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Americans' beliefs about God

God's existence & importance.
Jesus' second coming.

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Beliefs about God's existence:

bulletWhen asked: "Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?" Americans' beliefs have been quite constant. The Gallup Organization has found: 1
Year Percentage "Yes"
1947 94%
1953-4 99%
1978 94%
1994 96%

However, this question raises more questions than it answers. It is important to realize that Americans have many different concepts of "God or a universal spirit."

bulletMany believe in a Trinity formed of a Father God, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit -- three persons in one entity -- as taught by most Christian faith groups.
bulletOthers believe in a single indivisible personal deity as taught by Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.
bulletOthers believe in a deity who created the universe, assigned it natural laws, departed and has been not present since.
bulletSome believe in a type of amorphous higher power or universal spirit.

These four only scratch the surface of the diversity of beliefs about the nature of God. Unfortunately, most commentators appear to ignore the phrase "or a universal spirit" in the question that was asked. They incorrectly report the above data as belief in God, alone.

Gallup conducted a poll between 2007-MAY-10 and 13 that asked more precise questions about God:

bulletWhen asked "Do you believe in God, or is it something you're not sure about or don't believe in?"
bullet86% said they believe in God;
bullet8% said they were not sure about;
bullet6% said they don't believe in God.
bulletDuring the same survey, American adults were asked: "Do you believe in God, don't believe in God but believe in a universal spirit, or don't believe in either?"
bullet78% said they believed in God;
bullet14% said they believe in a universal spirit;
bullet7% don't believe in either. 5

It may be quite shocking to many Americans that only about 3 out of 4 adults actually believe in a supreme being who is a personal God.

bulletThe General Social Survey (GSS) asks the specific question: "Do you, personally, believe in God?" Results were:
Year Percentage "Yes"
1998 88.4%
2000 84.7%
2004 88.8%

 

bulletOpinion Dynamics Corporation conducts an annual poll of registered voters for Fox News. They asked the question: " "Do you personally believe in the existence of each of the following?" followed by a list of 11 items, asked in random order. One of the items was "God." Results were:
Year Believe
(Theists)
Don't believe
(Atheists)
Not sure (Agnostics)
1997-FEB 94% 4% 2%
1997-OCT 95 3 2
1999-MAR 92 4 4
2001-JUL 91 6 3
2002-JUL * 92 6 2
2003-SEP 92 5 3
2004-SEP 92 5 3

* Datum for all adults sampled; remaining data for registered voters only.

This survey produced noticeably higher values than the GSS. We suspect that this is because in the Opinion Dynamics survey this question was preceded by an inquiry into attendance at religious services. About twice as many Americans say they attend religious services regularly than actually do attend. With so many subjects lying on that motherhood issue, it is quite likely that they would be more inclined to also lie about their belief in the existence of God.

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The Baylor Religion Survey:

The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion and the Department of Sociology, both at Baylor University, conducted the Baylor Religion Survey during the winter of 2005/2006. It was funded by the John M. Templeton Foundation. They asked 1,721 randomly selected American adults a total of 77 questions covering a broad range of religious questions. 2,3 Of these, one dealt with the existence of God in some detail:

Question 21: "Which one statement comes closest to your personal beliefs about God?"

bullet65.8% I have no doubts that God exists
bullet14.3% I believe in a higher power or cosmic force
bullet10.8% I believe in God, but with some doubts
bullet4.6% I don’t believe in anything beyond the physical world
bullet2.8% I have no opinion
bullet1.7% I sometimes believe in God

In summary, about:

bullet5% of the adult population are strong Atheists.
bullet3% of adults are Agnostics.
bullet14% believe in some type of higher power other than God;
bullet12% believe in some type of God, but with lapses or doubts in his/her/their existence;
bulletOnly 66% firmly believe in some type of God.

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Importance of God in their life:

This survey shows differences between men and women, and between Americans and Canadians: 2

"God is very important in my life" American Poll Canadian Poll
All subjects 63% 35%
Men only 50% -
Women only 75% -

This difference between Americans and Canadians may explain why there are very few demonstrations against abortion access and why same-sex marriage is available across Canada.

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Jesus' second coming

Many Christians expect Jesus Christ to return to earth in the immediate future, and usher in an end of the world as we know it. This belief has been common since the founding of Christianity in the 1st century CE. As the second millennium CE came to a close, belief was particularly high:

bulletAn Associated Press survey in 1997 revealed that 24% of American adults expected to be still alive when Jesus returns. Many of these probably believe that they would be raptured (elevated from the earth to be with Jesus) and thus will never experience death.
bulletA poll conducted for Newsweek magazine in 1999-JUN asked American adults whether they believed that Jesus would return during the next millennium -- i.e. between years 2001 and 3000 CE. Results were:
bulletAll persons surveyed : 52%
bulletEvangelical Protestants: 71%
bulletNon-Evangelical Protestants: 48%
bulletRoman Catholics: 47%
bulletNon-Christians: 20% 

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Sponsored link:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  2. "Selected findings from the Baylor Religion Survey," Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, 2006-SEP, at: http://www.baylor.edu/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  3. Baylor Religion Survey: Codebook, Association of Religion Data Archives, at: http://www.thearda.com/
  4. Millennium Study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch. Reviewed by Maranatha Christian Journal for 1999-DEC-13 at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3707.htm This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  5. "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.

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Copyright © 1999 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-MAY-13
Latest update: 2006-DEC-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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