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The failure of the AmTaliban's flock

“As long as we measure success [of churches] on the basis of popularity and efficiency, we will continue to see a nation filled with people who can recite Bible stories but fail to live according to Bible principles.”
— The conclusion of Christian-based pollster, George Barna, on the findings of a study on Americans and morality. Who knew?

The Barna Group’s results of a recent study on Americans and moral values are extremely interesting (and for the AmTaliban, pretty depressing). It is doubly so because Barna Research is in their camp. It “conducts primary research, produces visual media and books, and facilitates the healthy development of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.”

For all the media whoring and outreach to whip people into shape to live the fundamentalist Christian lifestyle, most Americans talk the talk but don’t walk the walk (to the AmTaliban standard). Big surprise there. Barna:

How people react to moral issues is a common challenge these days. The Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts, funding for stem cell research, the war in Iraq and against terrorism, sexual abuse by clergy, the Terri Schiavo case, gay marriage, and many other recent issues have brought people’s moral convictions into play. Yet, in spite of the fact that most Americans consider themselves to be Christian, very few adults base their moral decisions on the Bible, and surprisingly few believe that absolute moral truth exists. These are among the findings from a new national survey conducted by The Barna Group among a representative sample of 1002 adults.

Some of the interesting items from the study:

* About half of all adults (54%) claim that they make their moral choices on the basis of specific principles or standards they believe in.
* 24% do what feels right or comfortable
* 9% do doing whatever makes the most people happy or causes the least conflict
* 7% pursue whatever produces the most positive outcomes for the person
* just one out of every six adults (16%) claim they make their moral choices based on the content of the Bible.

Absolute Moral Truth

When asked whether they believe moral truth is based on absolute standards or is relative to the circumstances…

* 35% contends that moral truth is absolute – that is, it is not dependent upon the circumstances.
* 32% say that morality is always determined by the situation.
* 33% indicate that they do not know if moral truth is absolute or relative.

Once again, people’s religious connections relate to their perspective on truth. A large majority of evangelicals (70%) report believing that moral truth is absolute. But a minority of non-evangelical born again adults (42%) holds that same view, and even fewer of the notional Christians (25%), people associated with non-Christian faiths (16%) and those who claim to be atheist or agnostic (27%) embrace moral absolutes.

Biblical Worldview

For several years, The Barna Group has been tracking how many people possess a “biblical worldview.” The organization defines such a life perspective on the basis of several questions about religious beliefs. The definition requires someone to believe that absolute moral truth exists; that the source of moral truth is the Bible; that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches; that eternal spiritual salvation cannot be earned; that Jesus lived a sinless life on earth; that every person has a responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others; that Satan is a living force, not just a symbol of evil; and that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful maker of the universe who still rules that creation today.

Using that framework, Barna discovered that the percentage of adults holding a biblical worldview has remained minimal and unchanged over the past three years, despite the widespread public debate about moral issues and the efforts of thousands of churches to enhance people’s moral convictions.

* 5% of adults have a biblical worldview
* About half of all evangelicals have such a perspective.
* 8% of Protestants possess that view
* less than one-half of one percent of Catholics do.

On the matter of possessing a biblical worldview, education substantially influenced people’s views. College graduates were twice as likely as other adults to have a biblical view of life (9% versus 4%, respectively). People who describe themselves as “mostly conservative” on social and political matters were twelve times more likely to have a biblical worldview than were people who said they are “mostly liberal” on such matters.

An intriguing discovery was that African-American adults, who generally emerge as the ethnic segment most deeply committed to the Christian faith, were substantially less likely than either whites or Hispanics to have a biblical worldview. In total, just 1% of black adults met the criteria, compared to 6% among whites and 8% among Hispanics. (Less than one-tenth of one percent of Asians possesses a biblical worldview.)

Do you think we’ll be hearing the Dobson/Falwell/Bauer crowd crowing about this little study?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding