Barna Report: What Americans Believe About Universalism and Pluralism

Only 43% of Americans agreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow...”

David Kinnaman‘s upcoming book, You Lost Me, details the thoughts and attitudes of 20-somethings who leave the church (but not necessarily their faith). It is awesome material that has been burning a hole in my computer ever since he shared it with a group of leaders in Florida.

I will NOT steal his thunder here, but his new Barna study definitely fits with his book’s discoveries and with the current controversy stirred up by Rob Bell.

What Americans Believe About Universalism and Pluralism

In the Barna Group

Most Americans believe they, themselves, will go to heaven. Yet, when asked to describe their views about the religious destiny of others, people become much less forgiving. Some people might be described as inclusive—that is, embracing the notion that everyone—or nearly everyone—makes it into heaven. Others possess a generally exclusive take on faith, viewing the afterlife in a more selective manner.

A new analysis of Barna Group trend data explores whether Americans embrace inclusive or exclusive views of faith as well as how they operate within a context of religious pluralism, or the multi-faith nature of U.S. society. The research examines what Americans believe, whether there have been changes over time, and the degree to which younger generations are different from older adults.

Broadly defined, universalism is the belief that all human beings will be saved after death. On balance, Americans leaned toward exclusive rather than inclusive views. For example, 43% agreed and 54% disagreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons.”

Similar splits in public opinion emerged for the statements, “All people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs” (40% agreed, 55% disagreed) and the sentiment, “All people are eventually saved or accepted by God, no matter what they do, because he loves all people he has created” (40% versus 50%).

However, even as millions of Americans believe God saves everyone, most still place strong responsibility on human effort and choice regarding their ultimate destiny…

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