By Lindsey Ziliak
---- — More than 500 people in the community shared their sometimes complicated religious beliefs in an unscientific, informal online survey that asked about prayer habits, church attendance and affiliations, and the basic tenets of their faith.
The survey revealed the respondents belong to a diverse set of churches, though some don’t go to church at all.
A total of 534 people completed the survey, with 77 percent of them reporting they live in Howard County. Most people who took the survey — 72 percent — were 36 or older.
Their religious affiliations vary, with 31 percent identifying as other Christian, 34 percent identifying as either evangelical or mainline Protestant, 22 percent as unaffiliated, 6 percent as Catholic and 5 percent as other faiths — including paganism and polytheism.
The majority, at 54 percent, attends church services often, but 27 percent never go. Seventy-one percent said they pray regularly.
The last question on the survey asked respondents to describe their beliefs or non-beliefs and how they came to feel that way.
For some, the answer was simple and clear cut. Others described a more complicated spiritual journey.
Many said they live by the Bible and believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins so they might find salvation. Sometimes that belief was instilled in them as a child, but sometimes it came after personal reflection or a traumatic event, according to survey responses.
One respondent said, “I accepted God into my life when I was 16 years old. I always had a desire to serve The Lord. As I have experienced many trials, I learned that I could not do it without God in my life. God is good, all the time he is good!”
Others have a hard time believing that God would make innocent people face so many trials.
One respondent, an agnostic, said “It makes no sense to me that a loving God who is omniscient and omnipotent would CHOOSE not to do anything to protect innocent people, especially children, from the people who prey on them. ‘Free will’ is indeed important, but at what cost? Of course everyone cannot be saved from every misfortune, but I cannot reconcile a loving God who simply prefers to support the free will of those who rape or murder or commit genocide. And yet, I do pray for other people — just in case someone really is out there and listening.”
Two respondents said they felt forced out of the church for being gay. One said he/she was harassed and beaten by church members for being gay and could never support a religion that would allow that behavior.
The other said, “I believe God loves everyone. I went to church twice weekly as a child. I don't go to church now because I don't feel welcome because I'm gay. I believe Jesus would be upset about the fact that I don't feel welcome in His house of worship. I am a Christian though I've been told I can't be a Christian if I'm gay… I will pray silently and have my personal relationship with Jesus and God though they don't believe I'm worthy. Why do they preach this hatred though I feel the Holy Spirit in my heart? I KNOW God loves me as much as he loves anybody else. I pray for those who hate me for they know not what they do.”
Several people said they believe in God, they just don’t necessarily believe in religion. One said you don’t have to attend church to worship and believe.
Some described beliefs that drew from multiple religions and had their own interpretations of church teachings.
“I believe the Bible is a book written by the hand of man, therefore open to all of the fallacy of man's interpretation,” one respondent wrote. “I believe in reincarnation and believe you come back again and again until you are good enough to get into the kingdom of heaven. I think everyone that follows their religion as fastidiously as I follow mine will make it into the kingdom of heaven. No ONE religion is ‘right.’ I don't believe God would condemn you to hell for whom you love.”
According to Pew Research’s latest Religious Landscape Survey, these varied beliefs and open interpretations of religion are not uncommon in the United States today.
The survey found “that most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to faith. A strong majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, including majorities of nearly every religious tradition, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion. This openness to a range of religious viewpoints is in line with the great diversity of religious affiliation, belief and practice that exists in the United States.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at email@example.com or on Twitter @LindseyZiliak.