The Pew Research Center is reporting that 80 percent of Americans believe in God, which should be great news for America’s struggling churches.
But hold on. Of that group, only a slim majority, 56 percent, believe in the God described in the Bible, Pew found in a recently published survey.
However, that doesn’t mean the rest are outright religion-rejecting secularists.
Another 23 percent say they believe in “some other higher power/spiritual force.” And of those 19 percent who say they do not believe in God, 9 percent still believe in a higher power or spiritual force, compared to 10 percent who do not.
The poll results seem to confirm what Pew and other polling agencies have been reporting in recent years: that while religious participation and membership is down, spirituality is holding its own, even among those considered to be the most irreligious.
“In the U.S., belief in a deity is common even among the religiously unaffiliated — a group composed of those who identify themselves, religiously, as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular,’ and sometimes referred to, collectively, as religious ‘nones,’” Pew said in an analysis of its survey.
“Indeed, nearly three-quarters of religious ‘nones’ … believe in a higher power of some kind, even if not in God as described in the Bible.”
Among those who believe in the God presented in the Bible, most envision a loving, all-powerful and all-knowing deity who controls their lives. Americans who hold to a higher power outside Jewish or Christian scripture do not believe in those all-powerful qualities.
“Overall, about half of Americans (48%) say that God or another higher power directly determines what happens in their lives all or most of the time,” Pew reported. “An additional 18% say God or some other higher power determines what happens to them ‘just some of the time.’”
Almost eight-in-10 in the U.S. say God or a higher protected has offered them protection, while two-thirds say they have been rewarded by that power.
In its study and report, Pew doesn’t say whether its findings are good or bad news for America’s religious groups. But other research suggests that it’s too soon to conclude the death of faith in the nation.
In a 2014 book titled Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans’ Shifting Religious Identities, sociologist Darren Sherkat said U.S. citizens flip-flop on religion more than any other population on Earth.
More than 40 percent of Americans change religious identifications one or more times in their lives, he reported.
Writing for Christianity Today, Ryan Burge analyzed a study that tracks the ebb and flow of Americans between belief and unbelief, and between different religious traditions.
“Overall, 18.9 percent of this sample reported a different religious affiliation in 2014 than they did in 2010,” wrote Burge, a political science instructor at Eastern Illinois University. “This defection rate means that nearly 1 in 5 Americans changed their faith identity over a four-year period.”
The data also suggest that about half of “nones” will become atheists and agnostics, and the other half Protestants or Catholics, he said in the article.