hijabi sightings…in the Boundary Waters area, at Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais, in small towns, on Mississippi beaches (like Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City), in Minnesota State Parks, and of course around Rochester where numerous Muslims work at the Mayo Clinic and affiliated hospitals and where numerous Saudis used to flock for world-class medical treatment.

I was there in southeastern Minnesota in the ’90s for the stories from retailers in Rochester who watched wide-eyed and gleeful as Saudi men bought tens of luxury cars with cash and the women bought up whole racks of clothing. The manager of Whitewater State Park at the time likes to tell the story of the Saudi (or maybe it was Jordanian) prince who wanted to go fishing in Whitewater. He bought all new rods and tackle, probably someplace in Rochester, and then drove into Whitewater with an entourage that took buses to transport. My dad, the manager, got a kick out of watching a servant stand on the sidelines of a ball game in the picnic grounds with a tray of refreshments waiting for the princes to get thirsty. Those trees had never seen such a sight (as far as we know).

But the numbers in this survey say that the percentage of Muslims in the U.S. is not as large as we may imagine—only .6%. So there are more declared atheists in the U.S. than Muslims…and more agnostics, and more people of “nothing in particular.”

The other nugget we took away from the discussion is that most of the people we come in contact with are going to be Christian, either one of the many Protestant denominations or Catholic.

The survey highlights are also an interesting read (although we didn’t discuss these in the class).

The one other topic we talked about was from Part II of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The press release titled  New Report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Finds Religion in U.S. is Non-Dogmatic, Diverse and Politically Relevant says exactly what was so surprising—“The fact that most Americans are not exclusive or dogmatic about their religion is a fascinating finding,” said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. “Most people will be surprised that a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including a majority of evangelical Protestants, say that there isn’t just one way to salvation or to interpret the teachings of their own faith.”

I would not have guessed that—judging by the evangelical Protestant world I surrounded myself with before I was a Muslim! We were assured regularly that only our kind of Christian was getting into heaven, and by a shortcut right after death nonetheless, preempting the Day of Judgment; which begs the question, how judgmental could the Day of Judgment be if all the right kind of Christians were already in heaven and everyone else was going to hell?

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