CRF Blog

Different Perspectives on Being Religious

by Damon Huss


Part of the results of the “Economic Values Survey” (Source: Religion News Service).

A new report released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Brookings Institution shows that Americans do not all agree on what it means to be “religious.” According to the report, released Thursday (July 18) and summarized at the Religion News Service, 59 percent of Americans believe that being religious “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” while 36 percent believe that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”

Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said that the distinction mirrors a theological debate of the Protestant Reformation. Traditional Christian faith at that time stood mostly for the biblical idea from the Book of James that “faith without works is dead” (“works” referring to good deeds). Martin Luther espoused another biblical idea from the Book of Romans, known as “justification by faith alone” (i.e., true Christian faith does not require good deeds).

“We were curious,” said Jones, “to see whether this theological debate still has any traction in American religion.” Jones said that the report, resulting from the “Economic Values Survey,” indicates that the debate still exists in the United States.

The Economic Values Survey incorporated the results of 2,002 respondents to create a scale of religiosity that includes the categories of religious conservatives, religious moderates, religious progressives, and the nonreligious. (See chart above.)