“I believe in God.” That sounds like a straightforward statement. But what God do you believe in? And what do you believe about God? Conversely, if you don’t believe in God, what God do you not believe in? A new Pew Study delves into some of these complexities in a research report entitled When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean? And the findings are rather surprising.
The study asked a wide spectrums of Americans whether they believed in “God as described in the Bible,” or “do not believe in God as described in the Bible, but do believe there is some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe,” or “do not believe there is ANY higher power or spiritual force in the universe.”
You’ll want to read the whole study, which breaks down the responses according to religious affiliation, age, education, and politics. (See also the discussion from Tara Isabella Burton.) But here are some highlights.
According to these findings, 80% of American believe in the existence of God. But just over half (56%) believe in the God of the Bible, while one in four (23%) believe in “some higher power.”
Interestingly, nearly three-fourths (72%) of the “Nones”–Americans who say they have no religion–believe in some sort of deity. Of these, 53% acknowledge “some higher power,” but 17% say they believe in the God of the Bible. Just a little over one in four (27%) of the Nones believe in no deity whatsoever.
And yet, among self-described atheists, while none acknowledge the God of the Bible, nearly one in five (18%) believe in a “higher power”!
Perhaps equally surprising is that many professing Christians don’t believe in the God of the Bible either! Though 80% do, nearly one in five (18%) believe in a “higher power.” (One out of a hundred Christians don’t believe in any deity at all!)
Among evangelicals, 91% believe in the God of the Bible, with 8% holding to a “higher power.” But among mainline Protestants, only 72% acknowledge the God of the Bible, with 26% believing instead in “some higher power.” The numbers are even worse for Catholics, which is generally thought to be a conservative branch of Christianity: only 69% of Catholics believe in the God of the Bible, with 28% believing in a higher power, and 2% believing in neither.
The demographic with the highest belief in the God of the Bible, higher even than evangelicals, is Black Protestants, 92% of whom believe in Him, with only 6% choosing the vague deity, and zero choosing atheism. (What does this say about the connection of religion to politics? Black Christians are overwhelmingly liberal politically, just as white evangelicals are overwhelmingly conservative. Among white Democrats, only one-third believe in the God of the Bible, with 21% rejecting all deities. Does the religious chasm between black and white Democrats just not matter? And why doesn’t it?)
The study also has data about belief in God’s love, His omniscience, His power, and His providence. Also rates of prayer and “talking to God” (which survey subjects don’t all consider the same thing) and whether or not people believe that God has rewarded or punished them. I’ll let you look over those findings for yourself.
I wish the study would have drilled down even more. How many believe in the Trinity? How many believe in the Incarnation? Who do you think Jesus is? Do you think this “higher power” is outside of yourself or in yourself? Is this “higher power” personal or a type of energy? (What else would you like to know?)
What are the takeaways? There are lots of members of our churches who need to be evangelized, and lots of “Nones” and even atheists who may be more open than we think.
Photo: “In God We Trust” by Kevin Dooley, via Flickr, Creative Commons License