DURHAM, N.C. -- As the nation struggles with 9.1 percent unemployment and President Barack Obama pushes a $447 billion job creation bill, a new survey shows that religion plays a significant role in how Americans view possible solutions to the country's economic woes.
The Baylor University study, which was presented at a Religion Newswriters Association conference in North Carolina over the weekend and publicly released Tuesday, found that Americans who believe God has a plan for their lives are more likely to think the government "does too much," more likely to oppose unemployment benefits for healthy people and more likely to believe in the "American dream" that anything is possible for those who work hard.
"These are unsettling times. In the last three years, Americans have experienced the financial and real estate crisis, recession, unemployment," said F. Carson Mencken, director of the Baylor Religion Survey and a professor of sociology.
"The mission of this analysis is to assess how Americans feel about their lives in these tumultuous times. Do they still believe in the American dream? Do they feel they have control over their lives?" he explained.
Of the 1,714 Americans nationwide surveyed by the Waco, Texas-based Baptist university, 40.9 percent said they "strongly agree" that "God has a plan for me," while 32.2 percent "agree," 12.3 percent "disagree" and 14.6 percent "strongly disagree." Those who strongly agree that God has a plan were more than twice as likely as those who strongly disagree that God has a plan to say that "the government does too much" -- 52.6 percent to 21 percent.
Similarly, the strong believers in God's plan were more than twice as likely as the strong disbelievers to say that healthy people should not receive unemployment benefits -- 52.6 percent to 21.1 percent.
Generally, "people who believe in government deregulation believe in God's plan," said Baylor researcher Paul Froese. "Economic perspectives are intricately linked with different cosmologies."
The survey also showed a relation between income and belief in God's plan, with the strong disbelievers being more than twice as likely as the strong believers to make $100,000 or more a year. A similar, albeit somewhat weaker, connection was found between education level and religious belief. While 42.6 percent of the strong disbelievers had earned a college degree, just 32.8 percent of the strong believers had.
The Baylor survey appears amidst a debate on what lessons politicians should draw from religion to address issues such as the nation's deficit. On the one hand, religious voices such as Sojourners, a Washington, D.C.-based evangelical organization, have called for "shared sacrifice" among Americans to help the "least of these," a phrase drawn from Matthew 25:45. At the same time, others have advocated what's called the "prosperity gospel," which includes the belief that God will provide and financially bless those who believe.
In addition to the belief that God has a plan for their lives, the Baylor survey asked participants about the meaning of life, the link between religion and mental health, beliefs about heaven and hell, and beliefs about homosexuality. The full survey results can be found here.
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