November 8, 2010
Putnam and Campbell Highlights
— Martin E. Marty
American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, a book which Sightings glimpsed on October 18, is much on my mind and agenda. Authors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell are not content with telephoned polls but believe very much in site-visits, interviews, and experiences. So when Professor Putnam spoke in Chicago Thursday, I braved wintry lake winds and trekked the 271 steps it took from our condo to site-visit at Fourth Presbyterian Church, where he held enthralled a gathering for an hour-plus and responded to a multi-faith panel and then the audience.
We are all trained to use what scholars call “the hermeneutics of suspicion,” which means we keep our fingers crossed and brows furrowed when evaluating every survey, knowing their limits. Still, in the graphs and paragraphs based on as extensive a survey of this sort as has existed to date, some things stand out boldly and win readers’ confidence. Let the critics hone their figurative knives, as Putnam and Campbell expect them to do and whose questionings and qualifying they welcome, still, the profiles are bold and clear. I can’t begin to visit all the high-points of the fast-paced lectures, and will focus only on two. At such events I turn on my invisible Gasp-o-meter and listen for audiences’ gasps when they are surprised by counter-intuitive claims based on findings.
Here is one, based on the chancy but still revealing attempt to measure the feelings of interviewees. Asked how they “feel” about eight broad religious clusters other than the one they inhabit, the interviewees expressed themselves and Putnam and Campell counted responses. Puckishly, Putnam asked the audience: “Which, do you think, is the most popular group?” Guess again. Number one was Jews, number two was Catholics, with Mainline Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, and Non-Religious next. Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims were those which others felt “least ‘warm’” to. Jews with their Anti-Defamation League, Catholics with an unofficial Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights? Don’t buy stock in them. Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims suffer most chill, in the findings of these authors, because others do not have them as relatives, friends, or neighbors. That’ll change, Putnam predicts, as inter-marriage etc. grows.
The other high gasp-registry came when he presented a case-study of a gap between clergy and laity, using the example of Lutherans. (The main sponsor of this multi-sponsored event was the Wheat Ridge Foundation, which has roots and arms in Lutheran churches.) The question posed to interviewed individuals and groups: “Can a good person not of your faith go to heaven?” 98% of the Mormons said “yes,” as did 95% of Jews, 93% of Catholics, and—get this—83% of Evangelical Protestants. Even when people of other faiths are not Christian? Catholics dropped to 83%; Evangelical Protestants dropped more, but still, 54% gave a free ride to heaven to other-believers.
Fine-turning and focusing, Putnam then reported on his sustained interaction with the most conservative Lutherans, the Missouri Synod clergy. Almost all of them held to the view that people of other faiths could not get to heaven. But Putnam had a “Faith Matters” (2006) survey on his laptop, and he read to the clergy that “86 percent of Missouri Synod Lutherans said that a good person who is not of their faith could indeed go to heaven.” The “theologians were stunned into silence. One wanly said that as teachers of the Word they had failed.” They find plenty of company in teaching and preaching leaders in other firm denominations. Their work is cut out for them.
Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.