We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, July 22, 2013

American Theological Orientations

Source: PPRI/Brookings Economic Values Survey, 2013
The Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institute have just released their 2013 Economic Values Survey, which includes a major section on religious orientation in the U.S. today.  The survey found that among Americans irrespective of religious affiliation, 38% are theologically conservative, 28% moderate, 19% progressive, and 15% are nonreligious.

There is, of course, a good deal of variation in these percentages among the various religious groups.  Evangelical whites are the most conservative (80%), as would be expected.  Among mainline white Protestants, conservatives number 36% and among white Catholics they are 29%.  Interestingly, some 28% of white Catholics are progressive.  Only one category among religious believers showed a plurality of theological liberals, that being "non-Christian" religious Americans of whom 43% are liberal and only 7% conservative.  This group includes Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and members of other "non-Christian" groups.

One other trend described in the report has to do with age.  Younger generations show a greater percentage of liberals and nonreligious while the older generations show higher proportions of conservatives and moderates.

There are no surprises here.  From a liberal-progressive perspective, there is hope in the figures for the Gen-X and Millennial generations.  Millennials in particular show just 17% being theologically conservative and 61% moderate or liberal.  One would hope that these figures foreshadow the decline of the Christian hard right and its influence in American politics as well as religion.  Along those same lines, the report shows one of the fastest growing ethnicities in the U.S., Hispanics, as already being markedly less theologically conservative (28%) and more liberal (23%) than other white Americans (40% and 18% respectively) or black Americans (49% and 14% respectively).  In terms of American theological orientations, the general trend is away from conservative and toward moderate and liberal.

However, as an editorial posting entitled, "Religious Progressives Predicted To Outnumber Conservatives, Survey Finds," notes, a significant part of this trend away from religious conservatism is toward "non-religion".  That posting also argues that progressive Christianity will never have the kind of unity and power that the Religious Right has exhibited in recent decades.  The religious left is too diverse and disinclined to exercise political power for that.  Honestly, that is not a bad thing.  A good deal of the hard right's power has been based on fear, and one would trust that a more moderate to left-leaning religiosity would be less fearful and more inclined to promoting a more Christ-like compassion for and acceptance of the Other.  Amen.