Religiosity in American Grace
Translating the questions

Faith Matters: A response to part of the 2006 survey and its presentation in American Grace

On page 466 of American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell they excerpt some of the questions they used to "measure theological belief and religious commitment." 

I generally don't like these sorts of survey questions because they lack the nuance that is essential to religious faith.  Plus the very way the question is asked, the words it uses, reveal doctrinal positions and interpretive choices.  Often I reject the question itself and find it basically unanswerable.

All that happened as I read through the survey questions in the book.  So, I thought a fun exercise might be to give my own responses, not necessarily" answers," to the questions.

1)  Are you absolutely sure, somewhat sure, not quite sure, not at all sure, or are you sure you do not believe in God?

Well, what do you mean by "God"?  I know that might sound silly, but the word itself has so many different meanings that I'm not sure what it is being asked.  Are you asking if I believe in a creator, a supernatural being, an ultimate reality, the Unmoved Mover, Perfect Being, Yahweh, Allah, etc.?  This really does matter for how I answer the question.  I am also uncomfortable with the wording of some of the answers.  What does "absolutely sure" even mean as an epistemic state?

Here is the answer I can give, "I place my trust in Yahweh, the God of Israel, as revealed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth."

2)  . . . in life after death?

I do believe in life after death, but I'm not sure I give that phrase the meaning the questioner does.  I'd prefer "life beyond death."  I do not believe death is the end.   I believe that life has greater power and transcendence.  But I assume that they are really asking if I believe in personal existence beyond the physical death of the human body.  I don't even think such a thing makes sense conceptually and require metaphysical commitments that may themselves be alien to the Judaeo-Christian worldview.

3)  . . .  in heaven?

I do believe in heaven.  By that I mean I believe in a realm where God reigns in fullness and completeness.  I do not believe in a literal place where there are pearly gates and golden streets. 

4) . . . in hell?

I most definitely believe in hell.  I believe in alienation from God.  I do not believe in an eternal place of physical/spiritual torment and torture, a literal lake of fire or bottomless pit.  Nor do I think these are concept associated with the gospel proclaimed by Jesus.

5)  Do you believe the world is soon coming to an end, or not?

I believe the world-as-we-know it ended two thousand years ago and we in 2011 live after the end.

6)  Have you ever personally experienced the presence of God, or not?

Not sure what the "personally" is doing in that sentence, and so I cannot answer it.  Take that ambiguous word out and I can answer "yes."

7)  How often do you personally feel God's love in your life?

Again about the weird use of "personally."  Do they mean "subjectively?"  Do they mean distinct from a corporate or communal experience?  I'm not sure.  As is, the question is too vague to be answered.  Take out the "personally" and I'll answer "whenever I attend to it."

8)  How often do you personally feel God's judgment in your life?

Again, what's with this odd use of "personally" that now seems to imply some metaphysical position on the part of the questioner--but what, I'm not sure.  This one I could probably answer the same as the above "whenever I attend to it," though now I realize that both sometimes break into my consciousness even when I haven't intended to attend to it. 

Oh, and we should probably remark that "feel" is also an odd and ambiguous choice of verbs.

9)  How important is your religion to your sense of who you are?

My religion is very important to my sense of identity.  My faith is moreso, but the religion I practice is also very important.

10)  How important is religion in your daily life?

I engage in religious practice of some sort every day, so pretty important.

11)  How important is religion to you in making decisions regarding your career, family, or health?

Now we are getting to a problem with their choice of the word religion.  I am a practitioner of religion; by that I mean I engage in religious practices and rituals.  My faith is a matter of conviction and trust and is lived out in my practice of religion.  My faith informs these decisions, often in very important ways.

12)  How important is religion to you in making decisions on political issues? 

Again with the misuse of "religion" over "faith" in this question.  My faith is very important to my political decisions.  I also think my religious practices inform them as well, in that essential to my religious practice is the formation of community, specifically an alternative politics fashioned upon the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

13)  Would you call yourself a strong believer in your religion or not a very strong believer?

No one should "believe in a religion."  That very phrase is a category-mistake.  I have a strong and deep trust in Yahweh, the God of Israel, as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. 

14)  Do you consider yourself very spiritual, moderately spiritual, slightly spiritual, or not spiritual at all?

Okay now.  Quit with the vague words that could mean a host of things to different people.  Are the results of a survey like this informative at all?  I can guess at what you might be asking in this question, but it would be only a guess.  Am I someone who engages routinely in a set of practices that I believe connect me with a spiritual aspect of the cosmos?  Sure.

15)  How often do you read holy scriptures?

Daily.  Finally, a question I think I can answer straightforwardly.

16)  How often do you say grace or give blessings to God before meals?

Rarely.  I find it a comforting, centering practice when I do it, but I don't do it very often.

17)  How often do you pray outside of religious services?

Very often.

18)  We will all be called before God to answer for our sins.  (agree/disagree)

Boy!  Talk about interpreting those words a host of different ways!  My answer is that we all have been, are being, and will continue to be called to answer for our involvement in sin.

19)  Morality is a personal matter and society should not force everyone to follow one standard.  (agree/disagree)

Well, I completely disagree with the first clause and only somewhat agree with the second.

20)  Which comes closer to your views:  There are absolutely clear guidelines of what is good and evil; OR there can never be absolutely clear guidelines of what is good and evil.

The second "comes closer" to my "view."

21)  Which comes closest to describing your feelings about holy scripture: Scripture is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word; OR Scripture is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word; OR Scripture is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men?

Both the second and third answers are true.

22)  Which comes closer to your views:  Right and wrong should be based on God's laws OR right and wrong should be based on the views of society?

Neither.  The first possible answer is philosophically inconsistent (see Plato's Eutyphro) and the second possible answer is so vague I have no idea what is being asked, but what I think it is asking sounds like ethics is a matter of subjective perspectives of a society of persons.  Not only am I completely unclear of what metaphysically is meant by that, it sounds really objectionable.  Can I not have a choice of ethics being some combination of objective reason and the sentiment of care as developed within a communal, narrative tradition?

23)  Which comes closest to your views:  The path to salvation comes through our actions or deeds OR the path to salvation lies in our beliefs or faith?

I am really curious how evangelicals answered that one, because according to evangelical theology both of those are heresies.

My answer, which also rejects both, is that our salvation comes in the liberating activity of Yahweh, the God of Israel, in human history.

Also, I would remind the questioner that "salvation," even as a biblical, Christian concept is merely one of many metaphors used by the writers of the New Testament to explain God's activity on our behalf.  This Christian concept does not have parallels in other faiths, so I am not sure how they were to answer this question.  A Buddhist is, hopefully, on the path to nirvana, for instance, and isn't engaged in a pursuit of a Christian religious experience.

24)  Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings:  Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process; OR Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process; OR God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?

The first.  Though I would prefer to replace the word "guided" with "is involved in" or "participates in."


Now, your thoughts?


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bible player

I have faith in my religion and my customs, i never leave them and thanks for the Jones who gave me a chance to recollect them thanks:)

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