In a religious landscape in which most Americans have what a new report calls "a nondogmatic approach to faith," Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are the exception.
On average, 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion say that "many religions can lead to eternal life" and "there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion," according to the "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. About 40 percent of Mormons agreed with the two statements, and less than 20 percent of Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Pew analysis, which examined the diversity of Americans' religious beliefs and practices, was based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with a nationally representative sample of more than 35,000 adults. Part one of the Landscape Survey, released in February, revealed that more than a quarter of Americans have left the faiths of their childhood and that Americans with no religious affiliation are the fastest-growing group.
Despite the changing religious terrain, more than nine out of 10 Americans say they believe in the existence of God or a "universal spirit." The nature of that God and the certainty of the belief, however, is more fluid. One in four Americans believe God is an "impersonal force" compared to a being with whom they can have a relationship, and only seven in 10 are "absolutely certain" of God's existence.
Combining those, "only 51 percent of the American public believes in both a personal God and are absolutely certain God exists," noted Greg Smith, a research fellow for the Pew Forum, during a telephone news conference Monday.
On the other hand, 91 percent of Mormons say they believe in a personal God (the highest percentage of the 11 religions and "unaffiliated" group queried.) And 90 percent of Mormons say they are "absolutely certain" God exists. Mormons are also the only group in which a higher percent of men than women profess that certainty. In the American population as a whole, certainty decreases with age, although not for Mormons.
Mormons are, not surprisingly, more Republican than people of other faiths, and more Mormons define themselves as conservative.
• A higher percentage of Mormons are absolutely certain there is life after death (88 percent, compared to 71 percent of Evangelical Christians, 67 percent of Muslims, 45 percent of Catholics, 16 percent of Jews).
• Only 59 percent of Mormons said they believe in hell, compared to 82 percent of Evangelicals, 80 percent of Muslims, 60 percent of Catholics.
• A higher percentage of Mormons completely or mostly believe in miracles (96 percent compared to 88 percent of Evangelicals, 83 percent of Catholics, 69 percent of Muslims).
• A higher percentage of Jehovah's Witnesses report they attend religious services at least once a week (82 percent, compared to 75 percent of Mormons, 58 percent of Evangelicals, 39 percent nationwide) and pray daily (89 percent, compared to 82 percent of Mormons, 58 nationwide). Five percent of atheists also reported praying daily.
• More than half of Mormons, and nearly four in 10 of the total population surveyed, said they meditate weekly. The practice seems to have "taken a foothold in the culture at large," said Pew senior fellow John Green.
• Sixty-one percent of the American public (55 percent of Mormons) believe that "stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost."The complete 268-page "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" can be found online at religions.pewforum.org.