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Barna: Terrorist attacks did not change most Americans spiritually

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Americans went to church in droves after September 11th, but few of them found anything “sufficiently life-changing” to keep them there, says George Barna, whose most recent poll was released this week. Barna also found that after Black Tuesday fewer people believe in absolute truth, rather they lean toward a circumstantial ethic.

“Our assessment is that churches succeeded at putting on a friendly face but failed at motivating the vast majority of spiritual explorers to connect with Christ in a more intimate or intense manner,” said Barna.

Using 21 indicators of the nation’s spiritual climate, Barna’s study gives a comprehensive look at how America’s faith has changed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.

The most “startling shift,” according to Barna, was that moral truth got muddier among Americans after the attacks. Prior to Sept. 11, four out of ten adults [38 percent] agreed there were absolute moral truths that fit into any circumstance, yet after the attacks only two of ten adults [22 percent] claimed to believe in the existence of absolute moral truth.

Baby Busters [those 36 and younger], Catholics, and adults who do not identify themselves as “born-again” were the groups least likely to believe in absolute morality. On the other hand, Barna reports that Baby Boomers [37 to 55 years old], adults who attend non-mainline Protestant churches and “born-again” individuals were more likely to believe in absolutes.

Barna also found that the most common source of moral guidance among Americans is their feelings [25 percent] followed by the lessons and values they learned from their parents [14 percent]. Only one out of eight [13 percent] adults look to the Bible when they make moral and ethical decisions.

In addition, Barna found:

— A significant increase in concern about the future, particularly among adults 55 and older as well as atheists. Those 35 and younger registered the most concern for the future.

— Although there was an increased commitment to Christianity among adults 55 and older, for the most part the commitment level of Christians remained the same after the attacks as it was before.

— Church attendance increased as much as 25 percent after Sept. 11, however, it is now back to normal levels.

— Women, people 55 or older, Catholics, and atheists are more likely to attend church now than they were prior to the terrorist attacks.

— The number of Americans who think of themselves as Muslim or Islamic remained stable at less than 1 percent of the adult population.

Barna’s report says, “Church volunteerism, after an initial outpouring of involvement, is back at pre-attack levels [23 percent invest some time in church-related service during a typical week].”

It adds that, despite assumptions to the contrary, prayer is “currently at its normal level, with 85 percent praying to God in a given week.”

The study also found that, after the attacks, fewer people believe in an all-knowing God and fewer believe in Satan as a real person, rather they see him now as a symbol of evil.

“After the attack, millions of nominally churched or generally irreligious Americans were desperately seeking something that would restore stability and a sense of meaning to life,” Barna said.

“Fortunately, many of them turned to the church,” said Barna.

“Unfortunately, few of them experienced anything that was sufficiently life-changing to capture their attention and their allegiance. They tended to appreciate the moments of comfort they received, but were unaware of anything sufficiently unique or beneficial as to redesign their lifestyle to integrate a deeper level of spiritual involvement.”

Barna said, “The Sept. 11 tragedy was another amazing opportunity [for churches] to be the healing and transforming presence of God in people’s lives, but that, too, has now come and gone, with little to show for it.”

“These situations, especially the terrorist attacks, bring to mind Jesus’ teaching that no one knows the time and day when God will return for His people, so we must always be ready. … How many churches have leaders and believers who are poised to take advantage of such a pending opportunity?”

    About the Author

  • Jon Walker