Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Matters of Faith

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Matters of Faith

Article excerpt

Religious liberalism grows in US

Much has been made of the "conservatizing" of American faith - with membership declining in liberal mainline Christian denominations and pews filling up in more conservative churches. A new analysis of data from four decades of University of Chicago's General Social Survey tells a different story.

Religious liberalism has been rising faster than fundamentalism, says Copernicus Marketing Consulting and Research, of Waltham, Mass., which did the analysis. The number of Americans who consider themselves "religiously liberal" rose from 18 percent in 1972 to 29 percent in 2002, while those calling themselves "fundamentalist" increased from 27 percent to 30 percent. The dramatic decline came among "moderates," from 52 percent to 36 percent.

While moderates still hold a slight edge, "American society today is just as religiously liberal as it is fundamentalist," says Claire Cropper, a vice president at Copernicus. Some 1,500 to 2,000 adults are surveyed each year.

One clue to the apparent contradiction: A study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that only about 21 percent of Americans attend services on a given Sunday, though twice as many tell pollsters that they do.

Tougher stand on intolerance

To promote religious freedom around the world, the United States has been keeping tabs on other nations that restrict freedom or allow persecution against religious minorities. US law calls for sanctions against countries with egregious violations. While an annual report spotlights shortcomings, following up with action has been hard to do.

In its 2005 report released last week, the US State Department pointed to the same eight "countries of particular concern" it cited in 2004: Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam.

Since last year, only tiny Eritrea has been sanctioned. (In September, a ban was put on commercial export of some defense materials to the country.) Vietnam has promised in an agreement to improve conditions. Many criticized countries take issue with the report.

But the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government-appointed watchdog made up of religious leaders and scholars from various faiths, is calling for stronger action - particularly against Saudi Arabia. …

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