But it’s a smorgasbord of beliefs.
New Pew research makes a sharp revelation about belief in God: it’s high.
Of course, what people mean by “God” seems somewhat confused if not varied. Let’s look at the research.
The subtitle of the article is what is most interesting: “Nine-in-ten Americans believe in a higher power, but only a slim majority believe in God as described in the Bible”. The 4700 person survey is rather enlightening in regard to what that number really means.
Previous Pew Research Center studies have shown that the share of Americans who believe in God with absolute certainty has declined in recent years, while the share saying they have doubts about God’s existence – or that they do not believe in God at all – has grown.
All research of this nature should be considered in contrast to previous research. Since the sample size is relatively small, it needs to be examined in its context against that prior work to give us a meaningful grasp of the data. The article notes that the research poses a number of questions that need to be considered, such as:
[…]When respondents say they don’t believe in God, what are they rejecting? Are they rejecting belief in any higher power or spiritual force in the universe? Or are they rejecting only a traditional Christian idea of God – perhaps recalling images of a bearded man in the sky? Conversely, when respondents say they do believe in God, what do they believe in – God as described in the Bible, or some other spiritual force or supreme being?
The importance and necessity of these questions become clear as one digs deeper into the article, which gives us a spectrum of which to consider:
A slim majority of Americans (56%) say they believe in God “as described in the Bible.” And one-in-ten do not believe in any higher power or spiritual force.
The obvious problem is with the phrase “as described in the Bible” because that means a variety of different things depending on beliefs about the Bible and what it says about God, namely whether the person is Jewish or Christian, or whether that person who self-identifies as “Christian” has orthodox beliefs or not. But given that it’s a relatively general statement about belief, we’re going to let it stand as a broad generalization. What it does tell us is that there is a broad gap of beliefs. The most shocking piece of information that comes from the survey is this:
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.” Indeed, nearly three-quarters of religious “nones” (72%) believe in a higher power of some kind, even if not in God as described in the Bible.
That little tidbit should make atheists who have been bragging about the “rise of the ‘nones’” sit up and take notice: atheism isn’t winning. Application of the title is increasing, but just because someone doesn’t respond with a particular self-identification doesn’t automatically mean that those people have abandoned any belief. People aren’t necessarily moving from belief to unbelief; they’re moving from affiliation to unaffiliation. While no specific question was asked to clarify a position on what “as described in the Bible” meant, the research indicates,
…it is clear from questions elsewhere in the survey that Americans who say they believe in God “as described in the Bible” generally envision an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving deity who determines most or all of what happens in their lives.
Interesting. The contrast is even more interesting,
…people who say they believe in a “higher power or spiritual force” – but not in God as described in the Bible – are much less likely to believe in a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent and active in human affairs.
The research becomes more revealing when it comes to the issue of age in regard to belief:
Majorities in all adult age groups say they believe in God or some other higher power, ranging from 83% of those ages 18 to 29 to 96% of those ages 50 to 64. But young adults are far less likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God as described in the Bible. (Emphasis added)
The numbers break down thusly:
…roughly two-thirds of adults ages 50 and older say they believe in the biblical God, just 49% of those in their 30s and 40s and just 43% of adults under 30 say the same. A similar share of adults ages 18 to 29 say they believe in another higher power (39%).
J. Warner Wallace, writing over at Townhall, argues that the research gives Christians reason to pause and look around. Albert Mohler, commenting on the results of the study on April 26, 2018’s episode of The Breifing, notes (from the transcript),
…the confusion becomes more evident, I mentioned even the fact that the confusion is contradictor, we notice that even some of those who identify as Christians, even some who are identified as evangelical, seem to have absolutely no clue who God is, as revealed in scripture. (Emphasis added)
This revelation should be unsettling to anyone who considers themselves to be a Christian or even a pastor of a church: what exactly do your fellow congregants believe and why do they believe it?
More importantly, it seems that we need to ask, what, exactly, are churches teaching their people today?