A new and important study of religion in America has, among other things, a good deal to say about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Recently published under the title American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, the sociological study was conducted by scholars Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell and yields valuable insight to the nature and social effects of American religion. Drawing from in-depth new surveys, the study’s authors affirm that in many respects, religion in America exerts a healthy influence upon American society — one that typically promotes generosity, trust, neighborliness, and civic engagement. And while Mormons are a relatively small component of American society, the study data reveals that they play a conspicuous part in American religious life.
Among the study’s findings related to Latter-day Saints are the following:
- Mormons are among the most devout religious groups in the country.
The American Grace study assessed a composite measure of “religiosity” that measured individuals’ levels of religious observance, the strength of their religious convictions about God and their faith, and the degree to which they feel their religion is personally important. As a group, Mormons registered a high level of “religiosity” (American Grace, 23-24).
- Mormons are among those most likely to keep their childhood faith as adults.
In an age of American religion where people often depart from the religion of their upbringing and where switching between religions is becoming more common, the study indicates that individuals raised as Latter-day Saints are among those most likely to keep their faith (137-138).
- Mormons are unusually giving.
Among the study’s larger conclusions is the fact that, in general, religion in America contributes to civic virtue, altruism, and good neighborliness. Study data, meanwhile, indicate that collectively Mormons are among the most charitable of Americans with their means and time, both in religious and nonreligious causes (452).
- Mormons are relatively friendly to other religious groups.
The study also reports that Mormons are among those most friendly toward those of other faiths. Relatively speaking, the United States has not been the scene of deep religious conflicts; it is and has been a place of remarkable religious tolerance and pluralism. Nevertheless, the study’s authors point out that Americans are divided by religion, and hence, American society is susceptible to religious discord. Indeed, American religious (and nonreligious) groups have various feelings about one another. While data suggest that Mormons are among those viewed least positively by many American religious groups, they themselves hold relatively positive views toward members of other faiths, including those outside of Christianity (505-508).
- Mormons are among the most likely to believe that one true religion exists, but also that those outside their faith can attain salvation or reach “heaven.”
The scholars behind the study conclude that while many American religions make claims to being exclusively “true,” few religionists in the United States actually believe that “one true religion” exists. Of all American faiths, Mormons are most likely to affirm that there is a “true” faith (546). However, in what might seem a paradox to those unfamiliar with Mormonism, study data also indicate that while many Mormons believe that there is a “true” religion, Mormons are also the most convinced of any group that those outside their faith — including non-Christians — can “go to heaven” or gain salvation (535-537). While this belief is general among American believers, it is, according to the study, strongest among Latter-day Saints.
By Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
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