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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 15,

1999. All rights reserved.

Taking the Pulse of American Religion

Confession is good for the soul, say the clerics. Unless

you are a celebrity, confessions are usually made privately, one by

one, shared only — on this earth — with a priest or trusted

friend. Yet some confessions are made anonymously, to poll takers,

the ones who roust you away from the TV to probe for intimate details

about the toothpaste you use and the car you drive.

For more than 50 years the Gallup Poll has been asking intimate

questions

and getting earnest, revealing answers — and not always about

crassly commercial topics. As long ago as 1937, pollsters were asking

their carefully selected subjects this question: "Do you happen

to be a member of a church or synagogue?" And they asked it again

in 1998. The surprising answer — not much has changed. The answer

has changed only four percentage points in 60 years. Nationally, 73

percent said yes in 1937, and 69 percent said yes in 1968.

The expert on polling, particularly in the area of religion, is of

course George Gallup Jr. He and D. Michael Lindsay reviewed 50 years

of research into religious attitudes in America, and wrote

"Surveying

the Religious Landscape" (published by Morehouse). They have a

book signing and reading at Borders Books in Nassau Park on Saturday,

December 18, at 3 p.m., and they will be interviewed on CNN on Sunday,

December 19, at 9:30 a.m.

Gallup is the son of the founder of the oldest instrument of public

opinion in the world, the Gallup Poll, based at 47 Hulfish Street.

It created the presidential approval rating during Franklin D.

Roosevelt’s

tenure, and for decades it enjoyed a near-monopoly on the industry.

Currently the Gallup Poll is syndicated by the Los Angeles Times

Syndicate

and has a partnership with CNN and USA. Gallup has the title of

chairman

of the George H. Gallup International Institute, co-chair of the

Gallup

Organization, and executive director of the Princeton Religious

Research

Center. His other books include "The Saints Among Us" and

"Scared: Growing Up in America."

Lindsay is a consultant in theology, religion, and culture for the

Gallup Institute, and is concurrently pursuing a master’s degree at

Princeton Theological Seminary. His father, Ken Lindsay, is the

president

of the Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) of America, and his

mother is a teacher. He majored in English and speech at Baylor

University,

Class of 1994, and has worked as a computer trainer and at Dallas

Baptist University. Next year he and his wife, Rebecca, who teaches

at Crossroads Middle School in South Brunswick, will live in England,

where he will do a master of theological studies at Oxford University.

Based on surveys of 1,000 adults, the book represents

the most comprehensive source of religious data that Gallup has ever

done, says Lindsay. "It looks at 75 different topics of interest,

from religion and ethics to beliefs about the supernatural to church

attendance to the church and young people." Those surveyed had

their opinions tracked according to their faith perspective, race,

age group, gender, and geographic locations.

Scientific pollsters try to mark trends, and many of the questions

have remained the same for nearly three decades. "Some of our

questions go back to the late ’30s with the beginning of scientific

polling, and all items in the book have been updated in the last five

years, some in the last year," says Lindsay.

"One of the biggest surprises relates to spiritual growth,"

says Lindsay. "We asked, `Do you want to grow spiritually in the

next year,’ and 82 said percent yes. In 1994, 58 percent said yes.

That is a dramatic increase in four years."

Why such a dramatic change? Lindsay attributes it to an "almost

fever pitch interest" in spirituality at the New Year. "The

millennial push has piqued the interest in spirituality in pockets

of the population." Another surprise is that spirituality and

organized religion are linked so closely. "The media often

portrays

it as two different things, but we found it is not."

Also contrary to what you would think, religion has not been losing

influence since the 1950s, says Lindsay. "While the ’50s did

represent

a high point, organized religion is about the same today as it was

in the ’40s," he says.

To be extra sure that those surveyed didn’t feel pressure to give

goody-goody answers — after all, it is still considered laudable

today to attend worship services — the questions were carefully

worded. Not: "Do you go to church?" But: "Did you happen

to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days." Pollsters

are aiming for accurate responses, not confessions.

— Barbara Fox

George Gallup Jr., Borders Books, Nassau Park,

609-514-0040.

The pollster presents "Surveying the Religious Landscape,"

a new book co-authored with D. Michael Lindsay. Free. Saturday,

December 18, 3 p.m.


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