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One-third of Americans Reassess Priorities After Terrorist Attacks

(RNS) One-third of Americans say the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a "life-altering experience" that caused them to change their priorities, according to a new Gallup poll.

Nearly half of conservative Christians -- 46 percent -- say the attacks caused them to change their lives, according to the poll of 1,019 adults. Non-whites and women under the age of 50 were the most likely to report a change after the attacks.

While 66 percent of Americans say the attacks have not changed their lives, more than half of those who have shifted priorities say they are spending more time with their families and friends.

And despite a surge in worship attendance immediately after the attacks, another Gallup poll shows no longstanding change in the religious observance of most Americans. Most Gallup polls show that around 40 percent of Americans recently attended a church or synagogue within the last week. That figure rose to 47 percent after the attacks, but has since fallen back to 42 percent.

Pollster George Gallup Jr. said the terrorist attacks have had a "powerful but short-lived impact on the spirituality of the U.S. populace." Still, Gallup found a slight rise in the personal importance of religion for most Americans. A May 2001 poll found that 57 percent said personal religion was "very important," and that number rose to 64 percent a week after the attacks. The Dec. 14-16 poll saw that number fall back to 60 percent.

Americans, however, seem to have an increased sense that religion is playing a more important role in the larger society. Last February, 39 percent of Americans said religion was increasing its influence in society. In December, 71 percent said it was on the rise. Those numbers mirror a December poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which found that 78 percent of Americans saw religion’s influence on the rise in public life.

"It would, I believe, be very difficult for the average American not to believe that religion is increasing its impact on society, in view of the near total media coverage of the New York scene, including reports of record numbers of people flocking to houses of worship," Gallup said.

The two telephone polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service.

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