Recently I have been contemplating if the church has any real significant and positive influence on the world today, especially in the beliefs and actions of western society in particular. There was a time when Christian ideology, through the church was very influential (good and bad) in shaping political, social, cultural and even personal beliefs and viewpoints. I would argued that today this influence is not as great as it was say… even 30 years ago.
I read an analytical report on The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life website which somewhat dealt with this issue, from an interesting point of reference. This article entitled: “Science in America: Religious Beliefs and Public Attitudes”, discussed the findings of a survey which concluded that “when scientific evidence and long-held religious beliefs come into direct conflict, many Americans reject science.”
According to the authours of the report, American society has a unique dichotomy in that on one hand, it is the most religious of the advanced industrial democracies, while on the other hand, it’s leadership in scientific research and application has been instrumental in making it a powerful nation. This has… not surprisingly… created some conflict between faith and science on societal beliefs, particularly on controversial issues such as evolution, homosexuality and global warming. The report primarily looked at the influence of religion and science on these three topics in American society.
The report contended that a close reading of the survey shows that large majorities of the American public respect science and scientists, but where scientific evidence and long-held religious belief come into direct conflict, “many Americans reject science in favor of the teachings of their faith tradition.” However, surprisingly today such areas of explicit differences are not common.
It was interesting to compare the beliefs of Black and White Christians (specifically Evangelicals) on the above three issues, as well as secularists, Conservatives, Moderates, Liberals, college and high school graduates. The results were not as straightforward and/or obvious as one would be expect. There are definite mixtures and combinations of scientific and religious influences which run through even strong held beliefs and opinions.
The report does not necessarily answer my original question on whether the church, Christianity and religion in general is a positive driving force on western society, but it does offer some insight on what motivates beliefs and therefore actions… which can have obvious implications in areas such as the formulation of government statutes and public policies.