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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. In a few minutes, looking back at the life and times of George Carlin with fellow comic Joan Rivers.

BRAND: George Carlin liked to make fun of religious dogma. Religion is a central part of most Americans' lives. A major survey out today from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that 92 percent of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit. Three quarters say they pray at least once a week. John Green is one of the study's authors and he's here now. And you interviewed more than 35,000 adults in both English and Spanish. What are you trying to determine with this?

Mr. JOHN GREEN (Study Author, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life): Well, this is a very large study. It's large in two ways. One is we interviewed very large number of Americans. Also, we asked them a very large number of religion questions. And the idea was to be able to look at the diversity of American religion, to look at small groups like Buddhists and Muslims and also the different kinds of groups within the large Christian communities, such as Protestants and Catholics. So the idea of the study is to be able to look at this at great detail and with considerable precision.

BRAND: And what surprised you most about your findings?

Mr. GREEN: Well, a couple of things. One was just a sheer diversity of American religious life. We always anticipated diversity. That's why we did this big study, but even we were stunned by the variety of religious affiliations, beliefs and practices. But another thing seemed to surprise us a great deal, and that is the non-dogmatic character of most people's attitudes towards their faith. For instance, among Americans who had a religious affiliation, seven out of 10 told us that they believed that many faiths could lead to eternal life as opposed to just their religion being the one true faith.

BRAND: And did you ask them any question about how their religion affects their perception of public life in terms of politics and policy - those kinds of questions?

Mr. GREEN: Oh, yes we did, and in fact one of the parts of the report is to try to relate this religious diversity to views on social and political values and there we found an amazing amount of diversity as well. Some of the findings are kind of straight forward, for instance, people with very traditional religious beliefs and practices tend to have more conservative views on politics, particularly on issues like abortion and homosexuality. We found that a lot of Americans, however, were very comfortable being people of faith living in a modern, diverse society. And we also found something like a consensus on issues like aiding the poor and protecting the environment, that large percentages of all the major traditions tended to favor those kinds of policies.

BRAND: And is America still mainly a Christian country?

Mr. GREEN: Well, overall, most Americans are Christians of one kind or another. The variety of Christians in the United States is enormous so to simply label someone as a Christian is not to tell you very much about them because there are many different kinds of Christians.

BRAND: Now, what about the ascendancy of evangelical religion? Is that on the rise?

Mr. GREEN: Yes, it does appear to be. The members of evangelical Protestant churches are growing. Many of the large denominations continue to expand. But the real growth among Evangelicals is in nondenominational churches, and many of them, the large mega churches that we hear about in the suburban parts of the United States. The impact of Evangelicals is not just the sheer number of people in Evangelical congregations. It's also the impact of their ideas and their style of religiosity, a very informal style that puts a great emphasis on individual beliefs and individual commitments, and that Evangelical style has influenced many of the religious communities in the United States.

BRAND: And when you say it affects people's ideas and people's attitudes, are you talking politically or in terms of religion?

Mr. GREEN: Well, really, both ways. I think there is an impact on people's religion in terms of style, in terms of beliefs, but there has also been some impact on politics as well. Something that has come with that has been an emphasis on the social issues, on cultural questions such as abortion. But the evangelical community itself is becoming more diverse. One of the results of its growth is that it has more different kinds of people within its boundaries now, and we see some changes on issues like the environment, on questions of the economy and foreign policy, that would not have been common a generation ago.

BRAND: John Green is one of the authors of a new study out today from the Pew Forum on the Religion and Public Life. John Green, thanks a lot.

Mr. GREEN: You are very welcome.

(Soundbite of song "I Love You and Buddha Too")

Mr. MASON JENNINGS: (Singing) Oh Jesus, I love you And I love Buddha too Ramakrishna, Guru Dev Tao Te Ching and Mohammed Why do some people say There there is just one way To love you God and come to you We are all a part of you You are un-nameable You are unknowable All we have is metaphor That's what time and space are for Is the universe your thought You are and you are not You are many, You are one Ever ending, just begun All right, all right, all right I love you and Buddha too.

BRAND: The dogma of TV ads when Day to Day continues.

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