Comparing across American religions

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The Pew US Religious Landscape Survey has come out with its second week of survey results, now focusing in more detail on the beliefs of various groups. Nice way to compare across groups. I’ve collected and reformatted a selection of responses and their frequencies for four groups, Evangelicals (excluding Historically Black Churches), Mainline Protestants, Catholics and Muslims. I havd argued before that the median religious beliefs of American Muslims are closer to Evangelical Christians than to the religious as a whole. Therefore, one has to be careful when comparing “moderate Christians” to “moderate Muslims,” since the former is likely to have far more liberal religious and social beliefs than the latter, though they might be appropriately termed so in the spectrum of their tradition. The results seem to suggest that I was mostly right; though American Muslims are somewhat less conservative than Evangelicals. Interestingly, note that Roman Catholics and Mainline Protestants are hard to distinguish.

(Caution: don’t read that much into the percentages on the margins. 6% of atheists and 14% of agnostics believe in a Personal God according to the survey! Also, readers will probably be interested in the detailed tables which breakdown by denominations)

Evangelical Muslim Catholic Mainline Protestant
Abortion legal in all cases 9 13 16 20
Homosexuality should be accepted by society 26 27 58 56
Receives answers to prayer once a week 29 31 15 14
Attend religion service more than once a week 30 17 9 8
Own religion is one true faith leading to eternal life 36 33 16 12
Only one true way to interpret religion 41 33 19 14
Gov. should do more to protect morality 50 59 43 33
Scripture literally true word of god 59 50 23 22
Frequency of prayer 78 71 58 53
Religion very important 79 72 56 52
Belief in God: absolutely certain 90 82 72 73



  1. Thanks, Razib. 
    It was suprising to me (probably not to you) how incompletely dominant Quranic literalism is, only about 50%, with 14% of self-identified Muslims saying that the Quran is not the Word of God – I guess those Muslims are analogous to the atheists who believe in a personal god, but then I note (full report, p 31) that 3% of the atheists think that ["Holy Book", not clear which book but I assume Teh Bible] is the literal Word. I have no idea what those “atheists” think “atheist” means … 
    I went through Pew’s 2007 survey of Muslim Americans, and while there was some interesting detail on the demographics, no crosstabs on literalism versus country of origin, etc. But pulling different pieces together I can see where the coalition of the non-literals might come together, e.g. about 4% of the US Muslim population are converts who converted for “family/marriage” (which presumably includes both marrying a Muslim and also going along when a dominant family member converts).

  2. I have no idea what those “atheists” think “atheist” means … 
    well, humans are typically retarded ;-) but, some people do consider themselves atheists if they don’t believe in a evangelical christian god though; i’ve run into born again christians who claim to have been atheists and it is clear that they were deists or unaffiliated theists before they accepted jesus as their lord & savior. i once saw catholic apologetic literature which once defined atheists who accepted moral principles in keeping with normality ‘de facto believers’ or something. so i think some people from religious backgrounds could be somewhat confused in the terminology. 
    there is an analogy between atheists who believe in god and muslims who don’t believe in the literal word for word truth of the koran as a monologue from god. but, the latter case is far weaker, and while the former is tautologically contradictory, i don’t think the latter is. there are some muslim groups who have always been ‘heterodox’ on this question. too often islam is defined by sunni orthodoxy. e.g., using christian terminology it is pretty clear to me that many american muslims are operational arminians even though the orthodox sunni position is anti-arminian. but this is not atypical for americans of any given religion, they simply rework things and deal with the details later or never at all (this is very in evidence with american catholicism, and goes back as far as the early 19th century when there were tensions between disproportionately french quebecois clerics and anglo parishoners).

  3. The % of Muslims and Hindus was much lower than I expected……

  4. The % of Muslims and Hindus was much lower than I expected…… 
    you probably misperceived because of where you lived. these results are in line with the american religious identification survey.