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Diversity of beliefs about
Satan by the general public

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Popular beliefs in the U.S.: 1991 to the present time:

bullet 1991: Detailed data on belief in Satan is listed below. 1Only among born again Christians did a majority conceived of Satan as a living being seventeen years ago, and then only by a small percentage. The average for all adults was 35%:
Group Satan is only a symbol of evil Satan is a living being
Average of American Adults 60% 35%
65 years and older 49% 38%
Born again 43% 52%
Not born again 68% 25%
Evangelical Christians 47% 49%
Roman Catholics 69% 26%
Mainline Protestants 65% 27%
(N = 1005; 95% confidence limits within 4%, a random sampling of Americans 18 years or older.)
bullet 1993: Time Magazine for DEC-27 featured a story on angels. An opinion poll revealed that:
bullet 69% believe in the existence of angels
bullet 55% believe that angels are "higher spiritual beings created by God with special powers to act as his agents on earth".
bullet 49% believe in the existence of fallen "angels or devils." They were presumably referring to demons.
bullet 46% believe that they have a personal guardian angel 2
bullet 1995: About 58% of American adults believed that Satan is "not a living being but is a symbol of evil."3
bullet 1997: The 1991 survey was repeated in 1997-MAY. It suggests that the traditional belief of Satan as a living being might possibly be slipping. However, the decline is still within the margin of error and is thus not statistically significant: 4
Group Satan is only a symbol of evil Satan is a living being
Average of American Adults 62% 30%
(N = 1007; 95% confidence limits within 4%, a random sampling of Americans 18 years or older.)
bullet 2001: Barna Research conducted an extensive poll. They found that only 27% of the adult population strongly disagrees that Satan is just a symbol of evil. 5 There was a wide variation among members of various denominations:
bullet  Above average belief of Satan as a living entity:
bullet Latter-day Saints (Mormons) 59%
bullet Assembly of God: 56%
bullet Christian - non-denominational (mostly Fundamentalist) 48%
bullet Pentecostal / Foursquare: 47%
bullet Seventh-day Adventist: 37%
bullet Church of Christ: 36%
bullet Baptist: 34%
bullet  Below average belief of Satan as a living entity:
bullet Presbyterian: 22%
bullet Lutheran: 21%
bullet Episcopal: 20%
bullet Methodist: 18%
bullet Roman Catholics: 17% 5

Paul Hinlicky, a leading Lutheran theologian who teaches religion and philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, VA was baffled that only about one in five Lutherans believe in a living Satan. He said: "It tells us that even the Lutherans are utterly out of step with Luther, to whom the Devil was very much a reality."

bullet 2007: Barna Research found that only 24% of the subjects polled strongly reject the idea that Satan is not a real spiritual being. Belief in the personhood of Satan appears to be gradually dissipating.

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Belief in Satan in Christian countries around the world:

Two international surveys were conducted during 1991 and 1993 by the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). This is currently located at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. 

In 1991, subjects were asked to agree or disagree with a number of statements. One was: "I definitely believe in the Devil." The percentage who answered "Yes" were:

 Country Belief in the Devil
United States 45.4
Northern Ireland 43.1
Philippines 28.3
Ireland 24.8
New Zealand 21.4
Italy 20.4
Poland 15.4
Netherlands 13.3
Norway 13.1
Great Britain 12.7
Israel 12.6
Russia 12.5
Austria 11.1
West Germany 9.5
Slovenia 6.9
Hungary 4.2
East Germany 3.6

Unfortunately, these results cannot be directly compared with the above U.S. data for 1991 to 2007, because the questions asked are not similar. A person could answer "yes" to the question about belief in the devil, while only regarding Satan as a symbol of evil. That is, they could answer "yes" even though they did not believe that Satan was a real entity.

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Conclusions about belief in Satan:

It appears that Satan is considered alive and well only by large numbers of the public in the U.S. and Northern Ireland. However, these numbers are dropping, at least in the U.S. From 1991 to 2007, belief in Satan as a living entity dropped from 35% to 24%.

In the thousands of hours of our monitoring of conservative Protestant radio and television programs since 1995, we have never heard an evangelical teleminister suggest even the possibility that Satan is not a living personality with magical powers. A large and growing percentage of Christians appear to have abandoned the teachings of their faith groups.

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Portrayal of Satan in popular culture:

A number of beliefs about Satan are prevalent in popular culture and reinforced by movies, children's books, the media, etc. There is little or no Biblical foundation for these beliefs. They are largely superstitious remnants from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance:

bullet Satan is a rather humorous character with a tail, dressed in a red suit, smelling of brimstone (sulfur) and carrying a pitchfork.
bullet His prime activity appears to be to roam all over the earth, trying to persuade individuals to sign a contract which sells their soul to him in exchange for special powers or wealth.
bullet Satan does not seem to be particularly intelligent, because he is easily tricked by humans.
bullet He is a type of warden who has administrative responsibilities over Hell, where some individuals go after death to be tortured for all eternity. (Revelation 20:10 contradicts this. It states clearly that Satan himself will be held captive in Hell. He will be thrown into the "lake of fire and brimstone" where he will be "tormented day and night for ever and ever.")

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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. George Barna, "What Americans Believe.", Regal Books, Ventura CA (1991), Page 206
  2. J. F. Cogan, "Handbook about Demon Possession For Human Service Workers" at
  3. G. Barna, "The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators," Word Publishing, Dallas TX (1996), Page 22.
  4. Gustav Niebuhr, "Poll Indicates Diminished Role of Devil", N.Y. Times News Service, 1997-MAY-10, at:
  5. "Religious beliefs vary widely by denomination," 2001-JUN-25, Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: This is offline. However, it appears to have been duplicated at

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Site navigation: Home > Christianity > Christian personalities > Satan > here

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Copyright 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAY-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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