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Originally published Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Most in state believe in God, poll finds

More than 90 percent of Americans — including one in five people who say they are atheists — believe in God or a universal power...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — More than 90 percent of Americans — including one in five people who say they are atheists — believe in God or a universal power, and more than half pray at least once a day, according to results of a poll released Monday that takes an in-depth look at U.S. religious beliefs.

And Washington state, which is known for having a large number of people without formal religious ties, nonetheless hews somewhat closely to national percentages in some areas.

The poll, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that nearly three-fourths of Americans believe in heaven as a place where people who have led good lives will be eternally rewarded. And almost 60 percent believe in hell, where people who have led bad lives and die without repenting are eternally punished, the poll found.

Majorities also believe that angels and demons are at work in the world and that miracles occur today as they did in ancient times.

"These are common beliefs among the American public," said Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum, a Washington think tank.

Among those living in Washington state:

• About 64 percent said they were absolutely certain in their belief in God or a universal spirit, compared with 71 percent nationally.

• About 54 percent pray at least once a day, compared to 58 percent nationally.

• A third attend religious services at least once a week, compared with 39 percent nationally.

• A quarter say their faith is the one true faith leading to eternal life, about the same as the 24 percent nationally.

• About 25 percent say there's only one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion, compared to 27 percent nationally.

Part of the reason the state and national percentages are close is that although many in Washington don't have formal religious ties, they are nonetheless spiritual.

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The data indicate that those who are "spiritual but not religious believe in God and pray almost as much as affiliated people," said James Wellman, a University of Washington associate professor and author of "Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest."

The relatively high percentage of evangelical Christians in the area — they make up about a fourth of the religiously affiliated — also accounts for some of the close percentages, Wellman said.

That a third of Washingtonians attend a religious service weekly is "the most surprising statistic, though people always exaggerate their church going," Wellman said. "Nonetheless, it points to the idea that evangelicals are continuing to gain steam."

This is the Pew Forum's second report that is based on one of the largest polls of Americans' religious beliefs, with more than 36,000 adults interviewed.

The first report released in February took a broad look at the American religious landscape, while this report dives deeply into the faith and politics of religious, and nonreligious, Americans.

On the political side, for example, it found, among Jews who pray daily, 36 percent are politically conservative — more than twice as many as those who pray less often. Among evangelical Christians, 56 percent who pray daily are politically conservative, compared with 40 percent of all other evangelical Christians.

On the whole, though, that difference holds true more for Christian faiths than non-Christian faiths, the poll found. "Members of non-Christian faiths," the report says, "tend to be much more moderate or liberal."

Two-thirds of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 22 percent of Mormons. Also, 77 percent of members of historically black churches are Democrats or lean Democratic, while only one-third of members of evangelical churches are Democrats or lean Democratic.

Information from Seattle Times religion reporter Janet Tu is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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