August 22, 2005


The Pearly Gates Are Wide Open: A new Newsweek/Beliefnet poll shows a stunning level of acceptance of other people's faiths. (Steve Waldman, Belief Net)

[6]8% of “born again” or “evangelical” Christians say that a “good person who isn’t of your religious faith” can gain salvation, according to a new Newsweek/Beliefnet poll.

This is pretty amazing. Evangelicals are among the most churchgoing and religiously attentive people in the United States, and one of the ideas they’re most likely to hear from the minister at church on a given Sunday is that the path to salvation is through Jesus. Apparently, rank-and-file evangelicals have a different view.

Nationally, 79% of those surveyed said the same thing, and the figure is 73% for non-Christians and an astounding 91% among Catholics. The Catholics surveyed seemed more inclined to listen to the Catechism's precept that those who "seek the truth" may gain salvation—rather than, say, St. Augustine's view that being "separated from the Church" will damn you to hell "no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living.” [...]

Most American families have experienced religious diversity up close. We attempted to assess a typical American’s exposure to other faiths or spiritual approaches. In all 42% of Americans either have a different approach from their childhood, saw a sibling shift approaches, or married someone of a different faith. These overall numbers don’t explain how these changes might have affected them but it does mean that a large number of Americans have had very personal and direct experience with some religious approach that’s different from their original spiritual practice.

We are all intelligent designers. Eighty percent of the population believe that the universe was created by God; only 10% do not. This would seem to indicate that many of those who advocate the teaching of evolution in school do, nonetheless, believe that the universe was created by God.

In Search of the Spiritual: Move over, politics. Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God, and, according to our poll, they don't much care what the neighbors are doing. (Jerry Adler, 8/29/05, Newsweek)
[O]nly a generation ago it appeared from some vantage points, such as midtown Manhattan, that Americans were on their way to turning their backs on God. In sepulchral black and red, the cover of Time magazine dated April 8, 1966—Good Friday—introduced millions of readers to existential anguish with the question Is God Dead? If he was, the likely culprit was science, whose triumph was deemed so complete that "what cannot be known [by scientific methods] seems uninteresting, unreal." Nobody would write such an article now, in an era of round-the-clock televangelism and official presidential displays of Christian piety. Even more remarkable today is the article's obsession with the experience of a handful of the most prestigious Protestant denominations. No one looked for God in the Pentecostal churches of East Los Angeles or among the backwoods Baptists of Arkansas. Muslims earned no notice, nor did American Hindus or Buddhists, except for a passage that raised the alarming prospect of seekers' "desperately" turning to "psychiatry, Zen or drugs."

History records that the vanguard of angst-ridden intellectuals in Time, struggling to imagine God as a cloud of gas in the far reaches of the galaxy, never did sweep the nation. What was dying in 1966 was a well-meaning but arid theology born of rationalism: a wavering trumpet call for ethical behavior, a search for meaning in a letter to the editor in favor of civil rights. What would be born in its stead, in a cycle of renewal that has played itself out many times since the Temple of Solomon, was a passion for an immediate, transcendent experience of God. And a uniquely American acceptance of the amazingly diverse paths people have taken to find it.

Nice hit on TIME, but entirely accurate--who understands America less well than intellectuals? You can take the poll here and see how your answers compare.

MORE (via Matt Murphy):
Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science (CORNELIA DEAN, 8/23/05, NY Times)

At a recent scientific conference at City College of New York, a student in the audience rose to ask the panelists an unexpected question: "Can you be a good scientist and believe in God?"

Reaction from one of the panelists, all Nobel laureates, was quick and sharp. "No!" declared Herbert A. Hauptman, who shared the chemistry prize in 1985 for his work on the structure of crystals.

Belief in the supernatural, especially belief in God, is not only incompatible with good science, Dr. Hauptman declared, "this kind of belief is damaging to the well-being of the human race." [...]

Since his appearance at the City College panel, when he was dismayed by the tepid reception received by his remarks on the incompatibility of good science and religious belief, Dr. Hauptman said he had been discussing the issue with colleagues in Buffalo, where he is president of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

"I think almost without exception the people I have spoken to are scientists and they do believe in the existence of a supreme being," he said. "If you ask me to explain it - I cannot explain it at all."

But Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary theorist at Oxford, said that even scientists who were believers did not claim evidence for that belief. "The most they will claim is that there is no evidence against," Dr. Dawkins said, "which is pathetically weak. There is no evidence against all sorts of things, but we don't waste our time believing in them."

Hard to believe any Darwinist, even Mr. Dawkins, could say that with a straight face. The story nicely illustrates how isolated the more fanatical rationalists are becoming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 22, 2005 9:22 PM

"God is dead" - Friedrich Nietzsche, 1883
"Nietzsche is dead" - God, 1900

Posted by: Earl Sutherland at August 22, 2005 9:36 PM

Europe is dead.

Posted by: oj at August 22, 2005 9:43 PM

Most Evangelicals are of the Lewisian school of thought on salvation. You can be following Aslan, even if you think you're following Tash. You can only be saved through Christ, but how exactly Christ wants to work that sort of thing is up to Him.

Posted by: Timothy at August 23, 2005 12:22 AM

It is interesting how Dawkins considers Christians so stupid, yet he feels the need to argue with them. I mean, who argues with a little kid? or a retard?

Regardless of what any of us believe, God will do whatever the hell he wants. The best we can do is look at the diverse group of disobedient murderers and sinners in the Bible whom God chose and then be satisfied with living according to his Law and being happy with the breath he gave us.

Who knows? God may even look favorably on Harry.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 23, 2005 4:06 AM

You can only be saved through Christ, but how exactly Christ wants to work that sort of thing is up to Him.

Catholic doctrine agrees, though I don't have a copy of the Catechism handy to give you the citation.

Posted by: Mike Morley at August 23, 2005 7:26 AM

Actually, the problem is definitional. "Science" as a method excludes all possibility of supernatural agency including God. "Science" as an body of accumulated knowledge and understanding in no way excludes the possibility of God, but relegates him to the unknown. "Science" as a human activity undertaken by fallible humans can be perfectly consonant with a belief in God.

Posted by: D. B. Light at August 23, 2005 7:30 AM


No, it can't. You can't exclude His agency and include Him.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 8:16 AM


I do.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 8:23 AM

The only reason that Evangelicals are so "tolerant" is because they've gotten pretty happy with their own moral performance; therefore, they're feeling magnanimous towards other folks now.

It's no accident that the tepid spirituality out of generic evangelicalism is coincinding with an almost universal dismissal of the doctrine of hell (C.S. was brilliant in some areas, but just wrong on hell). Get rid of hell for yourself, and it's easy to feel benevolent towards everybody else.

The "secret Jesus" doctrine may be true, but its meaning has been co-opted as a badge of pride amongst religious folk. The absurdity of it is that evangelical epistemology has essentially become gnostic as a result. We wring our hands and say "well, we just can't be sure that Jesus really is Lord of the entire universe, or even that he's actually alive, instead of rotted in the grave. We don't want to offend anyone."

Modern society can have its "tolerance". I'll take hell plus redemption.

Posted by: tuquoque at August 23, 2005 8:35 AM

The possibility that people of other faiths can be saved doesn't exclude the likelihood that plenty of folk end up in hell.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 8:43 AM

Yes, that's the problem. In being "tolerant", we're actually increasing that likelihood.

The likelihood of folks ending up in hell is not merely part of a syllogism which we proudly maintain in order that we'll seem internally consistent to ourselves. It's a concrete reality for all people. We've therapized past that reality on toward a new one, I fear.

Posted by: tuquoque at August 23, 2005 9:13 AM


Yes, we can't tolerate evil, but following a different faith doesn't make one evil per se. So long as one adheres to the tenets of the Abrahamic faiths they'll live an "estimable life."

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 9:19 AM

Growing up fairly religious, my view was that good people may reach heaven not believing but were presented with...options when the time came. Someone like Hauptman or Dawkins you can imagine being presented with the strange occurance of an afterlife and refusing to acquiesce....if they were given the opportunity.

I've no idea where these ideas on salvation fit theologically, or whether I still believe them really.

Posted by: RC at August 23, 2005 9:29 AM


When God decides it's a wrap we'll either find out that Christ was legit--and you'd assume Muslims and Jews would accept Him when God vouches for Him--or a kidder--and you'd think God would cut us some slack, no?

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 9:33 AM


Those ideas are fine. You have precisely as much reason to believe them as any other specific idea about an afterlife.

Posted by: Brit at August 23, 2005 9:34 AM

tuquoque has confirmed my diagnosis of gnosticism for the current, personalized, spiritually driven religious revival. Whereas I see this as a generally good thing that will promote social cohesiveness within the country, I agree with tuquoque that it doesn't bode well for the long term health of Christianity. Who will defend orthodoxy?

One of evangelical Christianity's strength over its rivals has been that compared to Catholicism and Judaism it offered much lower adoption costs but extremely much higher exit costs.

To be a Jew you have to pay very high costs. There are all the observances, the dietary restrictions, and just the social stigma of being Jewish. Yet Jewishness offers no benefits for an afterlife that is not available to the Gentile. Getting into Heaven is all about leading a good life, nothing about faith. A good athiest will make it into heaven, a bad Jew will not.

Catholicism (at least the old style) gave some exclusive benefits, in that you could not be saved outside of the Church and its sacraments. But you needed both faith and works to make it into heaven.

Protestantism did away with almost all of the costs for salvation, but erected the highest penalty for non-membership. Faith alone in Jesus will get you saved. No need for observances, sacraments, attendance at church, no need to do good works or lead a good life. But the lack of this faith in the saving power of Jesus, no matter how good a life you led, will damn you.

If you look at it through such a cost/benefit viewpoint, it is no wonder that evangelical protestantism is the fastest growing faith among the three, and Judaism is a shrinking faith.

Now that even evangelical protestants are ceding ground over the exclusivity of salvation by faith, there is no penalty for not being a Christian. Why work so hard to evangelize, then? Why commit yourself to missionary work, what is the point? What did the Christian martyrs give their lives for?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 23, 2005 10:08 AM


I understand the concern about orthodoxy, but your questions are non sequitirs. The missionary work and evangelization has never been more successful both globally and domestically. here has been some trade off in ultraorthodoxy but in exchange you've gotten much greater conformity to Judeo-Christian ideals in the US and the rearranging of the society along those lines; a convergence of the monotheisms, such that Jews and Christians n particular now offer a united front against the secular rationalists; and a general understanding that so long as folks are striving to be the kind of people that the most orthodox want them to be it doesn't matter as much if they dot every "i" and cross every "t". It's becoming much more the kind of religious universe that one suspects God wants, though perhaps less the kind that some humans want. In a time in which we are coming to hold everyonbe to Judeo-Christian standards it's kind of silly to worry about Judeo-Christianity losing ground.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 10:35 AM

The likes of Dawkins & Hauptman are the best friends religion has, and the worst friends of science. Given an either/or choice between science & religion, in excess of 90% of people will choose religion. Heck, given a choice between working with those who hold their close-minded views and finding some other line of work, most would (and do) flee the ivory tower...

The notion that no one could thoughtfully ("scientifically" even...) hold religious views shows a rather sad lack of knowledge about the entire history of religious thought, Christian and otherwise, and is far too silly to even bother addressing.

Posted by: b at August 23, 2005 11:30 AM

As the only person here willing to stick my neck out and proudly admit that I am a Gnostic Christian, all I have to say the sooner orthodoxy goes, for any religion, the better. And no, I do not believe in OJ's or Tuquoque's version of hell.

Posted by: BJW at August 23, 2005 11:46 AM

Hell is gnosticism.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 11:50 AM

You know about as much about Gnosticism as Bill Clinton does about monogamy. But if the orthodox church ever needs a Mullah Omar type you would be my first nomination. Congrats.

Posted by: BJW at August 23, 2005 1:14 PM

If you're Gnostic you get to deny the importance of monogamy, so Bill Clinton may well be a perfectly observant Gnostic and you could deny the importance of simple decency, so Mullah Omar may be a gfaithful Gnostic. That's the point.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 1:23 PM

If you think being Christian Gnostic (there is a difference) means monogamy is not important then my point about you knowing nothing about Gnosticism remains valid.

Good Lord OJ - that last commnet you just wrote is so far out there. I can not even start a debate with you on this subject due to extreme lack of subject knowledge on your part. But if you want some good reading material, let me know (start with the Gospel of Thomas).

But I do agree with you that morals are derived from G-d. The details on why we think that way would be different, but that is for another time.

Posted by: BJW at August 23, 2005 2:25 PM


Gnosticism is whatever you want it to be.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2005 3:07 PM

Robert: Although they do tend to gloss over this part, no properly catchized Christian thinks that believing in Jesus Christ is, ipso facto, sufficient for salvation.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 23, 2005 5:34 PM

There are reasons that The Gospel of Thomas is not in the canon of Scripture, and there are reasons that Gnosticism is specifically addressed in the New Testament as heresy.

Now, the Gnostics of today may not be similar to those of 60 AD, but there is a reason those of today have chosen to be called Gnostics, and they can hardly be surprised to be questioned about it.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 23, 2005 10:06 PM

Yes you are correct. To their credit many of them don't hold to Sola Fides because it is an absurd proposition.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 24, 2005 10:30 AM