NEWS STORY: Poll Finds People of Faith Believe Politics, Not Religion Causes Violence

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c. Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Muslims outside the United States overwhelmingly believe that politics, not religious tenets, are at the root of violence and civil unrest in their countries, and U.S. Catholics and Protestants agree, although by much narrower majorities, according to a new poll on global religious attitudes released Thursday (Oct. 16).

The Zogby International/University of Rochester poll found that nearly 100 percent of Muslims in Saudi Arabia, 90 percent of those in Israel and 65 percent in India _ some of the countries most plagued with violence _ believe their countries’ problems are caused by politics, not religion, said William Green, a religion professor at the University of Rochester.

However, Green said some questions about specific political leaders and their effects on religious beliefs were excluded from the study.

The poll reflected attitudes held by members of 11 religions in seven countries and was the first-ever comprehensive study done of worldwide religious beliefs, the study’s commissioners said. The survey was conducted in January through March and involved 795 respondents in the United States, 593 in Israel and 600 each in India, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

Indian Hindus and South Korean Buddhists disagreed by more than 50 percent with the idea that religion was the source of trouble and unrest in their countries, while Israeli Jews were evenly split.

American Catholics, by 63 percentage points, also disagreed that religion was the source of violence and unrest and U.S. Protestants disagreed by smaller majorities.

Some findings ran contrary to popular opinion about basic differences in both American Christian subsets and religious groups worldwide, the authors said.

Attitudes surrounding other religious groups’ validity were unexpected, Green said. American Catholics and mainstream Protestants agreed _ each with about a 60 percent majority _ that their religion was one of many paths to salvation. Green also noted the consistent and striking similarities between mainline American Protestants’ views and American Catholics’ views throughout the poll.

But majorities or strong minorities of “born-again,” or evangelical, Protestants, South Korean Christians and Saudi Muslims said their religion offered the exclusive path to salvation.

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Although majorities of all the groups except South Korean Christians and Saudi Muslims said they considered people of other faiths equals, only four groups said they approved of interfaith marriage. Majorities of American and Peruvian Catholics and mainline and “born again” American Protestants voiced approval.

Green noted the incongruity between the religions’ views on equality and intermarriage.

“People held a view of equality of those from other religions,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean they want them as their in-laws.”

The poll also showed that family influence on religious development is critical. Respondents in all religious communities said their parents had the most influence over their religious development.

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The poll also found that, except for Korean Christians, when asked to evaluate their personal goals, being actively religious was ranked below having a good education and spending time with family. Economic security was more important than being actively religious in all groups except Korean Christians and American born-again Christians.

However, Green said religious devotion was rated relatively high in all groups _ “virtually second” in a list that included doing charitable work, traveling internationally and learning a valuable skill.

The groups polled were: South Korean Christian, American and Peruvian Catholic, American Protestant (mainline and “born again”), Russian Orthodox, Indian Muslim, Israeli Muslim, Saudi Arabian Muslim, Indian Hindu, Israeli Jew and South Korean Buddhist. The groups were chosen for their convenience _ accessibility of interviewees, proximity to urban areas, for example _ but sampling was random. The margin of error in the poll is 4 percent, except 3.6 percent for U.S. respondents.

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