Friday, May 15, 2009

The survey says

Evoking American Exceptionalism is always a good conversation starter. And post-2008election, I encounter many who express relief because the world should now think better of us. Putting aside much of the civilized world, I have had trouble embracing the idea that getting the continent that gave us Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Moussolini, Petain (to name a very few) not so long ago is by any stretch morally superior.

This morning's WSJ includes "Getting to Know You" by Naomi Schaefer Riley. I liked this passage:

Political scientists Robert Putnam of Harvard and David Campbell of Notre Dame are trying to find out. Their book, "American Grace: The Changing Role of Religion in American Civic Life," won't come out until next year, but the two scholars shared some of their findings at a recent gathering sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The authors said that they had conducted a survey of 3,100 people in the summer of 2006 and reinterviewed the same people a year later. They found that Americans have remarkable rates of "religious bridging," a phrase they use to describe relationships between people of different faiths. Such bridging -- at least in part -- accounts for Americans' warm feelings toward people of other faiths.

If you ask Americans about their five closest friends -- the sociological equivalent of T-Mobile's "fave five" -- it turns out that, on average, between two and three of them are of other faiths. And more than half of Americans are actually married to someone of a different faith from the one in which they were raised. Just to be clear: For two people to be counted by Messrs. Campbell and Putnam as of different faiths, they must be from significantly different traditions; if they are both Protestants, one must be evangelical and the other mainline.

These are remarkable findings. While the authors have not broken down data from other countries yet, one need not spend a lot of time in France or Saudi Arabia to realize that these kinds of interfaith friendships and marriages are the exception, not the norm, there.