Taqrir Washington

Taqrir Washington

The United States is a melting pot, a country that is very diverse in regards to religious affiliation. Although the U.S. has long been a Christian nation, it is worth noting that the percentage of people who call themselves Christian has dropped 11% in a generation—18 years to be exact. According to a Pew Forum survey, which conducted 35,000 interviews in total, 78.4% of American adults now identify as Christian, 16.1% as unaffiliated, and 4.7% as following other religions, including the other two Abrahamic religions—Judaism and Islam.












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Just like how Islam is divided into two main sects, Shi’a and Sunni, Christianity has three major divisions—Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. Catholics are the largest single body of Christians worldwide, however in the United States, the adult population is mostly comprised of Protestants (51.3% are Protestants vs. 23.9% are Catholics). Interestingly enough, among foreign-born adults, Catholics outnumber Protestants by a two-to-one margin (46% Catholic vs. 24% Protestant), therefore the percentage of Catholics remains as high as it does because of immigrants, particularly those from Latin America. So, what exactly is the difference between the two? Catholics or followers of the Roman Catholic Church acknowledge supreme religious authority in the hands of the bishop of Rome and the pope, whereas Protestants believe in keeping the Christian faith as it had been in the beginning with the Bible serving as the sole religious authority.


Within the U.S. Protestant population, there are subdivisions such as those who follow the evangelical Protestant churches (26.3%), mainline Protestant churches (18.1%), and historically black Protestant churches (6.9%). Evangelical Christians are those who adhere to strict orthodoxy and a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as savior. In contrast to Evangelicals, mainline Protestants refer to those Protestants who are more open to societal changes and new ideas, but similar to their Evangelical counterparts, believe in the historical value of the Bible. The different types of mainline Protestants are Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans. Historically black Protestant churches, which held a crucial role in the American Civil Rights Movement against slavery, include different denominations such as Methodists and also Evangelical Baptists.


Orthodoxy, the first form of Christianity, is the third denomination within Christianity and it has a U.S. adult population of 0.6%. The Orthodox Church, which includes Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox, sees itself as the authentic continuation of the first Christian communities established by Jesus. 


A much newer sect of Christianity is Mormonism, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which was founded in 1830. Mormons believe that their founder, Joseph Smith, is the prophet and that the Book of Mormon is their sacred text. Although the Mormon Church is opposed polygamy, it is being quietly practiced by the ultra-orthodox members of the sect, as has been reported by the mainstream American media in the past.




Those Americans that follow other world religions include the Jewish population that makes up 1.7% of adults, the Buddhist population making up 0.7%, the Muslim population making up 0.6%, and the Hindu population making up 0.4%. When dividing the Jewish population even further, most Jews identify with one of three categories: Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox Judaism. Similarly, more than half of Buddhists belong to one of three major groups: Zen, Theravada, or Tibetan Buddhism. As far as the Muslim breakdown, the Sunni sect makes up 0.3% and Shi’a at less than 0.3%; however it must be noted that the exact number of Muslims in the United States varies from less than 2 million to 8 million depending on the source.




People who identify themselves as being unaffiliated include atheists, agnostics, and those who describe their religion as being “nothing in particular.”  Atheism is the denial or lack of belief that there is a god or gods, whereas agnosticism is the view that we cannot be certain about whether or not a higher power exists and that is reason enough to suspend any belief in a deity. As far as the exact numbers, 1.6% of people are atheists, 2.4% are agnostics, and 12.1% identify as nothing in particular.




In regards to the 2008 U.S. presidential election last fall, President Barack Obama (a Democrat) received equal or higher levels of support by nearly every religious group than the 2004 Democratic candidate, John Kerry. According to the Pew Research Center, there are some noticeable gaps, particularly when looking at how the religiously unaffiliated and white evangelical Protestants voted.


Voters who are unaffiliated with any particular religion contributed largely to President Obama’s victory with 75% or three-fourths of them supporting him compared to 23% for Republican nominee, John McCain. In addition, Catholics became more Democratic, supporting Obama over McCain (54% to 45%), which was a 7-percent increase since the previous 2004 election when Kerry had 47% of the Catholic vote. A reason behind the sudden shift is the Latino vote because two-thirds of Hispanics cast their vote for Obama.


McCain received a larger majority of vote from white evangelical Protestants than Obama (73% for McCain vs. 26% for Obama), however Obama still managed to get more than Kerry did four years ago when only 21% gave him the vote.




According to a Gallup poll conducted from 2005 to 2007, Jewish Americans are the most likely to oppose the Iraq War out of all other major religious groups, while Mormons are the most likely to favor it. The data concludes that 77% of Jews think that the war is a mistake and 21% think otherwise. Among Mormons, 72% believe that the war is not a mistake and 27% think otherwise.


Similar to Jewish people, those Americans without any religious preference are also opposed to the war. Nearly 66% of the religiously unaffiliated are against it and 33% are supportive of it, which indicates that they are twice as likely to oppose. Jews, on the other hand, oppose the Iraq War by a better three-to-one margin, as the numbers above suggest (77% to 21%).


As far as Catholics and Protestants, both groups are more or less equally split on whether or not they are for or against the Iraq War. With Catholics, about 53% disapprove and 46% support it and with Protestants, 48% disapprove and 49% support it.


To conclude, as surprising or refreshing as it might seem, Jews in America are on the same page as the rest of the Muslim world—at least with the war in Iraq.




It is no hidden fact that more Americans sympathize with Israel rather than with Palestine in regards to the Middle East conflict. According to the Pew Research Center, about half of Americans think that the United States government should back Israel over Palestine as much as it has in the past.


From a religious perspective, white evangelicals have the strongest support for Israel than any other religious group. These are the same people that believe even up until today, just as they had last fall during the presidential campaign, that President Obama is a Muslim. More than half (54%) say they side with Israelis more than the Palestinians, which is more than the general American public (37%). In comparison, 40% of mainline Protestants and 35% of white Catholics are in support for Israel in the conflict with Palestine.


Most Americans in support of Israel cite religious beliefs as being the top influential factor in their decision (34%), and this is especially true in the case of white evangelicals. About 54% of these evangelicals believe that their religion serves as reasoning for their support of Israel. Also, 27% of Americans who sympathize with Israel believe that what they have read or seen in media is the contributing factor to their decision.


In comparison, from those Americans who support Palestine, 36% of them do so because of the media, the biggest contributing factor, and just 9% do so because of their religious beliefs. Also, 26% of them cite their education as being the contributing factor for their support of Palestinians.


Sympathy towards Israel has always been strong among Americans, even after Israel’s military incursion into Gaza in December and January. 59% of Americans sympathize with Israel compared to the 18% that side with Palestine in the conflict. As far as favorability, according to a Gallup poll, 63% of Americans hold a favorable view of Israel, including 21% that hold a very favorable view.


According to a May 2009 Gallup poll (conducted prior to President Obama’s speech in Cairo), a majority of Americans feel that the president is doing a good job in his handling of the Middle East crisis. Obama received an approval rating of 55% in comparison to a 37% disapproval rating.




The Obama administration did not select Cairo as the venue for President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim world on accident. A Gallup poll indicates that one of the few Muslim countries that Americans admire is Egypt—59% of Americans hold a favorable view.


On the other hand, Iran and Afghanistan did not fare as well. 80% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Iran, while 3 in 4 or 75% of Americans hold an unfavorable opinion about Afghanistan. Other countries with high unfavorable scores include Iraq (66% of Americans view it negatively) and Saudi Arabia (60%).


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