NBC News
updated 3/18/2005 8:15:41 PM ET 2005-03-19T01:15:41

Americans were awed by Ashley Smith's story of survival. The 26-year-old convinced her onetime captor, murder suspect Brian Nichols, not to kill her by talking about God and reading from the religious best-seller, “The Purpose Driven Life.”  She said her faith sustained her throughout the seven-hour ordeal.

“God has helped me through tough times,” Smith said.

But according to a new NBC News poll, it's not just in times of crisis that many Americans rely upon religion. Eighty percent say that it influences their decisions about marriage or raising children, and more than 60 percent say it shapes a major health care decision.

Michael Cromartie of the Ethics in Public Policy Center in Washington is not surprised.

“Religion is not only a personal relationship with God, but it has social and personal implication,” Cromartie said.

But maybe more surprising is the fact that more than half of Americans say faith plays a role in their family's financial decisions, and almost two thirds say it affects how they interact with co-workers.

From the office to literature, to theme parks and sex education, NBC News will examine the role religion plays in Americans' lives in a special series, “Faith in America.”

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