April 25, 2018

When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean?

1. Beliefs about the nature of God

Virtually all U.S. Christians say they believe in God or a higher power of some kind. Among evangelical Protestants, 91% put their faith in God “as described in the Bible,” as do 92% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition. Most Catholics and mainline Protestants also believe in the God of the Bible, though sizable minorities within these groups say they believe in some other higher power or spiritual force.

Like Christians, most Jews believe in a deity. But compared with Christians, Jews are much more likely to say they believe in a higher power other than the biblical God (56%), and much less likely to say they believe in God as described in the Bible (33%). And one-in-ten Jews say they do not believe in God or a higher power of any kind.

The survey shows that a complete lack of belief is relatively uncommon even among religious “nones.” Seven-in-ten religious “nones” say they believe in God or a higher power of some kind, including 17% who believe in the biblical God and 53% who believe in a different higher power or spiritual force. Self-described atheists are the only group surveyed in which a majority (81%) rejects belief in a higher power altogether, and even among atheists, roughly one-in-five (18%) say they believe in some spiritual force.

Belief in God as described in the Bible is more common among women than men (61% vs. 50%), among older people than among younger adults, and among Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP than among Democrats (70% vs. 45%). The survey also shows that belief in the biblical God is least common among the most highly educated Americans.

Nine-in-ten Christians say they believe God or another higher power in the universe loves all people despite their faults, and nearly as many say they think God is all-knowing. A smaller majority of Christians believe God is omnipotent, with the power to direct or change everything that goes on in the world (78%). Evangelicals and those in the historically black Protestant tradition are most likely to attribute these characteristics to God, though majorities in all Christian groups say God is loving, omniscient and omnipotent.

Among demographic groups, women are somewhat more likely than men to say God is all-loving or all-knowing, though they are not much more likely than men to view God as all-powerful. The beliefs that God is all-loving, all-knowing or all-powerful are more common among older people than younger adults, and among Republicans than Democrats.

Three-quarters of U.S. Christians, including 91% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition and 87% of evangelical Protestants, believe God is all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful. By comparison, Jews and religious “nones” are far less likely to say God (or another higher power in the universe) possesses all three of these attributes.

Among respondents who say they believe in God as described in the Bible, fully eight-in-ten (83%) say they believe God is all-loving, omniscient and omnipotent. By contrast, among those who believe in a higher power but not the God of the Bible, just 28% say God has all three of these characteristics.

There are similar patterns on another question: whether God will ultimately judge all people based on what they have done in life.

Overall, six-in-ten Americans believe God or a higher power will someday judge all people. This view is most common among evangelicals (87%) and those in the historically black Protestant tradition (85%), and held by smaller majorities of other Christian groups. Most Jews and religious “nones” (some of whom do not believe in God or a higher power in the first place) reject the idea that people’s deeds will ultimately by judged by a higher power.

Seven-in-ten adults ages 50 and older think all people will ultimately face God’s judgment. By contrast, just 56% of those in their 30s and 40s and half of adults under 30 (49%) say the same.

Three-quarters of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP (74%) think all people will have their actions judged by God. Among Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party, about half (51%) express this view.