For Immediate Release
Thomas J. Reese, S.J.,
Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center
Catholics Reflect National Trends
Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey, Part II
What is most striking about the Catholic responses to the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey is how closely Catholics match the national responses.
On social and political questions like party affiliation, political ideology, abortion, the government's role in protecting morality, environmental protection, and the country's role in world affairs, Catholics are within 2 to 3 percentage points of the national responses.
Only on "size of government" and "views of homosexuality" do Catholics depart from the national statistics by much. On both, Catholics take a more liberal view by 5 percentage points for "bigger government and more services" and by 8 percentage points saying "homosexuality should be accepted by society." Catholics are more liberal on homosexuality than Evangelicals, Mainline Christians, and Black Protestants.
This similarity to the national norm on political and social questions may reflect the fact that Catholics are also similar to the nation demographically. The statistics on Catholics for age, gender, income, and education reflect the national numbers within 2 to 3 percentage points. More Catholics tend to be married (4 percentage points) and have slightly higher numbers of children than the national average. Demographically, the biggest difference between Catholics and America at large is the high percent of Hispanics (29% vs. 12% for the nation).
On matters of belief and practice, Catholic responses are somewhat more positive than the nation as a whole on belief in God, importance of religion in one’s life, church attendance and frequency of prayer. Evangelicals and Black Protestants typically have more positive responses on these questions than Catholics.
Catholics are less likely than the nation to believe that Scripture is the "word of God, literally true, word for word," and more likely see it as the "word of God, but not literally true, word for word" or as a "book written by men, not the word of God."
Catholics are also more likely to say "There is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion" (77% vs. 68% for the nation). Clearly, Catholics find no problem with many voices in their church interpreting their faith in different ways since Vatican II. Only mainline Christians and non-Christians (except Muslims) score higher.
Catholics are also more likely to say "many religions can lead to eternal life" (79% vs. 70% for the nation). This shows the impact of Vatican II and ecumenism on Catholics, who no longer believe that non-Catholics go to hell. It also reflects the contemporary Catholic experience of living and working side by side with non-Catholics outside the Catholic ghetto. They do not believe that their God would consign their friends and colleagues to hell.