Public Trust in Organized Religion off in the '90S

By Whitham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Public Trust in Organized Religion off in the '90S


Whitham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


In a sign of the times, Americans may be concerned more with the safety of their streets than the care of their souls.

The most recent Gallup polling on public trust shows that organized religion has slid behind the police and the military in public confidence.

The differences are so slight, according to pollsters, that it may be wrong to see a trend. Yet it's enough to merit speculation.

Up through the late 1980s, organized faith had always been given the highest ranking of trust, and only this year dropped to third place.

While gaining either "great" or "a lot" of trust from 57 percent of Americans is no mean feat for religion, it comes in behind the military, which enjoys a 64 percent rating, and the police, with 58 percent.

"One story is the greater concern with issues of safety on the domestic scene and internationally," said Donald Luidens, a sociologist of religion at Hope College in Michigan. "The other story is skepticism toward organized religion."

Amid the slide, however, individual clergy still rank high in confidence among many professions. First come pharmacists, and then men of the cloth. They are followed by doctors, dentists, engineers and college professors.

It should be noted, meanwhile, that clergy are trusted more than twice as much as journalists - who, in turn, are twice as trusted as lawmakers.

Most public confidence, it seems, gives science the edge. Public trust looks to professionals who measure and manage medicine, test physical bodies and combine weapons and discipline to protect the public from harm.

"You depend on your doctor or your pharmacist, or you're dead," said Robert Bezilla, who analyzes Gallup polls for Emerging Trends, newsletter of the Princeton Religion Research Center.

Only the clergy, among the "soft" professions, attain the highest realms of trust alongside the material experts.

In modern times, the hard scientists have gained pride of place, said Mr. …

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