New survey: Religious tolerance growing among Christians?

June 23, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 8:49 pm   Category: Life,Mormon Culture/Practices

There was and interesting article today at Time.com (via Yahoo News) focusing on a recent survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. [Update: See more detailed survey results here and here] Here are some excerpts:

Americans of every religious stripe are considerably more tolerant of the beliefs of others than most of us might have assumed, according to a new poll released Monday. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last year surveyed 35,000 American, and found that 70% of respondents agreed with the statement “Many religions can lead to eternal life.” Even more remarkable was the fact that 57% of Evangelical Christians were willing to accept that theirs might not be the only path to salvation, since most Christians historically have embraced the words of Jesus, in the Gospel of John, that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Quizzed on the breadth of the poll’s definition of “Evangelical,” Pew pollster John Green said the 296-page survey made use of self-identification by the respondents’ churches, denominations or fellowships, whose variety is the report’s overriding theme. However, he said, if one isolates the most “traditionalist” members of the white Evangelical group, 50% still agreed that other faiths might offer a path to eternal life. In fact, of the dozens of denominations covered by the Pew survey, it was only Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who answered in the majority that their own faith was the only way to eternal life. (Italics mine)

That sentence about Mormons makes me skeptical of the survey results. The problem with most of these religious surveys is that the religious terms are not clearly defined before the questions are asked. For instance, Mormonism is nearly a Universalist religion in the sense that D&C 76 clearly teaches that all but the (likely very few) sons of perdition will be “heirs of salvation”. Yet the sentence above would lead one to think that Mormons believe only Mormons avoid an endless hell. The gradation of heaven taught in Mormonism, combined with the fact that Mormons generally equate “eternal life” with “exaltation”, or becoming like God, explains the results of the survey. And when you combine that with the fact that Mormons believe everyone will have a chance to accept the “fulness of the gospel” after this life this sentence is even more misleading.

So if the survey misconstrues that result what else did it botch? Did 57% of evangelicals surveyed really mean non-Christians could/would be saved or were they just referring to non-evangelical Christians? I’m too lazy to find out but maybe some of your aren’t so feel free to report back to us on that if you want. And the rest of you feel free to sound off on the survey results.

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48 Comments »

  1. Heh. A (Mormon) friend of mine works for the Pew and showed me the survey last weekend. I complained about precisely the same issue. It’s not merely confusing for Mormons, I think – I question the implied equation of ‘salvation’ with ‘eternal life’ in general.

    According to her, the precise wording of the question was as follows:

    Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR, many religions can lead to eternal life.

    The context does help some, I think.

    Comment by matt b — June 23, 2008 @ 11:22 pm

  2. I can tell you about what some LDS in conservative S.E. Idaho would say about the one, true faith leading not to salvation, but to eternal life. The beautiful, exalted, celestial life with the Father.

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 24, 2008 @ 7:59 am

  3. Another point is that generally speaking, Mormons hold to the idea that people can and need to connect to the mormon religion post-mortally (temple work, etc.), and that their religion is more a way of life than a group affiliation.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 24, 2008 @ 8:01 am

  4. Matt, “group affiliation” seems to be strong and steady in its importance in S.E. Idaho.

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 24, 2008 @ 9:28 am

  5. Todd,

    TO be more clear, I think you are a good guy, I know you aren’t “mormon” yet, but believe that when the opportunity fully comes to you in a way you are able to accept, you will choose that opportunity and become “mormon”. Thus you’re lack of membership currently in my church does not neccesitate that you won’t eventually get eternal life. Thus because I believe the “mormon” way is the “one, true” way, I will perservere with you, and probably would do your temple work for you if I had you b.day, information, and closest kin’s permission. Why? Because I love you and respect you and it’s a way I can express that love and respect.

    Make sense?

    Comment by Matt W. — June 24, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  6. I think the surveyers are beginning to ask more appropriate questions. Just because one believes there are certain “eternal benefits” to one’s particular religios beliefs and practices, does not mean that one is not tolerant of another’s beliefs and practices.
    Now, we just need the surveyers to be more discerning when asking Mormons their questions because, as Geoff J. correctly points out, we parse the understanding of some of the terms in a unique way – sometimes in an intra-church way, as well as in an inter-church way. I think Mormons in S.E. ID might view things differently. (I remember an anecdote where a Southern mother of one fiance was talking on the phone to the S.E. Idaho parents of the other fiance and she answered their question with “Lord, no.” The S.E. ID parents spoke with their child about calling off the wedding because the new in-laws were blasphemers.)
    Group affiliation can be a two-edged sword.

    Comment by mondo cool — June 24, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  7. Matt B — Thanks for the insight. All sorts of problems arise when we assume we are seeing through the same lens/paradigm on these sorts of things. It makes many of these kinds survey results spurious.

    Todd — My point is that with an LDS paradigm we do hold to the “only true and living church” line but still are basically universalists. Between the notions of post-mortal progress, temple work, and the idea of a temporary hell prior to resurrection for the wicked, the survey results are misleading.

    As I said, I would be shocked if 57% of evangelicals believe non-Christians are heaven-bound. As I understand it, Jesus being the only way (in this life — there is no spirit world missionary work doctrine that I know of among evangelicals) is basically the fundamental tenet of most evangelical churches. Am I missing something there?

    A better question might have been: “Will people who are not of your faith burn forever in hell if they don’t convert?” Mormons should unanimously say “no” to that one (if they understand Mormon scripture at least).

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  8. Geoff, from my humble, myopic viewpoint as an Idaho spud in an obscure little field in Southeastern Idaho, I think the word, “evangelical” does not have the doctrinal boundaries it once did. Conservative belief is headed out the door, man.

    And perhaps it will be the evangelical emergents who will lead the way. Distinctive LDS Church life and missionary outreach will need to give away to the culture if they will get anywhere in America.

    I am telling you, Geoff – LDS life, just the mainstream, especially S.E. Idaho, looks way to fundamentalist for evangelical emergents. And because of that some liberal evangelicals might treat their friends in eastern religions more on the right track than the LDS missionaries in white shirts and ties.

    You are only seeing one segment of the elastic umbrella that gathers under the name of evangelical.

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 24, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

  9. Todd,

    You may be right that “evangelicals” is simply too broad a term to be useful in this context. However, I will wager dollars to doughnuts that Mormon theology predicts more people are heaven-bound than the liberal “evangelicals” you refer to. Compared to a conservative evangelical like yourself, this is beyond doubt, but I am betting it holds true even when we consider everyone under the “evangelical” umbrella. The annoying thing is that the way the poll is reported, you’d never guess that. In fact, anyone unfamiliar with Mormonism will conclude just the opposite.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 24, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

  10. Liberal evangelicals don’t have the degrees of heaven, chief. They don’t build big restricted temples. I am telling you, they despise that stuff. It all smacks of capitalistic fundamentalism.

    Jacob, do you think liberal evangelicals like the tiered heaven-bound idea? That sounds like a hell for heaven.

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 24, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

  11. Todd,

    I’m really confused by your last response. Who are you talking to? If you were responding to Jacob it is all the more baffling since you seem to be responding to things he never said.

    Anyway, I think Jacob is right on with his #9. Mormons teach that most everyone will end up in “heaven” (whatever that ends up meaning). I don’t know of any evangelicals that are nearly as universalist as that — if they were that unversalist I doubt they would call themselves evangelicals at all.

    Now as for your #8 — I don’t doubt that plenty of Mormons in SE Idaho look and act and vote a bit like conservative evangelicals. But the universalism inherent in Mormonism exists despite the outward appearances of those Idaho saints. My whole point is that the survey results imply the exact opposite and that is troubling.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  12. Jacob, Geoff:

    I’m afraid I side with Todd here. People like Gresham Machen spent most of the 1920s and 1930s trying to identify evangelicalism with conservative theology; unfortunately, they largely succeeded in conflating the two in the public mind. That doesn’t mean that the two are synonymous. (Theologically liberal evangelicals: Harry Emerson Fosdick, Tony Campolo, Stanley Hauerwas, Stanley Grenz, etc, etc. An evangelical who edges as close to universalism as Mormons: Brian McLaren, a leader in the emergence movement Todd mentions. In his systematic theology Grenz also maintains that hell is reserved for those who reject God knowing what they are doing, which sounds familiar.)

    In short, it’s quite possible to argue that evangelicalism is not so much a systematic theology as it is a cluster of religious tendencies (Christocentric, crucicentric, bibliocentric). There’s nothing about those tendencies themselves that prohibits universalism.

    Comment by matt b — June 24, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

  13. matt b,

    You make a fair point about evangelicalism not being synonymous with conservative theology. I am happy to concede that point (and tried to do so in my first comment). I’m not sure the existence of a liberal or even universalist tradition within evangelicalism contradicts my assertion. We’re talking in the context of a poll now, so I take it that the point is to get at the average/prevalent views in a large community. The thing that was reported as “remarkable” is that 57% of Evangelical Christians are willing to accept that there’s might not be the only path to salvation. Are you saying that the universalist tendencies you cite are normative in evangelicalism? If so, I will concede that I am out of touch with the average evangelical (certainly possible).

    As it is, your own comment mentions that the most liberal evangelicals edge “as close to universalism as Mormons.” Again, my annoyance (and Geoff’s if I read him correctly) is that the poll is reported to give the exact opposite impression.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 24, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

  14. Well said again Jacob.

    (Though I do find it interesting that someone who calls themselves an evangelical is preaching a stronger form of universalism than Mormonism preaches… That is saying a lot)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

  15. Todd,

    If I understand you, your intentions on this thread are to:

    (1) imply that there is some sleight of hand going on when Mormons talk about everyone being saved because we actually mean evangelicals will only be “saved” while we mormons are “exalted” (see #2). If that was your point in #2 it is absolutely wrong. The whole point of temple work is that we think everyone has an opportunity for exaltation.
    (2) denigrate my view of heaven (see #10) rather than accepting for the purpose of this discussion that when I say I believe someone is going to (my view of) heaven it is as valid as an evangelical saying they believe someone is going to (their view of) heaven. I don’t know why this post strikes you as a good time to take pot shots at the Mormon concept of heaven, but I am not interested in taking the bait at the moment.
    (3) make sure that we realize that not all evangelicals are conservative (see #8). As I said, I think this is a fair point and I happily acknowledge it.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 24, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  16. Yes, thanks Matt B.

    Jacob, Geoff, ask Brian McLaren (an older architect) and all the young evangelical emergents what they think of LDS Church instruction on the one true Church, baptism, priesthood authority, temple worthiness, and the exclusive path to exaltation, etc.

    Liberal Evangelicals are not dummies, neither is the Pew Forum about LDS General Authorities’ restrictions for the path to exaltation.

    The LDS will need to shed all the Protestant traditionalism before they convince any young, emergent evangelical of anything. The whole LDS Church life is way behind the times.

    So what does the future hold?

    Hmmm. If Gresham Machen were here, I would hang out with him. ;) He cherished fundamentals that I believe in 2008. Almost 100 years later.

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 24, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

  17. Jacob, I am not taking potshots. Whether you think so or not, you are stanced in a more conservative position than whole segments of self- identifying evangelicalism.

    But you are a liberal compared to me. :)

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 24, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

  18. Todd: ask Brian McLaren (an older architect) and all the young evangelical emergents what they think of LDS Church instruction on the one true Church, baptism, priesthood authority, temple worthiness, and the exclusive path to exaltation, etc.

    Huh?

    Why on earth would I ask them that? Why should I give a rip what they think? What on earth does any of this have to do with this post? Your comments here are nearly incoherent at this point Todd… are you feeling ok?

    Liberal Evangelicals are not dummies, neither is the Pew Forum about LDS General Authorities’ restrictions for the path to exaltation.

    Evangelicals don’t even believe in exaltation in the sense that Mormonism uses the term so if the Pew Forum is asking Mormons and Evangelicals a question using words that mean completely different things to Mormons and Evangelicals then apparently they are dummies. That is my point here. They need to wise up on these polls because when it comes to surveys it is “garbage in, garbage out”.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 24, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

  19. geoff, in the data, there are many similarities with the Jehovah’s witnesses, but the report that says “it was only Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who answered in the majority that their own faith was the only way to eternal life” is sounding like we thought we are “holier-than-thou”. But we can’t blame the LDS too, just come and visit any church or sacrament meeting every first sunday, (or first friday here in Saudi)and they’ll know.

    Comment by kenjebz — June 24, 2008 @ 11:35 pm

  20. One way to look at this is to realize that this points out the genius of LDS theology. As the survey mentions, eveyone wants to be able to believe Jesus’ statement in John that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” but other religions don’t have the necessary soterilogical framework to believe that statement without sending most of the people who’ve lived on the earth to an eternity of hellfire. Given that conflict, there is a strong motivation to abandon the claim of exclusivity in order to have a gospel that is not embarrassingly limited in the number of the people that are saved. LDS have our cake and eat it too on this topic.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 25, 2008 @ 10:47 am

  21. I completely agree. The question assumes that there are only two places people go after death, heaven and hell, and that there is no intermediate period in which the final outcome can be changed before the resurrection. It also fails to probe how people reconcile the salvation of those outside their own faith with the statements by Christ that he is the only way to salvation, and which among several theories is how the person thinks others can be saved, from God either immediately or eventually saving everyone simply as an act of mercy, to salvation based on response to the “general revelation” of the existence of God in nature, to salvation based on a split-second confrontation with Christ at the moment of death, to post-mortem evangelization that takes seriously the statements in I Peter that Christ preached to the spirits that were disobedient in the days of Noah.

    Most Evangelicals look forward to heaven as a place from which death and suffering have vanished, and they will be united in praising Christ. Mormons believe that this is a description of the Terrestrial Kingdom, where all good Christians (and Muslims and Buddhists) will end up, should they not further accept the gospel before the resurrection. No Evangelical can claim that Mormons believe Evangelicals will get anything less than the full heaven that they are taught to expect. That looks pretty non-exclusive to me. If some Evangelicals want more than that, they can have it, too, if they are willing to fulfill the conditions God has laid down, namely baptism into the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and dedicating oneself by covenant to be a true child of Christ and be obedient to him.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — June 25, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  22. To all,
    Everytime I peck out something on the New Cool Thang, I am incoherent.

    But Geoff’s post has motivated me to conduct my own survey about tolerance in Idaho Falls.

    I am pondering how to phrase my question for the neighborhood survey.

    Any ideas?

    Such as . . .

    1. In your understanding of eternal life, do you think that there is only one way to eternal life?

    Or . . .

    2. Can a man or woman be fully glorified among the Godhead by several different paths?

    I am chewing on how to word some questions that would pass the NCT incoherent test.

    Ray,
    I had no vivid understanding that in my heaven I will be separated from the Father, until BiV told me this year (2008). How come all these universalists are not stressing this clearly? Separation from the Father? That is horrible. Ray, aren’t evangelicals expecting to be in the presence of the Father? Why would any of them pray to Him?

    The sheep in John’s Gospel know and are known as the Father and Son know and commune with one another. Are the LDS General Authorities in 2008 tolerant in the fact that they would fully recognize those outside the LDS fold as true sheep and full recipients of all the blessings of God?

    (That is another question I would like to ask in my survey to establish a better idea of theological pluralistic equality and acceptance. I know what the prevailing biblical scholarship in America would maintain. So it would be good to find out how all the neighbors in the wards, most of them life-long members, have to say about the subject.)

    Geoff,
    What questions do you think I should ask the neighbors to make it an informative survey, fair to both LDS and the whole spectrum within evangelicalism?

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 25, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  23. Raymond, I apologize. You probably don’t go by the name of Ray.

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 25, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

  24. Todd,

    I had no vivid understanding that in my heaven I will be separated from the Father, until BiV told me this year (2008).

    What BiV said is correct about the description of the terrestrial kingdom in D&C 76, but your conclusion does not follow because we have no good reason to assume that evangelicals are going to the terrestrial rather than the celestial kingdom. As far as I am concerned (although it is obviously not my place to judge), you are headed for the celestial kingdom where God dwells.

    As far as your survey question goes, I would like to have you include a question about what percentage of the earth’s population you think will go to heaven. Of course, you can create several flavors of that as you make distinctions about the meaning of “heaven.” Have a version about what percentage will dwell with God and a different version about what percentage will dwell in a place of happiness and a version about what percentage have a fair chance (given that many people die without a knowledge of Christ) of gaining eternal life.

    The existence of the lower kingdoms shows that even beyond this very inclusive doctrine that every person on earth gets a fair shot at the celestial kingdom, we (LDS) will go one step further to say that even the people who fail to live up to the standards God has set will get far more than they would have expected. So, we are far more inclusive in our doctrine than you seem to be understanding. This would be an interesting survey, maybe I will do one too.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 25, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  25. Todd,

    Everytime I peck out something on the New Cool Thang, I am incoherent.

    I can explain why this is, but I’d rather do it via email. Okay with you?

    Comment by Jacob J — June 25, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  26. I am dismayed at reading words like “spurious” and “botched” and “failed” regarding this survey, which I think is one of the finest studies of religion in America in the last century. WIth a sample size of 35,000 they have a dataset that can support all kinds of analyses, and it will ultimately be made available to the public for secondary analysis and will be a great resources for dissertations, etc.

    The post title was misleading; this is not a “new survey” but a new report on the survey conducted in spring 2007 which has been discussed elsewhere; there will be further findings, including data from questions about political affiliation (I’m assuming closer to the presidential election) and they are considering a “Mormons in America” report similar to the amazing report on Muslims that was produced earlier.

    I thought it was a great question. I would have no trouble answering it, especially not with the caveat of “even if neither is exactly right.” Knowing the quality of work coming out of this organization, I am sure it was cognitively tested before survey administration to gauge what people thought it meant (having them think aloud as they read and formulate an answer, paraphrase it in their own words, etc.) and this particular question wording is the culmination of much formative research.

    Look, this may not be the best way to measure nuances of Mormon theology. But that is not the goal of this item. The objective of this item is to offer comparisons across denominations on a common point of doctrinal differences, with the “even if neither is exactly right” acknowledgment that it isn’t always an apples-to-apples comparison. And the issue of “leading to eternal life” is an important one to many people of faith. (It’s basically why I became a latter-day saint, for example.)

    It’s just one item on a long survey, not the focus of the survey.

    Comment by Naismith — June 25, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

  27. sure Jacob

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 25, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

  28. Naismith,

    As you can see, I added a couple of links with more info on the latest report. I will spend more time looking at it. It does seem to be really interesting.

    Sorry you are dismayed to see words like “botched”. My intent was not to claim the entire study was botched but rather that the one question led to a botched implication about Mormon theology. I certainly stand by that specific assertion — Mormonism has a largely universalistic theology and the implication of the report was just the opposite.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 25, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  29. “Mormonism has a largely universalistic theology and the implication of the report was just the opposite.”

    Then I think your issue is not with the report, but with dumb Mormons like me who would choose option A when faced with the question

    Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR, many religions can lead to eternal life.

    in my view, the first comes “closer” even though not being “exactly right.”

    Comment by Naismith — June 26, 2008 @ 4:38 am

  30. Naismith,

    You make a good point. This question doesn’t necessarily imply they botched the survey, or even this question for that matter. Also, I would not consider you a “dumb Mormon” in the slightest for answering as you have suggested.

    In fact, I think it is patently obvious that when presented with the question above, Mormons will overwhelmingly choose the first option. I would, even. It’s not really a bad question, I don’t think. The fact that Mormon’s and Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out in thinking they have the only way to salvation is noteworthy. No problem from me so far.

    The problem I have is that there is a very super massively obvious implication of this answer which anyone without an understanding of Mormonism would naturally conclude. If there is going to be analysis of this unique Mormon response (as reported above “it was only Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who answered in the majority”) it would be nice to see some questions in the survey which exposed the counterpart to this fairly unique Mormon belief (viz. the belief that nearly everyone who ever lived on earth will go to “heaven” rather than “hell”). I suggested some questions in this vein off the cuff in #24. To be fair, I am not familiar with the survey, so perhaps these questions are already in there. I am guilty as charged of criticising the survey without knowing much about it, so thank you for calling me on that.

    But, if questions like the ones suggested in #24 are included, I think they would fit with your description of the objective: “The objective of this item is to offer comparisons across denominations on a common point of doctrinal differences.”

    Comment by Jacob J — June 26, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

  31. Naismith,

    I don’t think my issue is with dumb Mormons at all. My issue is with the term “eternal life” in the question. We Mormons use the term in an idiosyncratic way but the surveyors apparently didn’t know that. As a result of that oversight the survey implies false things about Mormonism. What I mean is that I’m pretty sure that for most people “eternal life” is synonymous with “heaven”. But for Mormons (and as far as I know only for Mormons) “eternal life” normally is synonymous with “exaltation” or the highest degree of a tiered heaven. So faced with that same question as presented I assume most Mormons would answer based on how they commonly use the term “eternal life” and thus the results we see. However if the question had read:

    Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. My religion is the one, true faith leading to heaven, OR, many religions can lead to heaven.

    I suspect a lot fewer Mormons would have gone with the latter. Yet to most people there is little or no difference between “heaven” and “eternal life”.

    I suspect that “salvation” would have worked better too.

    What would be more interesting to me would be to see who expects people not of their faith to burn in an eternal hell. Mormons (who aren’t dumb) would surely reject that sort of claim. The problem with the results as they stand is that they imply that we believe just that!

    Comment by Geoff J — June 26, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

  32. We Mormons use the term in an idiosyncratic way but the surveyors apparently didn’t know that.

    Actually, they did, since one of the surveyors is an amazing BYU grad and faithful Mormon. I happened to be at a conference with some of the Pew team that did this survey, in a Sunday morning session on surveys about religion. I was very impressed when the LDS person announced that they were going to church that afternoon. (I had not made that effort, figuring a Sunday off once a year wouldn’t kill me.)

    I don’t disagree that additional questions would have clarified the issue. But the cost of asking one more question to 35,000 people adds up fast, and impacts the quality of the entire survey (because the longer it gets, the more people hang up, and if they hang up before you get demographics, the interview is pretty useless).

    I think it is instructive that the Pew report itself refers to “dogmatism” and not “tolerance,” the word that has been used in so many press reports.

    The key difference is that dogmatism refers to what we believe, while tolerance refers to our attitude toward others’ beliefs. That question had nothing to do with tolerance, whether we think other people should be entitled to their beliefs.

    So dogmatic is precise, tolerance not supported by the survey findings.

    Comment by Naismith — June 27, 2008 @ 5:38 am

  33. Yes, but even our dogma is inclusive. That is the point.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 27, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  34. Right Jacob. We dogmatically believe that nearly everyone will be saved and end up in heaven. In fact our canon clearly states that is what will happen. So there is a problem when the exact opposite is implied in the results.

    I’m not trying to bag on the entire survey. I’m just stating the obvious: They fumbled a bit on that particular point.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 27, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

  35. Interestingly, Rodney Stark thought Mormons should be offended by this botched result from the survey. See this quote from a recent article in the Deseret News “Mormon Times” (hat tip to Dennis):

    So how should Mormons react to being portrayed as intolerant without taking into account their expansive beliefs about salvation and differing degrees of heaven? “They should be offended,” Stark said, “because they are basically getting framed up on. That (Pew survey) question is so ill-conceived that who knows what it means?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 29, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

  36. In a press conference on the day this survey was released, the Pew Forum director indicated that they plan to probe this very question further in a recontact survey because the results have raised so many questions/eyebrows, for the Pew researchers as much as for anyone else.

    Interestingly, some evangelicals are having the opposite reaction to the results of this question. That is, they complain that the proportion of evangelicals who said many religions can lead to eternal life is skewed HIGH (as opposed to Mormons in this thread and elsewhere who complain that for Mormons it is skewed LOW).

    Re: #13 — Newsweek asked a series of questions in 2004 about whether members of various religious groups can go to heaven. Among white evangelical Protestants who said they believe in Heaven, more than nine-in-ten said “Other Christians” (i.e. not evangelical) can go to heaven, and eight-in-ten said Jews can go to heaven. Half of evangelicals who believe in heaven said Muslims can go to heaven, and around 20% said atheists can go to heaven. This may suggest that some evangelicals (as defined in survey research) don’t understand their theology, but it may also suggest a certain level of political correctness or social desirability in people’s attitudes. In any case, it maps pretty well to what Pew found.

    I think the reaction of Mormons (and the evangelicals noted above) to this question is interesting. We get defensive because we don’t want our religion perceived a certain way. I think Naismith’s point (#29) is important. An opinion poll measures what people (in this case, members of various religions) think, not what the actual theology of those groups is. And whatever you want to say about actual Mormon theology on this, my experience is that most Mormons have a “one true church” mentality that is not what I would term universalist. The Pew report didn’t portray Mormons as intolerant — it simply said that a majority of Mormons answered this particular question in this particular way — and it didn’t say anything about Mormon beliefs or teachings. And let’s be honest, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses DO have more of an exclusionary bent on things like this than other religions (“one true church”, anyone?), and the survey picked that up, even with a demonstrably imperfect question. (Again, I think Naismith is right that the caveat “even if neither is exactly right” is important.)

    One last point. This problem of question interpretation is inherent in any sort of comparison across groups in surveys. For example, the Pew survey also asked a battery of questions about political issues, including questions about the role of government, abortion, welfare and international diplomacy. Clearly, Jehovah’s Witness teachings about avoiding political involvement impact their perception of these questions in a way that is different from that of any other group. There is also a question on meditation; Buddhists will clearly interpret this question differently than will, say, Mormons or evangelical Christians. Questions can’t always be tailored to the peculiarities of minority groups. But I don’t think that makes the results of the questions invalid; it just makes it important to know something about the lens through which various groups will understand the questions, and why they might answer as they do.

    Comment by Allie — June 29, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

  37. Good insights and links Allie. Thanks.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 29, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

  38. I would note that Allie is the thoughtful and well-informed person I referenced in #1.

    Comment by matt b — June 29, 2008 @ 9:49 pm

  39. Is this a fair question for a poll?

    http://heartissuesforlds.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/new-idaho-falls-sidewalk-survey-part-1/

    Comment by Todd Wood — August 7, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  40. I think you offered a pretty useless question unless you define the term “exalted eternal life”. To a Mormon it means something specific — Becoming a god, becoming as God is, becoming one with the Godhead, etc. To a non-Mormon it usually means something else — Going to heaven.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 7, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

  41. Oh, even non-Mormons can think John 14, John 17, etc.

    This is what I proclaim on the streets, Geoff.

    John’s Gospel.

    And it seems to pretty clearly promote a “one way” motif that all can understand.

    Comment by Todd Wood — August 7, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  42. Maybe it is the Idaho connection or something but I feel like this farmer when I read about half of your comments Todd.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 7, 2008 @ 11:34 pm

  43. Are you guys all from america? Is this like a club? its just i want to join in your debates but, huh, i fear im just not clever enough.

    Comment by Martin k — August 9, 2008 @ 3:23 am

  44. I visited salt lake city once, and it was thoroughly great.Awesome mountains, great basketball arena.In fact,i had the pleasure of going to a rodeo and lo and behold, thomas monson was sat a few seats in front.This was 1996 mind, but it was a privaledge to see the guy.I love the fact hes into his birdwatching!

    Comment by Martin k — August 9, 2008 @ 3:59 am

  45. Ill stop this ranting! sorry guys!

    Comment by Martin k — August 9, 2008 @ 4:00 am

  46. Can i suggest a `hot topic` for debate. Entitled `Who is the coolest.Enoch or Abinadi?`

    Comment by Martin k — August 9, 2008 @ 4:12 am

  47. You are welcome to make useful/coherent/interesting comments here at the Thang Martin. Who do you think is is cooler between Abinidi and Enoch?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 9, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

  48. Well id say that im a huge fan of enoch, so yeah, ill go with Enoch. Purely on the basis of his extremely specialized task. I mean, on one hand hes presiding over a city in heaven, but he also has the gritty task of presiding over potential sons of perdition.Not discrediting the fact that Abinadi was awesome. And king noah was a fat lard face.

    Comment by Martin K — August 10, 2008 @ 5:19 am

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