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Religious beliefs of U.S. adults

Beliefs about life after death:

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Quotations about death:

Fear appears to be the most common emotion associated with death. From the Quote Garden:

  • The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. Mark Twain

  • We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears. We must not demean life by standing in awe of death. David Sarnoff

  • Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live. Henry Van Dyke

  • He who doesn't fear death dies only once. Giovanni Falcone 28

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Beliefs about an afterlife take many forms:

Some of the conflicting belief systems concerning life after death are:

  • For some people, they expect their body to be instantly transformed into a spritual body. Some who have met certain criteria during life on Earth, will live forever in Heaven or Paridise with the presence of God. This is the formal teaching of most traditions within Christianity and Islam -- two religions which, taken together, are followed by a little over 50% of the Earth's population.

  • Associated with the above belief, others live on in isolation from God. This is also what many currently living religiously unaffiliated persons, Atheists, and Agnostics experience daily.

  • Most fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians and some other Christians and Muslims believe that some people are held as prisoners in the torture chambers of Hell, again for all eternity.

  • Hinduism, Buddhism, some other Asian religions, and some other faiths teach that after death, a person's soul or spirit is reincarnated in a new human body. This sequence of life, death, and reincarnation is called samsara. The nature of the next life is influenced by a person's behavior in their present life.

  • The various traditions of Judaism have only vague teachings about an afterlife. Many believers simply leave the matter in the hands of a good God.

  • Some Eastern religious believe in the Transmigration of the Soul, a.k.a. metempsychosis. This is similar to reincarnation, except that a person's soul can be reborn in the body of a human, an animal, or even as an inanimate object.

  • One ancient Celtic belief taught that two nearly identical Earths exist. When a person dies on one Earth, they are immediately delivered as a newborn baby on the other Earth. This sequence continues forever.

  • Others note that the human brain contains the person's conscousness, personality, talents, memories, traits, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. At death, all the brain's functions cease. The brain and the rest of the body rot. They conclude that a person's consciousness also ceases at death and there is no afterlife.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any hard evidence to prove whether one of these belief systems is true, or whether they are all wrong.

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Belief in some form of life after death by adults of different faiths:

A UCLA study in 1999 found the following levels of belief in an afterlife among different religious groups:

Item
American Population 11
Belief in an afterlife (among Protestants) 86%
Belief in an afterlife (among Catholics) 83%
Belief in an afterlife (among Jews) 74%
Belief in an afterlife (among Notas*) 58%

A "Nota" is a person that is NOT Affiliated with a faith group. The media typically use the term "Nones" in place of "Notas".

We avoid "Nones" because it is a homonym of "Nuns." When spoken, it causes confusion.

 

Change in beliefs about an afterlife, Heaven and Hell between the years 2000 and 2014:

The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research has polled a random selection of American adults since 1994. 27 Beliefs vary little over two decades. One of the most notable factor is that very few of those polled either did not answer the question, or gave a "Don't know" reply.

Belief
Year 1994
Year 2014
Believe In life after death 76% 73%
Don't believe 13% 17%
Believe In Heaven 85% 80%
Don't believe 11% 17%
Believe in Hell 66% 67%
Don't believe 29% 30%

Belief in life after death and belief in Heaven are in decline, as one would expect with the increasing secularism in the U.S. However, the belief in Hell increased slightly for no obvious reason, although not to a statistically significant amount.

These results expose a strange problem: If, during 2014, belief in heaven is 80%, how can belief in life after death be significantly lower, at 73%?

The reason may be found in a poll by ABC News/Washinton Post in 1986. That poll showed that, among people who believed in Heaven, 82% believed that Heaven was a place where people lived spiritually, but not physically. A subsequent poll by ABC News in 2005 found that 78% beiieved that people lived there spiritually, 8% believed that people lived there physically; 8% said both; 6% said they didn't know or didn't answer.

Perhaps when people are asked about "life after death" they think in terms of human life much like it exists on Earth. When they are asked about Heaven they think about people living as as spiritual beings, wih physical bodies, or both.

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Specific beliefs about Heaven and Hell:

Item
American Population
Born again Christians
Reference(s) used
Good works can earn a place in Heaven. 53% 34% 3
Good works don't earn a place in Heaven 30%   4
All who do not accept Christ as savior will go to Hell. 39%   5
A person's religious belief will not determine where they will go. 45%   5
Hell is not a place but a state of separation from God. 37%   6
Hell is a place where people are tormented. 31%   6
Believe in Heaven 93%, 81%   7, 25
The person polled is likely to go to Heaven 69%   7
Belief in Hell 54%, 85%, 73%, 69%   8, 7, 9, 25
The person polled is likely to go to Hell 17%, 3%, 6%   8, 7, 9
God will decide who goes to heaven or hell 79%   10
Good Atheists will enter heaven. 44%   10
One must believe in God in order to be moral 58%   21
Hell is a real place   85% * 22
Hell is a figurative representation of eternal separation from God   15% * 22
A good person who isn't of your faith can get to heaven 70%   23
A good person who isn't of your faith cannot get to heaven 23%   23

* These three results came from a poll of visitors to the ChristianWebSite during 2003-SEP. It is probable that the vast majority of participants in the poll were Fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians. 22

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References:

  1. Thomas C. Reeves, "The Empty Church: Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore?" Simon & Schuster: New York, NY (1998), Page. 64." Cited in http://www.adherents.com/Na_169.html under the topic "religious - modestlyRead reviews or order this book
  2. USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll for 1999-DEC, as reported in ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29.
  3. "Angels are in; Devil & Holy Spirit are out," results of a survey conducted in 1997-JAN by Barna Research. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See: http://www.barna.org/PressAngels.htm
  4. "Religious beliefs vary widely by denomination," 2001-JUN-25, Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/
  5. MetroVoice of Central New York, newspaper, Jamesville NY, 1996-MAY
  6. Maranatha Christian Journal, 1997-APR-22
  7. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  8. 1965 Gallup Poll, described by Charisma. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  9. Gallup Poll, described on 2000-JUN-7 by Charisma. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000225e.htm 
  10. USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll for 1999-DEC, as reported in ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29.
  11. 1999 Poll by the Survey Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley CA. Reported in the Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON) newspaper on 1999-OCT-9.
  12. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  13. International Social survey Program (ISSP), 1991 & 1993. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  14. "Answers to frequently asked questions," at: http://www.barna.org/PageStats.htm (link may be broken)
  15. T. Hargrove & G.H. Stempel III, "Poll indicates a haunted nation." Nando Times, 1999-OCT-27. Describes a poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University during 1999-SEP/OCT. Margin of error: 4%
  16. A poll conducted for Newsweek magazine in 1999-JUN.
  17. Millennium Study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch. Reviewed by Maranatha Christian Journal for 1999-DEC-13 at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3707.htm Church attendance data at: http://www.intersearch.tnsofres.com/gia/US_Religion.pdf You can obtain a free software to read this type of file from Adobe.
  18. "The state of the church, 2000," Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp
  19. "How Americans See Themselves," results of a survey conducted in 1998-JAN. Accuracy: within 3% points, 19 times out of 20. See: http://www.barna.org/PressHowAmericansSeeThemselves.htm
  20. "Most Americans believe in ghosts: Survey shows 1/3 accept astrology, 1/4 reincarnation," WorldNetDaily, 2003-FEB-27. The data poll was collected by Harris Poll from 2003-JAN-21 to 27. 2,201 subjects. Margin of error 2%.
  21. "Views of a Changing World, June 2003," Pew Global Attitudes Project, at: www.people-press.org
  22. ChristianWebSite poll, 2003-SEP, at: http://www.christianwebsite.com/ It is probable that most of the visitors to this web site are conservative Christians.
  23. Beliefnet poll, 2006-JAN-03, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/ This is an Internet poll and thus may not be representative of the American population.
  24. "Easter Poll," by Ipsos News Center, at: http://www.ipsos-na.com/
  25. "Belief in God," Gallup Poll, data collected 2007-MAY 10-13; published 2007-JUN-14 at: http://www.galluppoll.com/. This is a temporary listing.
  26. "Americans Express Their Views of the Virgin Birth of Christ," he Barna Group, 2007-DEC-17, at: http://www.barna.org/
  27. Kathleen Weldon, "Paradise Polled: Americans and the Afterlife," Huffington Post, 2015-JUN-15, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  28. "Quotations about Death," The Quote Garden, 2015, at: http://www.quotegarden.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-MAY-13
Latest update: 2015-JUN-16
Author: B.A. Robinson 
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