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Study: Society Perceives Christianity As Extremist

An increasing number of American adults view Christianity as an extremist religion, according to a survey by an Evangelical research group.

Forty-five percent of atheists, agnostics and people who aren't affiliated with any religion regard Christianity as extremist, the California-based Barna Group found in a study published on Feb. 23.

"Though it remains the nation’s most dominant religion, Christianity faces significant headwind in the court of public opinion," the group wrote. "The decades-old trend that Christianity is irrelevant is increasingly giving way to the notion that Christianity is bad for society."

The study's first finding reflects changing attitudes in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. Three-quarters of Americans, and 9 out of 10 people who aren't affiliated with any faith, say they're concerned about religious extremism.

Americans also differed on how they define extremism, according to the Barna Group. At least 80 percent of respondents said using religion to justify violence is a marker of extremism.

That group also said denying service to people because their lifestyle conflicts with religious beliefs is a form of religious extremism.

Examples of religious-based discrimination have made headlines lately -- the owners of Oregon-based Sweet Cakes By Melissa were fined $136,927 for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian couple, according to Time, while the owners of New York's Liberty Ridge Farm paid a $13,000 fine for violating the state's anti-discrimination law. Like the Oregon case, the farm owners refused service to a lesbian couple who wanted to rent the farm for their wedding, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

The differences in attitudes illustrate a wide cultural divide. For example, the study found only 7 percent of Evangelicals think proselytizing is an extremist behavior, while 83 percent of people unaffiliated with a religion -- and 60 percent of all U.S. adults -- find the practice distasteful.

The differences are less marked when it comes to personal choices. An overwhelming majority of atheists and agnostics didn't respond negatively to Christian practices like abstaining from sex until marriage, reading the Bible silently in public or tithing to a church.

That's in contrast to views that could have a profound impact on public policy, like gay marriage. Only 1 percent of Evangelicals told the Barna group it's wrong for parents to teach their kids that same-sex marriage is wrong. Fifty-five percent of American adults and 76 percent of atheists, agnostics and nontheists -- grouped under the category "skeptics," according to the study -- said such teachings qualify as religious extremism.

Sources: The Barna Group, Time, The Christian Science Monitor / Photo credit: Mor/Flickr

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