People of faith are increasingly viewed as extreme by significant segments of the population. A new study by Barna Group examines society’s current perceptions of faith and Christianity.
In sum, faith and religion and Christianity are viewed by millions of adults to be extremist.
“What actions and beliefs, exactly, come to mind when people think about religious extremism? The researchers examined more than 20 different activities and beliefs, asking a random, representative sample of U.S. adults to identify the degree to which each of those activities appeared extreme.
- Category 1 included those actions widely considered to be extreme by at least four in five adults in the U.S. This involved using religion to justify violence, refusing standard medical care for children, and refusing to serve a customer whose lifestyle conflicted with their beliefs. For the most part, these three elements were viewed to be extreme by a majority of all demographic segments as well.
- Category 2 were activities and beliefs marked as extremist by at least half, but less than 80% of the public. Eight different factors qualified for this level, ranging from demonstrating outside an organization they consider immoral and protesting government policies that conflict with religious views. Many of these factors related to the claims of faith in the public square—that is, how religious people might interact on social issues and government policies.
- Category 3 included factors that generated extremist concerns among at least one out of five adults, though they are not currently rated as extreme by more than 50% of adults. This group of concerns was populated by elements that are more distinctive to various religious traditions, such as speaking in tongues (characteristic of Pentecostal and charismatic believers), wearing special clothes or head coverings (e.g., Muslim women), and adhering to special dietary restrictions (such as Mormons, Catholics, Jews, and Adventists). [Note: specific religious connections were not provided to respondents.]
- Category 4 was only occasionally indicated as extremist, generating concerns among at least one in 16 adults, but fewer than one-fifth of Americans. However, when calculated on the basis of the entire population, these perceptions represent significant numbers of adults who indicate anxiety about these kinds of religious expression. These factors include reading sacred literature (either the Bible or Koran) in public as well as donating money to or attending a religious institution. Again, these are low on the list of extremism, however, for many Americans even these conventional activities are viewed to be extreme.”