Faith Matters: A response to part of the 2006 survey and its presentation in American Grace
On Huck Finn

Translating the questions

Donald suggested that an interesting exercise would be "how you would word questions that approach the issues underlying these questions."  So let me give it a try.  This could, of course, mean two different things: 1) what is the actual intent of the question being asked by the question (this would involve some guess work)? or 2) what is the issue I think should really be asked about.  Maybe you have to engage in a little bit of the first one to do the second one.  So, to the best of my ability, I'll try for number 2, as per Donald's suggestion.

First will appear the original question and then my re-wording of it to get to the underlying issue that I think should be asked about.  And I do this fully aware that all my theological and doctrinal biases will be herein revealed as well.  It is, frankly, impossible to ask non-sectarian questions that leave open every possibility because language is too limiting.

1)  Are you absolutely sure, somewhat sure, not quite sure, not at all sure, or are you sure you do not believe in God?

I would, instead, as a series of questions in place of this generic one:

1a)  Do you believe a Supreme Being is actual? (Okay, this is how I'd like to word it, but knowing that the wording would be odd to a general audience, "Do you believe a Supreme Being exists?"  Of course this is a redundancy, (a Supreme Being would necessarily exist) but . . . we'll go with it.
1b)  Do you believe in a supernatural divinity?
1c)  Do you believe in one God who created the universe?
1d)  Do you believe in one God who governs the universe?
1e)  Do you believe in one God who enters into personal relationships with individual human beings?
1f)  Do you believe in the Yahweh, the God of Israel?
1g)  Do you believe in Allah?
1h)  Do you believe there is one Ground of Being?
1i)  Do you believe in Brahman?
1j)  Do you believe a force exists helping to bend the universe toward justice?
1k)  Do you believe in many gods (polytheism)?
1l)  Do you believe no divinity exists at all?

2)  . . . in life after death?

The question they were really asking, I think is: "Do you believe that for human beings personal existence continues after the death of the physical body?"

I find it much more interesting, though maybe less revealing for the survey's purposes, to ask: "Which has the final victory: life or death?"

3)  . . .  in heaven?

I believe they were asking, "Do you believe in heaven, a place in the afterlife where the good/the blessed/the saved spend eternity?"

I would ask: "Do you believe that there is a realm where God reigns fully and completely?"

4) . . . in hell?

I believe they were aksing, "Do you believe in hell, a place in the afterlife where the damned are tormented for eternity?"

I would ask, "Do you believe there is a soul-destroying state of alienation from God?"

5)  Do you believe the world is soon coming to an end, or not?

This one needs a series of questions as well:
5a)  Do you believe that the physical existence of the universe will cease at some point in time?
5b)  Do you believe that the human species will cease to physically exist at some point in time?
5c)  Do you believe in a final judgment of human beings or human history?
5d)  Do you believe in a final consumation of human history?
5e)  For the above, if you believe they will happen, when do you believe they will happen?
5f)  For the above, if you believe they will happen, do you think that God/divinity will bring them about?

6)  Have you ever personally experienced the presence of God, or not?

Have you had a religious experience the object of which you perceived (or apprehended) to be God/divinity/the supernatural?

7)  How often do you personally feel God's love in your life?

How often do you experience God's love?

8)  How often do you personally feel God's judgment in your life?

How often do you experience God's judgment?

9)  How important is your religion to your sense of who you are?

Either, H0w important is your religious practice to your sense of who you are?
How important is your membership in a religious community to your sense of who you are?
Or, How important is your religious faith to your sense of who you are?

10)  How important is religion in your daily life?

The three options above, but asking this question.

11)  How important is religion to you in making decisions regarding your career, family, or health?

Again, I would separate out religious practice, religious community, and religious faith.

12)  How important is religion to you in making decisions on political issues? 

And for this question as well.

13)  Would you call yourself a strong believer in your religion or not a very strong believer?

Are you an active and regular practitioner of religion?
Or At what level of conviction/trust is your religious faith?  Then offer options like deep, shallow, moderate, etc.

14)  Do you consider yourself very spiritual, moderately spiritual, slightly spiritual, or not spiritual at all?

Do you engage routinely in a set of practices that you believe connect you with a spiritual (however you understand that term) aspect of the cosmos? 

15)  How often do you read holy scriptures?

This one works as is.

16)  How often do you say grace or give blessings to God before meals?

Also works as is.

17)  How often do you pray outside of religious services?

Again, this one works as is.

18)  We will all be called before God to answer for our sins.  (agree/disagree)

God will judge/judges human behavior.
We are each responsible to God for our behavior.
God will judge and punish sin.
Then, I'd offer the original wording as one option.

19)  Morality is a personal matter and society should not force everyone to follow one standard.  (agree/disagree)

You'd need a series of choices to tease out the various options -- which is closer to your position:
Morality is a personal/subjective matter or Morality is social/communal.
Society can  force everyone to follow one standard or Society cannot force everyone to follow one standard.
Society can  sometimes use force to get everyone to observe moral standards or Society can never use force to get everyone to observe  moral standards.
Society should encourage everyone to follow one moral standard or Society should encourage everyone to follow a pluarlity of moral standards.

20)  Which comes closer to your views:  There are absolutely clear guidelines of what is good and evil; OR there can never be absolutely clear guidelines of what is good and evil.

Though I don't like some of the words, this one actually works okay.

21)  Which comes closest to describing your feelings about holy scripture: Scripture is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word; OR Scripture is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word; OR Scripture is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men?

Allow someone to pick more than one of the above.

I would prefer these option: Scripture is the guide to faith and practice.  Scripture is revelation of the word of God.

22)  Which comes closer to your views:  Right and wrong should be based on God's laws OR right and wrong should be based on the views of society?

Multiple choice (and you should probably allow more than one box to be checked.

Right and wrong are based upon:
a)  God's will
b)  God's laws
c)  Social laws and traditions
d)  Reason
e)  Our natural human sentiment of caring
f)  Community practices
g)  Laws of nature
h)  Our self-interest
j)  The autonomy of the human will
k)  The narrative of a community
l)  Other

23)  Which comes closest to your views:  The path to salvation comes through our actions or deeds OR the path to salvation lies in our beliefs or faith?

First, do you believe that humanity needs to be saved/rescued/released from an evil/bad/sinful/suffering state of existence?
Second, if so, how do you believe that occurs?  Our actions or deeds, Our beliefs or faith, Through community practices, The activity of God/divinity on our behalf.

24)  Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings:  Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process; OR Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process; OR God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?

This wording is okay, though, as I wrote earlier, I'd prefer the first answer to say either "God is invovled in this process" or "God participates in this process."

***

Your thoughts.

Comments

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Donald

Perhaps a final question might be: do you believe that your answer to these questions will carry the same level of conviction or reveal the same degree of truth tomorrow as today? Or, do you believe that your experience of life and an ongoing and dynamic understanding of God's participation in those experiences
will cause your convictions and faith perspectives to evolve or even drastically change as you live your life day to day?

Scott

Great questions Donald!

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