28 December 2008


In an article titled "Heaven for the Godless?" published in the N.Y. Times, 12/28/08, Charles M. Blow sited a study  by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that found that 70% of Americans believe people of religions other than their own could go to heaven.

In his article, Blow stated: "This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: 'I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.' But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that."

The evangelicals blamed the results on poorly-understood questions. They believed the participants didn't understand their own responses. Of course many evangelicals pounced on a statistic that they interpreted as showing that 20% of atheists believe in God. The actual question was if one believed in "God or a universal spirit." Universal spirit was not defined, so one might have taken that to mean nature, a spirit of goodwill among humans, or anything else.

"I think it really underscores the sense that the issue with religion in America is not that Americans don't believe in anything, it's that they believe in everything," said Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston.

In August 2008, Pew conducted a new survey. This time 65% said that many religions can lead to eternal life while only 29% thought their own religion was the one true faith that would lead to heaven. To avoid any confusion, Pew asked respondents to be specific about which religions. Responses to these questions show that most American Christians are not thinking only of other Christian denominations when they say many religions can lead to eternal life. Of those who believe non-Christians can attain salvation, 80% named one other religion, 61% named two or more.

When asked what determines eternal life, 29% said one's actions while 30% said ones beliefs, and 10% chose a combination.

According to Blow: "And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go."

When asked which religions lead to eternal life, 42% thought atheists could get to heaven and 56% thought people with no religious faith were eligible.

Other results from Pew's earlier study:
        • 45% of U.S. adults never or seldom read Scripture
        • 25% of evangelicals say religious beliefs most influence
                    their political thinking
        • less than 10% of Catholics agreed 
        • 51% were absolutely certain about their belief in God
                    and view God as a person with whom they can
                    have a relationship
        • of those who attend services regularly 61% think 
                    abortion should be illegal and 57% say homosexuality
                    should be discouraged by society
Other results according to Blow:
        • 39% of Christians believe the Bible is the literal word of God
        • 18% believe the Bible was written by men and not the
                    word of God at all
        • only 1% said living life in accordance with the Bible
                    was necessary to be admitted to Heaven

John Green of the Pew Forum said that he thinks that the respondents were well aware of the basic tenet of their faith, that mandated a belief in Jesus in order to achieve salvation. But he added, "I think they are choosing to ignore it... "

On the down side, a 2007 Pew Forum survey found that a majority of Americans say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. Most Canadians and Europeans disagree. 

I think anything that makes the evangelicals think about how others view their fundamentalism is a good thing. I don't believe in heaven or hell, but it is rather heartwarming to know that many Christians think atheists are good enough to be admitted to their idea of heaven based on behavior rather than belief.

Use the links scattered throughout this story for 
more information on these articles and surveys.

        I thought I'd have a little fun with photos of  some famous freethinkers. Apologies to Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Sam Harris, Christiopher Hitchens, Rachel Maddow. Madalyn O'Hair (deceased), and Ron Reagan. For more information on these people, or on freethought, agnosticism, and atheism, use the links in the right column to search for their writings at Amazon.com.    


Lee said...

About time too!

Quite frankly, I think Heaven would be Hell.

C Woods said...

Lee, I agree.
Mark Twain said, “Heaven for climate; Hell for society.” In Twain's "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," it took everyone about two days to ditch the halos, harps and wings. In his "Letters from the Earth" he reminds us, [Man] “has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights... sexual intercourse!... His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values.”

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