WASHINGTON Despite a common belief that culture is rejecting faith-based ideas, a majority of Americans say society would improve with a stronger religious presence, according to new Gallup polling.
Gallup's finding emerged from a May 2-7 survey examining whether religious influence in America in increasing.
According to the study, 77 percent of the 1,535 adults surveyed said religious influence is disappearing in American culture; 20 percent disagreed. Factors weighed in the survey included participants' church attendance, ideology and political party identification.
"Americans over the years have generally been more likely to say religion is losing rather than increasing its influence in American life," said Frank Newport, Gallup editor in chief. "In general, highly religious Americans are neither more nor less likely to say religion is losing its influence than those who are not religious."
While the majority of Americans claimed that religion is not increasing in influence, Newport said that most Gallup participants felt that a greater religious presence would benefit the nation.
The poll showed that church attendees and those who said that religion held personal significance are more likely to believe that religion could improve culture. But, Newport noted, more than half of participants who rarely (if ever) attended church and a third of Americans who claimed that religion held no personal importance still believed that society would improve with a stronger religious presence.
"Americans observe that religion is in decline, but they think we'd be better off with more religion their observation and aspirations don't match," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.
But, he said, "Statistically, they are right on both counts.
"Religion is losing its influence as nominal Christianity is collapsing. So, less people claim religious affiliation, and religion has less influence, even though the number of devout believers has remained pretty steady over the last few decades.
"We also know devout belief correlates with people who care about their neighbors and society," Stetzer said.
The Gallup poll surveyed a random sample of adults 18 years and older by telephone. Participants were chosen at random and lived in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Gallup participants included English-speaking and Spanish-speaking adults, with each participant translated according to his or her primary language. The study was based on a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent, with a 95 percent confidence margin.
In a survey by The Barna Group last fall, Christians assessed how they themselves are perceived.
Survey participants were asked questions based on Barna's interpretation of how Jesus and the Pharisees acted in the Bible. Questions were divided into four categories: actions like Jesus, attitudes like Jesus, self-righteous actions and self-righteous attitudes.
Fifty-one percent of the 718 respondents who claimed to be Christians ranked highest in both self-righteous categories, according to the study, titled "Are Christians More Like Jesus or More Like the Pharisees?"
The study also showed that 35 percent of those surveyed exhibited high Pharisaical actions or attitudes. In addition, participants such as elders, men and political conservatives revealed a greater tendency to show self-righteous attitudes and actions in the survey.
"Many Christians are more concerned with what they call unrighteousness than they are with self-righteousness," said David Kinnaman, the president of Barna. "It's a lot easier to point fingers at how the culture is immoral than it is to confront Christians in their comfortable spiritual patterns."
The Barna Group conducted its Nov. 11-18 study last year under similar guidelines, including the sampling of adults 18 years and older from each of the 50 states. Participants were surveyed via telephone or cell phone. The error rate for participants' claims to being a Christian was plus or minus 3.7 percent, at the 95 percent confidence level.