The Large Majority of Americans are Religious Liberals

This is the third post in a series on the data of the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released today.  One of the most interesting findings is that a huge majority of Americans, in all religions except Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, are religious liberals.  That is to say, they affirm that there is more than one way to interpret their religion’s teachings.  68% of Americans agreed that their religion admitted multiple interpretations, including 82% of mainline Protestants, 53% of Evangelical Christians, 77% of Catholics, and 68% of Orthodox Christians.  Even the Mormons weren’t that far behind, with 43% explicitly affirming a liberal view.  89% of Jews took the liberal road, 60% of Muslims joined them, and the Buddhists and Hindus clocked in at 90% and 85% respectively.

Unitarian-Universalists “and other Liberal Faiths” proclaimed the liberal view 86% of the time, with 5% of these folks going in the other direction to state that there is only one correct way to approach their religion.



Filed under Liberal Religious History

3 responses to “The Large Majority of Americans are Religious Liberals

  1. Chuck B.

    You know… a few weeks ago I began to think about and use the term Religious Libertarains. I was hoping for some response that would give me some more to think about, but so far alas no bites. I wasn’t trying to be provocative, but I wanted input on something I percieve that occurs amongst the group called “religous liberals”.

    I think the liberal definition is incorrect. It seems to me that a portion of the non UU, and UU, americans that define themselves as “religiously liberal” do not think of it proactively.

    They believe “People should have the liberty to think, and pray to who they want so long as they don’t bother me. I don’t want the church to fully control government and thereby dictate my life, but they can stand in the villiage square and shout all they want.”

    Break: Atheists, I get it, there’s a valid argument we are farther along into that dangerous ground than that statement suggests. That’s not the point.

    To continue:
    To support the idea that they agree to multiple interpretations on religious ideals is really more in lines with libertarianism, which is the right to be left alone, than with the socio-political definition of being liberal which is more activist.

    Now I’m just shooting from the hip here, but it would seem that a liberal religiousness implies religiousity. Religiousity therefore implies actually being engaged in religious activity. In this case it would be to persue liberal goals.

    Usually the churches defined as religously liberal as opposed to “mainsteam” in our culture are more open and activist. Their congregants demonstrate for things and commit civil disobediance in the furtherence of ideas that are inclusive. I’m not sure that the majority center-right mindset of our country supports that.

    That’s not to say an opportunity does not exist to convert them to our faith. I can see a very valid arguement that a person who is Religiously Libertarian would find sanctuary easily in a UU fellowship. Whether keeping them in that system of ideas is one of the tensions rising within our church and not appropriate for my current comment.

    So….what do others think? 😉

  2. In a related development, perhaps made more petinent by the research you cite, conservative collumnist Cal Thomas recently “outed” Barack Obama as a “universalist.” For links and comentary see my blog entry at

  3. ck

    Jeff, I’m wondering whether “religious liberals” captures what’s going on. This post at Henry’s Web gets at what I think might the case–in contrast to most UU’s, who are religious liberals because they’ve chosen a form of pluralism & tolerance, most Americans are probably just lax about the religion they’re a part of. So, instead of being actively committed to religious pluralism, they just don’t care what someone else believes.

    At least that seems like a plausible take…and maybe in line with the above commentor’s “libertarian” interpretation. It’s more of a “live-and-let-live” view.

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