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Religious beliefs of Americans

About ghosts, salvation, Satan, Heaven, Hell, etc.

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Poll results on:

bulletHeaven and Hell
bulletSupernatural entities other than God: Ghosts, Satan...
bulletGhosts
bulletAstrology
bulletReincarnation
bulletBible stories

Popular beliefs about the existence and importance and nature of God are in another essay.

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Beliefs about Heaven and Hell:

Item
American Population
Born again Christians
References used
Good works can earn a place in Heaven. 53% 34% 3
Good works don't earn a place in Heaven 30%   4
All who do not accept Christ as savior will go to Hell. 39%   5
A person's religious belief will not matter. 45%   5
Hell is not a place but a state of separation from God. 37%   6
Hell is a place where people are tormented. 31%   6
Believe in Heaven 93%, 81%   7, 25
Good or excellent chance of the polling subject going to Heaven 69%   7
Believe in Hell 54%, 85%, 73%, 69%   8, 7, 9, 25
There is a good or excellent chance they will go to Hell 17%, 3%, 6%   8, 7, 9
God will decide who goes to heaven or hell 79%   10
Good atheists will enter heaven. 44%   10
One must believe in God in order to be moral 58%   21
Belief in an afterlife (among Protestants) 86%   11
Belief in an afterlife (among Roman Catholics) 83%   11
Belief in an afterlife (among Jews) 74%   11
Belief in an afterlife (among adults with no religious affiliation) 58%   11
Hell is a real place   85% * 22
Hell is a figurative representation of eternal separation from God   15% * 22
A good person who isn't of your faith can get to heaven 70%   23
A good person who isn't of your faith cannot get to heaven 23%   23

* This is the result of a poll of visitors to the ChristianWebSite during 2003-SEP. It is probable that the vast majority of participants in the poll were Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians. 22

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Beliefnet polls about Heaven and Hell:

Beliefnet is a multi-faith site. As such its visitors may well be weighted in favor of religious liberals and non-Christains.

bulletBeliefnet.com conducted a poll during 2006-MAY which asked "Have you personally known people you think will probably go to Hell?" Results show the division in North America between those who believe that being relegate to Heaven or Hell is dependent on one's beliefs, or behavior.

Results were:

bullet35%: No, because I don't believe in Hell.
bullet26%: Yes because they don't have the right beliefs.
bullet23%: Yes because of their immoral actions.
bullet17%: No.
bulletDuring 2007-JAN, Beliefnet.com conducted a similar poll asking: "Can good people outside your faith tradition attain salvation as you understand it?" Five answers were provided. Results were:
bullet58%: Yes, fully, if they are sincere in their attempts to know or worship a deity.
bullet3%: Yes, but not fully.
bullet1%: No, but they are not punished.
bullet28%: No, and unfortunately, there are consequences.
bullet9% I don't know.

The design of this poll is very heavily biased. This is surprising for a multi-faith web site like Beliefnet. They provide no answer to cover individuals who are sincere in their efforts to lead an ethical live, but have no belief in a deity.

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Beliefs about supernatural entities other than God:

Belief in Satan:

Item American Population Born-again Christians Ref.
Satan is an evil symbol, not a living entity (1997) * 62% 52% 3
Strongly believe that Satan is a real person (2001) 27%   4
Satan is real (2003) 68%   20
* For more poll data on belief about Satan, see our essay on Demons.

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Ghosts:

Item

American Population

Reference
Ghosts may exist (1999) 48% 15
Ghosts definitely do not exist (1999) 47% 15
Ghosts exist (2003) 51% 20
Belief by women that ghosts exist (2003) 58% 20
Belief by persons 25 to 29 years of age 65% 20
Belief by persons over 64 27% 20

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Astrology:

Item (2003)

American population 20

Believe in the accuracy of astrology 31%
Belief by women 36%
Belief by men 25%
Belief by persons 25 to 29 years of age 43%
Belief by persons over 64 17%

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Reincarnation:

Item (2003)

American population 20

Believe in reincarnation 27%
Belief by persons 25 to 29 years of age 40%
Belief by persons over 64 14%

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Belief in the literal accuracy of Bible stories:

During 2007-DEC, The Barna Group asked a random sampling of 1,005 American adults what they believed about six popular Bible stories. 26 They were given two alternatives:

bulletThat the stories were factually accurate, or

bulletThey were not actual fact but were designed to teach principles.

Results were:

bullet75% believe that the virgin birth is accurate.
bullet69% believe that Jesus actually changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.
bullet68% believe that Jesus used five loaves of bread and two fish to feed five thousand men.
bullet64% believe in the flood of Noah and his ark. However, several groups did not regard it as a real event: Catholics, Atheists/Agnostics, Northeasterners, "upscale" adults (those college graduates with a family income over $75,000), and social/political liberals.
bullet56% believe in the devil having tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Among Atheists/Agnostics, this was believed by 8%.
bullet49% believe in the story of Sampson losing his physical strength when his hair was cut.
bulletOn average born-again Christians were 40 percentage points more likely to believe these stories than non-born again adults.
bulletOn average, those who considered themselves as political conservatives were 26 percentage points more likely to believe the stories as literally true.
bulletSoutherners and persons of lower earnings were more likely to treat the stories as literally true.

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References:

  1. Thomas C. Reeves, "The Empty Church: Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore?" Simon & Schuster: New York, NY (1998), Page. 64." Cited in http://www.adherents.com/Na_169.html under the topic "religious - modestlyRead reviews or order this book
  2. USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll for 1999-DEC, as reported in ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29.
  3. "Angels are in; Devil & Holy Spirit are out," results of a survey conducted in 1997-JAN by Barna Research. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See: http://www.barna.org/PressAngels.htm
  4. "Religious beliefs vary widely by denomination," 2001-JUN-25, Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/
  5. MetroVoice of Central New York, newspaper, Jamesville NY, 1996-MAY
  6. Maranatha Christian Journal, 1997-APR-22
  7. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  8. 1965 Gallup Poll, described by Charisma. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  9. Gallup Poll, described on 2000-JUN-7 by Charisma. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  10. USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll for 1999-DEC, as reported in ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29.
  11. 1999 Poll by the Survey Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley CA. Reported in the Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON) newspaper on 1999-OCT-9.
  12. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  13. International Social survey Program (ISSP), 1991 & 1993. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  14. "Answers to frequently asked questions," at: http://www.barna.org/PageStats.htm (link may be broken)
  15. T. Hargrove & G.H. Stempel III, "Poll indicates a haunted nation." Nando Times, 1999-OCT-27. Describes a poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University during 1999-SEP/OCT. Margin of error: 4%
  16. A poll conducted for Newsweek magazine in 1999-JUN.
  17. Millennium Study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch. Reviewed by Maranatha Christian Journal for 1999-DEC-13 at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3707.htm Church attendance data at: http://www.intersearch.tnsofres.com/gia/US_Religion.pdf You can obtain a free software to read this type of file from Adobe.
  18. "The state of the church, 2000," Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp
  19. "How Americans See Themselves," results of a survey conducted in 1998-JAN. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See: http://www.barna.org/PressHowAmericansSeeThemselves.htm
  20. "Most Americans believe in ghosts: Survey shows 1/3 accept astrology, 1/4 reincarnation," WorldNetDaily, 2003-FEB-27. The data poll was collected by Harris Poll from 2003-JAN-21 to 27. 2,201 subjects. Margin of error 2%.
  21. "Views of a Changing World, June 2003," Pew Global Attitudes Project, at: www.people-press.org
  22. ChristianWebSite poll, 2003-SEP, at: http://www.christianwebsite.com/ It is probable that most of the visitors to this web site are conservative Christians.
  23. Beliefnet poll, 2006-JAN-03, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/ This is an Internet poll and thus may not be representative of the American population.
  24. "Easter Poll," by Ipsos News Center, at: http://www.ipsos-na.com/
  25. "Belief in God," Gallup Poll, data collected 2007-MAY 10-13; published 2007-JUN-14 at: http://www.galluppoll.com/. This is a temporary listing.
  26. "Americans Express Their Views of the Virgin Birth of Christ," he Barna Group, 2007-DEC-17, at: http://www.barna.org/

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Copyright 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-MAY-13
Latest update: 2007-DEC-23
Author: B.A. Robinson 
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