Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

America Sees Moral Shortfall, Looks to Faith ; Poll Reaffirms the Concept of 'One Nation, under God,' with People Viewing More Religion as the Antidote to Social Ills

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

America Sees Moral Shortfall, Looks to Faith ; Poll Reaffirms the Concept of 'One Nation, under God,' with People Viewing More Religion as the Antidote to Social Ills

Article excerpt

Americans put a lot of faith in faith.

According to an in-depth national report released today, a large US majority wants religion's influence on society to increase.

This may seem surprising, coming as controversies over school prayer and the Ten Commandments test the courts, and as some people are uneasy about the freer use of religious language in politics. But Americans remain deeply concerned about a loss of moral moorings in the US, and they are looking to religion as the best means to right the ship.

The 100-question survey of more than 1,500 Americans, by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization in New York, portrays a people convinced of religion's ability to change attitudes and behavior, but, quite remarkably, equally attuned to the importance of respect for religious diversity.

"[Respondents showed] an intrinsic respect for pluralism, a deep commitment to religious freedom; and in wanting more religion, they say it can be any religion, not just their own," says Deborah Wadsworth, Public Agenda president.

Other broad indications emerging from the report, titled "For Goodness' Sake: Why So Many Want Religion to Play a Greater Role in American Life":

* Many are ready for a "softening" of the separation of church and state in some areas.

* Despite hand-wringing over politicians' behavior, government is not where people expect religion to have much effect.

* In the workplace, religion should be introduced only with tact and discretion, and accommodation to the needs for diverse religious observances should be made where reasonable.

* Some minorities - Jews and the nonreligious - remain wary of any significant increase in religion's public role.

Americans' most immediate concern is how to remedy the moral deficiencies they see persisting in society - deterioration in family structure, declining civility and respectfulness, and rising materialism. Some 69 percent see more religion as "the best way to strengthen family values and moral behavior." They also expect it would lead to a decrease in crime and greed.

The paradox is that previous surveys have shown that religious people don't differ much in priorities and behavior from the nonreligious (divorce, goals in life, etc.), that the secular culture has pervaded the daily lives of everyone. Perhaps aware of this, most respondents chose as their definition for being religious, "making sure that one's behavior and day-to-day actions match one's faith."

It's the perceived close tie between religion and morality, and a growing alarm over the state of American youth, that drive the strong desire to bring religion back into the schools. "There is this sense that young people are out of control, with no moral compass, and religion is the antidote," Ms. …

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