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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 10:55 GMT
How religion defines America
By Dr Richard Land
Southern Baptist Convention

Unlike some other Western countries, the United States remains an overwhelmingly religious society. The BBC programme What the World Thinks of God examines the modern world's relationship with God. Among those taking part is Dr Richard Land who explains how profoundly religion influences American society and politics.

The USA is a very religious society. Evidence abounds demonstrating Americans' deep and abiding religious convictions.

A Gallup Poll released in November 2003 found that six out of ten Americans said that religion was "very important" in their lives.

Protestant (White Evangelical) 30%
Roman Catholics 25%
Protestant (Liberal) 20%
Protestant (African-American) 8%
Jewish 2%
Other 15%
Source: City University of New York (2001)

In contrast, in Canada and the United Kingdom, two societies often perceived as quite similar to the United States, only 28% and 17% respectively described religion as similarly important in their lives.

A survey done in 2001 by the City University of New York Graduate Center found that 85% of Americans identify with some religious faith.

The same study concluded that by most standards the United States was a more professingly religious country than any European nations except Ireland and Poland.

Conservative belief

Adam and Eve from The Bible in Animation TV series
Most Americans believe in the literal truth of Old Testament stories
The religious convictions of Americans tend toward the conservative end of the spectrum.

An ABC news poll, done in February 2004, found that approximately 60% of Americans believe that the Genesis creation account, Noah's ark and a global flood, and Moses' parting of the Red Sea are "literally true."

Belief in the literal veracity of these biblical accounts was highest among the fastest growing segment of American faith, evangelical Protestantism (nearly 90% acceptance).

How does such robust religious faith impact and influence American government and the nation's domestic and foreign policies?

Religious vote

An ABC news exit poll taken on Election Day 2000 found that among the 42% of voters who attended religious services at least once a week, 58% voted for Bush.

Conversely, Gore won 61% among the 14% of Americans who reported they never attended religious services.

Perhaps 40% of President Bush's total raw vote was provided by self-identified "evangelical" Christians
Dr Richard Land
It is difficult to imagine the United States electing a candidate with the beliefs and policies of a George W. Bush, or for that matter a Ronald Reagan, without the strong role an increasingly conservative faith plays in tens of millions of Americans' lives.

Some estimates conclude that perhaps 40% of President Bush's total raw vote was provided by self-identified "evangelical" Christians.

Religion and society

How does this deep and abiding religious belief impact American society?

According to an ICM poll in January 2004, Americans believe in the supernatural (91%), an afterlife (74%), "belief in a God/higher power makes you a better human being" (82%), God or a higher power judged their actions (76%), and perhaps most tellingly "would die for their God/beliefs" (71%).

In 1880 Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov that "If God does not exist, then everything is permissible."

The history of his native Russia, wracked by the atrocities of atheistic communism for most of the 20th century, serves as a most graphic example of the truth of his conclusion.

Nazism, above all detested religion because it called for allegiance to something greater than the state, namely God.

President Bush
President Bush at the opening of a Bible fellowship centre in Texas
When 71% of Americans say they would die for their faith, they are pledging allegiance to a loyalty beyond their loyalty to their country and are saying the exact polar opposite of "my country, right or wrong."

It is very important at this point to make a critical distinction: to be willing to die for one's faith is utterly different than to kill for it.

The overwhelming majority of Americans, religious and otherwise, would never feel that it is morally acceptable to kill, or even discriminate against, someone because they were of a differing faith or no faith.

As an evangelical Christian, I would not only die for my faith, I would die for any person's right to live their lives according to the dictates of their own consciences.

My personal commitment to the soul liberty of every human being is as deep as my commitment to Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord.

Like virtually all Americans of faith, I believe that a person's relationship to his or her God is a sacred matter which no other human being or group of human beings (government or religious communion) has the right to forcibly interfere with or seek to coerce.

As an evangelical Christian I believe in the right to share my faith and to seek to persuade others, as they have an equal right to seek to persuade me, but force or coercion - never!

Dr Richard Land is taking part in What The World Thinks of God to be broadcast as follows:


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