This brief article adds a footnote to our suggestion (CHRISTIANITY TODAY, May, June, 1960, issues) that a new “mind” or world-outlook is emerging, characterized by a definition of Reality in terms of Self and Unpattern. This development leads, we said, to finding the “Real” either in the Group, the Self, or the Unpatterned Cosmos. In this outlook, we suggested, “God” becomes either the Unpatterned Cosmos, or something produced by the Group to give emotional security. Many observers have felt that something like this is going on in religion: Richard Niebuhr, for example, has said that we have replaced “the mysterious will of the Sovereign of life and death and sin and salvation” with “the sweet benevolence of a Father-Mother God or the vague goodness of the All.” Such opinions could be multiplied.
Various polls seem to show that the apparently widespread affirmation of traditional religious beliefs in some respects must be taken with a grain of salt.
Thus, Will Herberg, for example, summarizes the results of three recent polls (Gallup, Gaffin, Barnett) as follows (Protestant, Catholic, Jew, pp. 91 ff.): 97 per cent (or 96 per cent, or 95 per cent) believe in God; 90 per cent (or 92 per cent) pray; 86 per cent believe the Bible is the Word of God; 89 per cent believe in the Trinity, 80 per cent believe that Christ is divine; 77 per cent (or 76 per cent, or 75 per cent) believe in heaven (with 13 per cent, 13 per cent, 15 per cent not sure); 95 per cent feel religion is important, and 81 per cent that it can answer “most of today’s problems”; 91 per cent say they are trying to live a good life, and over 50 per cent feel that they love their neighbor as themselves; 98 per cent want their children to be educated in religion. There would seem to be no question that America, at least superficially, is religious, and indeed Christian. And yet the very same polls show that 40 per cent never or hardly ever read the Bible; that 80 per cent are “more serious” about “comfort in this life” than about life after death; that only 5 per cent have any fear of hell; that only 25 per cent feel they could love an enemy of America; that 54 per cent say religion has no influence on their political or economic ideas.
These results might seem to be contradictory. But, if there is a transition to a “mind” which sees God as either the Unpattern or something developed by the Group in order to give emotional security, they are consistent enough. The traditional terms would be mouthed, for they are still held up by the Group; at the same time, their content would be watered down and changed so that anything which might jeopardize emotional security is removed. In such a context, statements such as “our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply-felt religious faith—and I don’t care what it is” (Dwight D. Eisenhower, see The Christian Century, Feb. 24, 1954), have great appeal.
To examine more closely the extent of such attitudes, a poll was given to 100 college students, largely Protestant and from small towns in central Illinois. While the sample was not large enough to be conclusive, the findings are rather suggestive. The students were freshmen and sophomores taking social science courses.
There would seem to be little doubt that the group polled, like Americans in general, are “Christian” at least superficially. Of the students, 96 per cent believe God exists, 84 per cent believe in the Trinity, 94 per cent believe in Christ, 95 per cent that Christ rose from the dead, 89 per cent that God created the world, 80 per cent believe in eternal life, and 87 per cent that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. And yet the very same poll shows other results—which make good sense from the outlook of the post-modern “mind.” Some 56 per cent feel that “the main purpose of religion is to give emotional security”; 44 per cent agree that “when we say a religion is ‘true,’ we mean that it gives those who believe in it a feeling of security”; 47 per cent believe that “if we try and do our best, God will let us into heaven”; 43 per cent say that “man is essentially good”; 36 per cent agree that “all religions are equally true”; 40 per cent concur that “science deals with truth, while religion is what you believe”; 71 per cent say that loving our neighbor as ourselves means that “we should not interfere in his business, nor use force against him”; 61 per cent deny that “the love of money is the root of all evil”; 41 per cent agree that “so long as we believe in God, it does not make much difference how we define God; thus, it is a good religion if we believe in Universe, if we feel that it is God”; and 25 per cent agree that “God is a belief of man’s” so that “if there were no men, there would be no belief in God, and therefore God would not exist.”
We cannot say that this merely shows that many Protestants are “modernists” and that we evangelicals need not worry about our own youth. Consider the answers of those who said that the Bible was infallible (just under half the sample). Some 36 per cent of them agree that “the main purpose of religion is to give emotional security,” 43 per cent that “when we say a religion is ‘true,’ we mean that it gives those who believe in it a feeling of security”; 42 per cent agree that “I believe in salvation by works, that is, if we try and do our best, God will let us into heaven”; 34 per cent agree that “man is essentially good, and is capable of doing good acts by himself”; 26 per cent feel that “all religions are equally true”; 38 per cent agree that “science deals with truth, while religion is what you believe”; 70 per cent take loving one’s neighbor to mean “we should not interfere in his business, nor use force against him”; 45 per cent deny that “the love of money is the root of all evil”; 23 per cent agree that if we believe in Universe, it would be a good religion; and 15 per cent agree that if nobody believed in God, he would not exist. And yet 53 per cent agree that “atheists should not be allowed as president.”
It might be suggested that such results show the emergence of a new attitude towards religion which can hardly be called “Christian” in a meaningful sense; and, further, that we need some far-reaching self-examination in order to decide how to come to grips with the man who can hold both that the Bible is infallible and that all religions are equally true. We may have to “destroy his faith” so that he can come to grips with Christianity.
Samuel M. Shoemaker is the author of a number of popular books and the gifted Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. He is known for his effective leadership of laymen and his deeply spiritual approach to all vital issues.
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