WASHINGTON (ABP) — Most American Christians believe at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life, a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reveals.
Even among evangelicals, who profess belief that an individual must be “born again” into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in order to be saved, nearly as many Christians said many religions can lead to eternal life — 47 percent — as those who believe theirs is the one true faith — 49 percent.
The survey followed up an earlier poll that found seven Americans in 10 believe many religions can lead to salvation, while less than one quarter say their faith is the only one that is true. Critics of that study questioned those findings, suggesting for many Christians, “other religion” might have meant a different Christian denomination instead of a non-Christian faith.
The new study asks those who say many religions can lead to eternal life questions about specific faiths. Sixty-nine percent said Judaism can lead to eternal life, compared to 52 percent for Islam, 53 percent for Hinduism, 42 percent for atheists and 56 percent for people with no religious faith.
“Responses to these questions show that most American Christians are not thinking only of other Christian denominations when they say many religions provide a path to eternal life,” the study found.
“To the contrary, among those who say many religions provide a path to eternal life, strong majorities believe that both Christian and non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.”
While white evangelicals are more exclusive in their beliefs about salvation than the general public, nearly two-thirds said it is possible for a Jewish person to go to heaven — 64 percent. Roughly one-third said the same about Muslims and Hindus.
One in four evangelicals said atheists could attain eternal life, and one-third said it is possible for people with no religious faith.
Catholics — 84 percent — and white mainline Protestants — 82 percent — are most likely to say many religions can lead to salvation.
Evangelicals who attend church at least once a week are twice as likely as those who attend less frequently to say their faith is the only path to heaven — 60 percent to 30 percent.
About one-third of Americans say one's beliefs determine who achieves eternal life, while an equal number say it depends on one's actions. A tenth of the population say it is a combination of belief and action. The rest say something else determines salvation, they don't believe in eternal life or they don't know.
The survey is based on results of telephone interviews of 2,905 adults conducted in July and August. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent.