Pew Forum Religion Survey Skewed?

There has been a lot of talk around the web since the Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey came out last week. One of the most controversial findings in the report was that a majority of those affiliated with a religion did not believe their religion was the only way to salvation. However, new information shows that the actual question posed to survey takers may have been interpreted in different ways. Terry Mattingly reports:

In one of several questions probing the role of dogmatism in American life, interviewers asked adults which of two statements better fit their beliefs: “My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life” or “many religions can lead to eternal life.”

The results leaped into national headlines, with 70 percent of those affiliated with a religion or denomination saying that many religions can bring eternal salvation … But there’s the rub. It’s impossible, based on a straightforward reading of the Pew Forum research, to know how individual participants defined the word “religion” when they answered.

“We didn’t have a set of interview guidelines or talking points that we used when asking that question,” said Greg Smith, a Pew research fellow. “The interviewers didn’t say, ‘Well, that means someone who is a member of a different denomination than yours’ or ‘that means someone in a completely different religion than your religion.’ So people may have answered that in different ways.”

There is no way — based on this round of research — to know precisely how many believers have decided to reject what their faiths teach, if those faiths make exclusive truth claims about salvation and eternal life. Thus, said Smith, the Pew Forum is planning follow-up work.

I thought the numbers in the survey seemed questionably high. I am guessing that many (not all) Christians interpreted the question to mean different denominations rather than different religious faiths. In fact in the same article Mattingly refers to a new survey by the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Research team which specifically asked Protestants if they believed people can find eternal life through “religions other than Christianity.” Only 31 percent agreed “strongly” or “somewhat.”

See related posts:
    Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey
    New Study Finds Fewer Evangelical Universalists than Reported

4 Comments

  1. Tom says:

    I’m going to have to side with Barna on this one…
    If you make your subject sample agree in almost all aspects and then ask them about one of the aspects (ways to eternal life), you will obviously narrow the response curve.
    It does seem the Barna question could have been misinterpreted…religion vs. denomination, but isn’t that still part of the problem? People attending churches are not getting IT.

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