Thursday last week the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution released a new survey on the intersections of religion, values, and attitudes toward capitalism, government, and economic policy.
On July 18, the religion, policy and politics project at Brookings co-hosted an event with the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) to release the new survey and accompanying report co-authored by Brookings Senior Fellows E.J. Dionne and William Galston and PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones, PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox, and PRRI Research Associate Juhem Navarro-Rivera.
The 2013 Economic Values Survey tackles a range of topics, including perceptions of economic wellbeing and upward mobility, the role of government, how well capitalism is working, the importance and availability of equal opportunity, values that should guide government policy on economic issues, and specific economic policies. With its large sample size, the survey explores a range of fault lines on these issues, including racial and ethnic or generational divides. Additionally, the survey takes up the question of the existence and vitality of religious progressives, compared to religious conservatives, and examines the relationship between theological beliefs and the views of both groups on capitalism and economic policy.
Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”
Religious conservatives are far more likely than religious progressives to say religion is the most important thing in their lives.
“Among people of faith in general there is a strong consensus on the need for compassion and fairness for those in need,” Dionne said, even among conservatives. He said that more than 60 percent of both theological conservatives and social conservatives “support increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour.”
Both groups also by large margins see the gap between the rich and poor as growing, and see a role for government in taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves.
While Dionne said that this pattern is not consistent — three in five Americans, for example, think that government has “gotten bigger because it has gotten involved in things that people should do for themselves” — he suggested there was at least an opening to use religion as a bridge across the ideological divide.
Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said that Americans’ two views of what makes a person religious harken back to the Protestant Reformation and to the Bible itself.
“This has been a perennial debate through the ages in Christianity,” said Jones. “The Pauline literature, especially in the Book of Romans, makes the case for religious justification by faith alone, while the Book of James seems to state the very opposite — ‘faith without works is dead.’”
The religious conservatives are holding an advantage over religious progressives in terms of size and homogeneity. “However, the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the millennial generation. “Religious progressives are significantly younger and more diverse than their conservative counterparts,” Jones said.
Forty-seven percent of the Silent Generation (ages 66 to 88) are religious conservatives, compared with 34 percent of Baby Boomers, 23 percent of Gen Xers and 17 percent of Millennials.
While the Christian right makes up 28 percent of the population and garners more cultural attention — Jones found that there are 27,000 global monthly Google searches for “Christian Right” compared with just over 8,000 searches for “Christian left” – religious progressives are only 9 percentage points behind, with 19 percent of the population.
“What we see is not a one-to-one replacement of religious conservatives with religious progressives,” Jones explained. Instead, the ranks of religious conservatives over time are declining, while religious progressives maintain their share of the population. “But there’s also this growing number of non-religious Americans.” If the trends continue, religious progressives eventually will outnumber religious conservatives.
The report, dubbed the “Economic Values Survey,” uses respondents’ views on everything — from God to the Bible to the role of government in the economy — to create a new scale of religiosity that divides Americans into four groups: religious conservatives (28 percent), religious moderates (38 percent), religious progressives (19 percent) and the nonreligious (15 percent.)
According to the survey, white evangelicals are more likely to say the free market and Christian values are at odds than black Protestants,mainline Protestants, Catholics, and religiously unaffiliated Americans. Strangely enough lots of white Americans give a lot of attention to the attachment to objects and like to have many gadgets from the first hours.
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