Right & wrong is not about religion

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At least according to most Americans. The full report of the Pew Religious Landscape Survey has some data not available on the website. There is a question of the form: When it comes to questions of right and wrong, which of the following do you look to most for guidance? I think the results will surprise….

  Religious teachings & beliefs Philosophy & reason Practical experience & common sense Scientific Information Don’t know/Refused
Evangelical 52 4 39 2 3
Mainline 24 9 59 4 4
Historically Black 43 4 47 3 3
Catholic 22 10 57 7 5
Mormon 58 4 33 2 3
Orthodox 25 11 52 8 5
Jehovah’s Witness 73 3 19 1 5
Other Christian 19 25 42 7 4
Jewish 10 15 60 9 6
Muslim 33 10 41 14 2
Buddhist 4 27 51 12 5
Hindu 9 15 55 18 4
Other Faiths 5 25 58 8 4
Unaffiliated 6 16 66 10 3

America is the land of pragmatism I guess.

Addendum: I want to make clear that I’m not assuming a Blank Slate model where the sources of moral intuition or reason that people offer up is actually the real source, as opposed to a post facto confabulation. The survey is simply interesting to me as a window into the public’s own self-perception.

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24 Comments

  1. Muslims rank second as the most science-loving denomination? Is that some peculiarity of the American Muslim population, or indicative of the followers of Islam in general?

  2. 5% of the muslims in this sample are self-described atheists. i suspect that some american muslims are only ‘ethnic’ muslims, whatever that means.

  3. I think it would be fair to say American Muslims are somewhat self-selecting. 
     
    One of the indications of this is they are much less likely than European Muslims to be attracted to jihadi thought and much more likely to be helpful with the security authorities.

  4. Actually not very surprising.

  5. I am grateful that Pew has offered this quantification to verify that which I have long suspected. Although, the numbers probably represent a scant sampling of those who attend various denominations. 
     
    Obviously, believers are scarce. Those of us who live in a world with an awareness of an attainable hereafter realize that living in concert with God will provide the long range measure of right and wrong. While consideration of other men is desireable it is only part of doing that which has been commanded by Him.

  6. I think it would be fair to say American Muslims are somewhat self-selecting. 
     
    well, you could check the data in the pew sample. no need to proffer a hypothesis. and yes, you’re right, though unlike hindus they aren’t homogenous (e.g., 40% are converts, mostly black).

  7. It’s an extremely stupid question…  
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wesleyan_Quadrilateral

  8. “Muslims rank second as the most science-loving denomination? Is that some peculiarity of the American Muslim population, or indicative of the followers of Islam in general?” 
     
    The average Muslim American makes more money than the average American, and is twice as likely to go to college (where they favor the sciences and engineering presumably), and less likely to go to prison. In European countries like France, 8% of the population is Muslim but 50% of the prison population is. (This info is from Lawrence Wright, who wrote The Looming Tower) 
     
    This is close to point that Lorenzo was making, that American Muslims are self-selected to be successful in the U.S., and they are, whereas European Muslims are still struggling on the fringe. So no, science loving isn’t a given in all Muslims, only the relatively successful ones. 
     
    Just as a general response to the survey: The thing I found most striking is not that everyone relies on practical sense (we live in the real world world which is complicated after all), but that the more religious you are the less likely you are to rely on “reason”, for example Evangelicals, Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses are up to five or six times less likely to rely on it than Buddhists, Other Faiths and “Other Christian” (the latter may be a flawed category but the pattern still holds), and pretty much the same thing goes for scientific information. That’s where the real danger lies to me. I think ideally you would want something much closer to what the Hindus or Buddhists have.

  9. It’s an extremely stupid question…  
     
    most american christians have no idea what that is. most couldn’t even coherently explain their beliefs about the trinity. 
     
    that being said, i don’t take what people say on a survey as definitive in terms of independent variables which might predict how someone behaves. it’s just an interesting window in the public’s self-image. 
     
    This is close to point that Lorenzo was making, that American Muslims are self-selected to be successful in the U.S., and they are, whereas European Muslims are still struggling on the fringe. So no, science loving isn’t a given in all Muslims, only the relatively successful ones. 
     
    this is true to the first approximation. but remember that unlike indian americans, muslim americans are a really diverse community. so the surveys are collapsing a lot of informative structure. in fact, the *mean* stats for muslims are around the american mean. but as you suggest, mean isn’t telling you what you need to know. i.e., this “muslim” sample has more dispersion than most of the other religious groups, more who are certain of belief in god, and more who are atheists.

  10. The question is misleading. Catholicism teaches reason is a gift from God that allows us to know His will. This will therefore blur the lines between Philosophy, Common Sense, Scientia, and dogma. 
     
    Catholicism considers all of these as a single organic whole and not as competing or conflicting concepts locked in some sort of evolutionary competition for supremacy.  
     
    To force an issue by making it a matter of mutually exclusive choices when in fact the ideas contained therein can be reconciled is the reason why the word “heresy” is the word for “choice”.  
     
    In this respect, the silly poll is misguided, uninformed and heretical.

  11. I have to agree with yarrrr. When people say they base decisions on experience or philosophy there’s no way for anyone to know whether the respondents’ religion is part of the philosophy or experience they refer to.

  12. In this respect, the silly poll is misguided, uninformed and heretical. 
     
    this is really retarded. ‘heretical’? most american catholics don’t believe in catholicism, they’re just catholics. if you don’t know what i mean by that, stop commenting.

  13. Thank you for posting my previous comment.  
     
    I assume by making the statement “most American Catholics don’t believe in Catholicism.” you are relying on data from a similarly misguided poll which, through its misconception of the nature of faith merely establishes straw men for the sake triumphalist jeering. 
     
    The process of analysis and quantification of belief implies a gross oversimplification which does violence to the subject. 
     
    You might find statements such as “Catholics = X, Darwinists = Y, Aristotelians = Z” as somehow enlightening or edifying but to me, it deserves one of those goofy charts that grace the front page of USA Today. 
     
    Returning to the original poll, I would also like to point out that most religions do not posit man is some sort of schismatic creature wherein the forces of faith and reason are at war. Only those who wish to mis-characterize faith use this stereotype. One of the main functions of religion is to bring dogma, philosophy, personal experiences, and scientia into harmony through an organic understanding of the nature of man.

  14. You make the classic mistake of separating a religious decision from a scientific or pragmatic decision. Tell me, was the good thief telling Christ the (scientific) truth, being pragmatic (he gained heaven) or was it just a religious thing? 
     
    Just because it fits one catagory -it doesn’t preclude the others. There is no contradiction between scientific truth and religious dogma, if it God’s truth.

  15. the link from “hotair.com” has resulted in some amusing comments in light of the site name ;-)

  16. Returning to the original poll, I would also like to point out that most religions do not posit man is some sort of schismatic creature wherein the forces of faith and reason are at war. Only those who wish to mis-characterize faith use this stereotype. One of the main functions of religion is to bring dogma, philosophy, personal experiences, and scientia into harmony through an organic understanding of the nature of man. 
     
    you’re connecting a lot of dots here. i’m sure we do disagree on what-religion-is. but i don’t really believe a lot of the things you’re imputing to me. i’m not a standard issue neo-atheist ;-)

  17. I think even people who despise religion (an extreme case for sake of example — I am not imputing this mentality to you) believe religion to be a form of sense-making of the universe and its various phenomena. Where we differ is our attitude towards the validity of the application of this and other methods. 
     
    Rather than jump to conclusions about whether there is a religious or a-religious trend in American culture, I would like to suggest that, politics aside, this poll demonstrates agnostics and atheists have more in common with religionists than the talking heads would want us to believe.

  18. I’m surprised at the categories and the apparent amount of rationalization going on here (though one should never be surprised at the latter). I would have said that, outside of appeal to religious rules, most people (including myself) are evidently guided mainly by their feelings / personal scruples on the question (i.e. conscience) which in turn I would say comes, like our other characteristics, from our nature & nurture (though some might say it was put in us by a deity). Maybe people call that “common sense”? I would have liked to have seen how many would pick “conscience” or “feelings” if it were given as a category.

  19. Seriously, “when it comes to questions of right and wrong” there’s lots of wiggle room. For example: say you got into work late, should you lie about it? 
    Religion: Does your deity of choice say lying is wrong? 
    Philosophy: Are you opposed to lying? 
    Practical: If I tell the truth, will it get me in more trouble than if someone finds out I lied? 
    Scientific Information: What does the latest research say about untruths in the workplace? 
    … 
    For more high-tech and/or hot-button issues, the more scientific information I imagine would be put into play here. But just from my day-to-day humdrum existance, I can’t say that the scientific is really what I use to determine “moral issues” that crop up day to day — I kind of reserve the scientific for findings in disciplines like scientific fields, where I tend to think religion doesn’t really determine one’s hypotheses.

  20. I still think yarrrr said it best

  21. The poll confirms that Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out as the one religion that bases their morals and decisions on the Bible. 
     
    That is a good thing.

  22. “this is really retarded. ‘heretical’? most american catholics don’t believe in catholicism, they’re just catholics.” — razib  
     
    The same holds true for most members of almost any faith in the U.S.A. How many Presbyterians have any idea what it means to be a Calvinist? 
     
    I find it odd that agnostics/atheists often know more about religious faiths than the believers. Is it because we have found reason to question and not found believable answers? 
     
    Christmas Eve, I attended a Presbyterian candlelight service with my daughter and her in-laws. The preacher happened to be the semi-retired pastor who married my daughter and her husband 6 years ago. 
     
    Afterwards, she commented that she didn’t remember him being so harsh in his counseling and their ceremony as he was in this service. I said that he was merely letting his Calvinism shine through and she had no clue what I meant. She’s been a member of this church for six years. 
     
    It should be pointed out that membership in this particular church in this particular city is very helpful to one’s professional career. And that sucks in more ways than I can count.

  23. I find it odd that agnostics/atheists often know more about religious faiths than the believers. Is it because we have found reason to question and not found believable answers? 
     
    i think it’s because agnostics & atheists are  
     
    1) more intelligent on average 
     
    2) more socially retarded on average, so they tend to think that religion involves memorizing bullet points of belief 
     
    (obviously some religious people fall into #2) 
     
    yes, most presbyterians who i have met do not know calvin from arminius. but a substantial minority who of the conservative reformed inclination do. unfortunately, the minority confuses their ardor for the modal state.

  24. And what is practical experience and common sense? Whatever the herd is doing.

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