Survey: Faith Beliefs of Conservatives, Liberals Differ Greatly

Social, political conservatives differ significantly from liberals regarding religious beliefs, according to a new study that compared the two groups on more than a dozen religious beliefs.

Liberals are dramatically less likely than conservatives to say they believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings (27 percent vs. 63 percent, respectively), the survey conducted by The Barna Group found.

Only about a third (38 percent) of liberals say their faith is becoming an increasingly important moral guide in their life. By comparison, 70 percent of conservatives say their faith is an important moral guide.

Also fewer liberals than conservatives believe that a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by doing good deeds or being a good person (23 percent vs. 37 percent).

George Barna, the study's lead researcher, commented that liberals appear to place more emphasis on "self-reliance" and "what they personally accomplish" than on faith or participation in a faith community.

"They also seem less inclined to trust the Bible as a moral authority or source of truth, and have less involvement in some type of personal relationship with their god."

In contrast, Barna said conservatives are more active in religious behaviors.

"They are also more connected to their deity, seeing God as more personal, interactive and involved in their lives than do liberals," the researcher noted.

A little more than half of liberals (54 percent) say their religious faith is very important in their life, compared to 82 percent of conservatives. The importance of faith in the life of a social or political liberal compared to a conservative can also be seen in the difference in church attendance and how they view it.

Thirty-seven percent of liberals say the church they currently attend is very important in helping them find direction and fulfillment in life whereas 62 percent of conservatives say church is important as a guide in their life.

In a typical week, conservatives are more likely than liberals to read the bible other than at church (57 percent, vs. 33 percent); attend religious service (62 percent vs. 35 percent); pray to God other than at a religious service (91 percent vs. 76 percent); share their religious beliefs with others during the past year (56 percent vs. 39 percent, among born-again Christians for each group); and have participated in a short-term missions trip in the U.S. or in another country (12 percent vs. 6 percent).

The survey also found that liberals are more likely than conservatives to develop their own set of religious beliefs rather than adopt those proposed by a church or other entity. More liberals than conservatives also said they are very open to adopting different moral views than the ones they currently have.

The Barna Group based the report on the 3,012 phone interviews with American adults it conducted from August through early November 2008. The sample included 992 adults who described themselves as "mostly conservative" on social and political matters, and 511 adults who described themselves as "mostly liberal" on social and political matters. The rest of the sample described themselves as somewhere between these two groups.

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