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Americans are no more religious now than in the weeks and months leading up to the worst terrorist attacks ever in the U.S., those of Sept. 11, 2001, when more than 3,000 innocent civilians died, a new report says.
The study by The Barna Group looked at interviews from more than 8,600 adults from right before the attacks and at regular internals since.
While there was an “intense surge” in religious activity and expression immediately after the attacks that destroyed the twin towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon, those sentiments have not continued, the study said.
“Barna’s tracking surveys looked at 19 dimensions of spirituality and beliefs. Remarkably, none of those 19 indicators are statistically different from the summer before the attacks!” the report said.
“Many Christian leaders predicted that terrorism on U.S. soil would catalyze a spiritual awakening in the country,” said David Kinnaman, director of the study. “The first few weeks were promising.
“But,” he said, “people quickly returned to their standard, faith-as-usual lives: within a month, most of their spiritual fervor was gone.”
The temporary surge in faith activity showed up most significantly in church attendance, with some churches reporting more than double their ordinary attendance on the Sunday immediately following the attacks. But the study said within just four months, by January 2002, the attendance levels were back at their pre-attack numbers.
Other factors declined even more quickly. The report said as of October 2001, participation in Bible reading and prayer was no higher than levels from before the attack.
The shifts that were made in religious beliefs at the time of the trauma also failed to build a foundation for an upsurge in beliefs, Barna reported.
“For instance, October 2001 data showed that Americans were less likely to feel a responsibility to share their faith, they were less willing to reject the notion that good works can earn salvation; they were more likely to believe that the devil is merely a symbol of evil; and they were slightly less likely to believe God is the perfect, all-powerful creator who rules the world,” the report said.
Those shifts went against assumptions that Americans were moving towards an orthodox Biblical perspective.
Even the skepticism about traditional religious quickly “faded to the status quo,” Barna said.
As of this year, the study showed that beliefs about the devil, salvation, the nature of God, responsibility to evangelize and the Bible’s accuracy could not be differentiated from those beliefs in the summer of 2001.
The report noted that Americans who adhere to Islam – one-half of a percent – haven’t changed since the attacks, handing Osama bin Laden a defeat in at least one of his goals – to spur the growth of Islam.
The terrorism did, however, make Americans more afraid of attacks, with 63 percent expressing such concern.
“Within 90 days, surprisingly few people were pursuing important questions about faith and spirituality,” said Kinnaman. “Now, five years removed from that fateful day, spiritually speaking, it’s as if nothing significant ever happened.
“People used faith like a giant Band-Aid – it helped people deal with the ugliness of the event but it offered little in the way of deep healing and it was discarded after a brief period of use.”
The Barna Group, Ltd., including its research arm, the Barna Research Group, is a privately held, for-profit corporation that conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.
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