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Americans' beliefs about God

God's existence & importance.
Jesus' second coming.

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Beliefs about God's existence:

bulletWhen asked: "Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?" Americans' beliefs were quite constant until about the end of the 20th century, when beliefs started to decline rapidly. Over the last seven decades, the Gallup Organization has found a steady decline: 1

Year Percentage "Yes"
1947 94%
1953/4 99%
1978 94%
1994 96%
2007 92%
2011 91%
2014 89%
2018 80%

However, this question raises more questions than it answers. It is important to realize that Americans have many different concepts of "God or a universal spirit."

bullet Many believe in a Trinity formed of a Father God, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit -- three persons in one godhead -- as taught by most Christian faith groups.

bullet Wiccans generally believe in two deities: one female and one male; a Goddess and a God.

bullet Zoroastrians believe in one god, Aura Mazda who created a caring, beneficent spirit Spenta Mainu and a destructive deceitful spirit Angra Mainyu.

bullet Others believe in a single indivisible personal deity as taught by Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.

bullet Others hold Deistic beliefs. They believe in a deity who created the universe, assigned it natural laws, started it up, departed, and has not been involved with humanity and the Earth since.

bullet Still others believe in a type of amorphous higher power or universal spirit.

Some people believe still other beliefs about the nature of God. Unfortunately, most commentators appear to ignore the phrase "or a universal spirit" in the question that was asked. They incorrectly report their data as belief in God, alone.

Also, polling groups tend to misrepresent their conclusions on this and other sensitive matters. For example, when they assess the percentage of Atheists -- those who have no belief in a God, what they report is not the actual percentage of Atheists. They report only on the percentage of Atheists who admit to their beliefs to a stranger over the telephone who claims that they are from a polling agency and will keep their answer confidential. Because of widespread animosity in the U.S. towards Agnostics and Atheists many Atheists are cautious and will not reveal their beliefs accurately.

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Gallup conducted a poll between 2007-MAY-10 and 13 that asked more precise questions about God:

bullet When asked "Do you believe in God, or is it something you're not sure about or don't believe in?"
bullet 86% said they believe in God;

bullet 8% said they were not sure about;


6% said they don't believe in God or had no belief in God.

bullet During the same survey, American adults were asked: "Do you believe in God, don't believe in God but believe in a universal spirit, or don't believe in either?"
bullet 78% said they believed in God;

bullet 14% said they believe in a universal spirit;

bullet 7% don't believe in either. 5

It may be quite shocking to many Americans that only about 3 out of 4 adults actually believe in a supreme being who is a personal God.

bulletThe General Social Survey (GSS) in the U.S. "... is a sociological survey created and regularly collected since 1972 by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. 7 When they asked the specific question: "Do you, personally, believe in God?" Results were:
Year Percentage "Yes"
1998 88.4%
2000 84.7%
2004 88.8%


bullet Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducts an annual poll of registered voters for Fox News. They asked the question: " "Do you personally believe in the existence of each of the following?" followed by a list of 11 items, asked in random order. One of the items was "God." Results were:
Year Believe
Don't believe
Not sure (Agnostics)
1997-FEB 94% 4% 2%
1997-OCT 95 3 2
1999-MAR 92 4 4
2001-JUL 91 6 3
2002-JUL * 92 6 2
2003-SEP 92 5 3
2004-SEP 92 5 3

* Datum for all adults sampled; remaining data for registered voters only.

This survey produced noticeably higher values than the GSS. We suspect that this is because in the Opinion Dynamics survey this question was preceded by an inquiry into attendance at religious services. About twice as many Americans say they attend religious services regularly than actually do attend. With so many subjects lying on that motherhood issue, it is quite likely that they would be more inclined to also lie about their belief in the existence of God.

It is important to remember that the above data is what the people being polled "say" about their belief in God. They are being questioned by a stranger over the phone. Because of widespread dislike and mistrust of Atheists throughout the country, many Atheists and Agnostics are reluctant to admit that they don't believe in God. So one can assume that the actual percentages of theists are significant lower than polls indicate.

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A novel method to get U.S. Atheists to admit to their lack of belief in God or their belief that God does not exist:

Pamela Whissel wrote an article titled "Hiding in Plain Sight" in the American Atheist journal (second quarter, 2017). It was subtitled:

"If you let them stay in the closet, atheists just might let you know they exist."

She discussed innovative research by Will Gervais, an evolutionary and cultural psychologist at the University of Kentucky. He studied how atheists in the U.S. are perceived by their fellow Americans. He conducted a survey using the "unmatched count" technique. Rather than ask subjects directly whether they believe in God, one randomly selected "control" group was asked how many in a list of six innocuous statements applied to them -- statements like: "I can drive a stick shift" "I have visited New York City" "I have played Scrabble." Presumably subjects would be willing to reveal how many apply to themselves. The pollsters also asked a second randomly selected "test" group the same six questions with one more added: "I do not believe in God." Presumably, the second group would also be willing to reveal how many applied to them because the questioner would not have any way of knowing whether the "God question" applied to them. From the differences between responses of the the two groups Gervais was able to estimate that 26% of the group were Atheists. This is far more than previous polls by large polling agencies who used direct questioning.

The recent drop in the percentage of people who "say" they believe in a God or Universal Spirit may be partly caused by the lessening of bias against Atheists. This would result in more of them becoming willing to be truthful when the are polled about such a touchy topic.

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The Baylor Religion Survey:

The Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion and the Department of Sociology, both at Baylor University, conducted the Baylor Religion Survey during the winter of 2005/2006. It was funded by the John M. Templeton Foundation. They asked 1,721 randomly selected American adults a total of 77 questions covering a broad range of religious questions. 2,3 Of these, one dealt with the existence of God in some detail:

Question 21: "Which one statement comes closest to your personal beliefs about God?"

bullet 65.8% I have no doubts that God exists
bullet 14.3% I believe in a higher power or cosmic force
bullet 10.8% I believe in God, but with some doubts
bullet 4.6% I donít believe in anything beyond the physical world
bullet 2.8% I have no opinion
bullet 1.7% I sometimes believe in God

In summary, about:

bullet 5% of the adult population are strong Atheists.
bullet 3% of adults are Agnostics.
bullet 14% believe in some type of higher power other than God;
bullet 12% believe in some type of God, but with lapses or doubts in his/her/their existence;
bullet Only 66% firmly believe in some type of God.

An analysis by Baylor of of their 2006 survey data revealed that there are two and distinct dimensions to belief in God:

  • God's level of engagement: whether God is directly involved in the world and in the personal affairs of humans, or is distant and disconnected.
  • God's level of anger: whether God is angry at sins and reacts by punishing the sinful.

This led naturally to four very different concepts of God among the American population:

  • Type A: Authoritarian (high on anger; high on engagement); believed in by 31% of the population.
  • Type B: Benevolent (low on anger, high on engagement); believed in by 23%.
  • Type C: Critical (high on anger, low on engagement); believed in by 16%.
  • Type D: Distant (low on anger, low on engagement); believed in by 24%.

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Webmaster's comments:

The second most popular concept believed in by about one quarter of the American adult population, is the "Type D" or "Distant God," who closely matches the Deistic belief. Yet very few people are aware of Deism as a religion. This would appear to be a magnificent opportunity for a religious entrepreneur to start up the next big religion, matched to the beliefs of this 23%.

Since in excess of 70% of the American adult population identify themselves as Christians, one might ask which of the four Gods is a close match to Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as described in the Bible. Actually all four do. All one has to do is to select individual passages from the Bible and ignore other passages.

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Importance of God in North Americans' lives -- comparing gender and nationality: 2

"God is very important in my life" American Poll Canadian Poll
All subjects 63% 35%
Men only 50% -
Women only 75% -

This difference between Americans and Canadians may explain why:

  • There are very few demonstrations against abortion access in Canada,
  • Same-sex marriage became available across Canada in 2005, whereas fewer than half of American states have marriage equality,
  • 40% of Americas say they attend religious services weekly,
  • 20% of Canadians say they attend.

(BTW, among both Americans and Canadians, surveys that count noses have shown that about half of both Americans and Canadians lie when answering the last question.)

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Jesus' second coming:

Many Christians expect Jesus Christ to return to earth in the immediate future, and usher in an end of the world as we know it. This belief has been common since the founding of Christianity in the 1st century CE. As the second millennium CE came to a close, expectations rose belief was particularly high:

bullet An Associated Press survey in 1997 revealed that 24% of American adults expected to be still alive when Jesus returns. Many of these probably believe that they would be raptured (elevated from the earth to be with Jesus) and thus will never experience death.

bulletA poll conducted for Newsweek magazine in 1999-JUN asked American adults whether they believed that Jesus would return during the next millennium -- i.e. between years 2001 and 3000 CE. Results were:
bullet All persons surveyed : 52%
bullet Evangelical Protestants: 71%
bullet Non-Evangelical Protestants: 48%
bullet Roman Catholics: 47%
bullet Non-Christians: 20% 

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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. Gallup Organization poll in 1994-DEC. Quoted in George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
  2. "Selected findings from the Baylor Religion Survey," Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, 2006-SEP, at: This is a PDF file.
  3. Baylor Religion Survey: Codebook, Association of Religion Data Archives, at:
  4. Millennium Study by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch. Reviewed by Maranatha Christian Journal for 1999-DEC-13 at: This is a PDF file.
  5. "Belief in God," Gallup Poll, data collected 2007-MAY 10-13; published 2007-JUN-14 at: This was a temporary listing.
  6. Pamela Whissel, "Hiding in Plain Sight," Scribd magazine, 2017-2nd Quarter, at:
  7. "General Social Survey," Wikipedia, as on 2019-OCT-08, at:

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Copyright © 1999 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-MAY-13
Latest update: 2018-DEC-09
Author: B.A. Robinson
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