God's World

What in the world is God doing this week?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Do Americans believe that God exist?



The headlines are certainly provocative: “Nearly half of Americans are not sure God exists.” For a country that has always thought of itself as a religious nation, it sounds like we are in deep trouble!

I get so frustrated by the way research and polls get reported in the media. Having been trained in research methodology as an experimental psychologist prior to being called into the ministry, I have an appreciation for how carefully results must be interpreted.

Well, several of things are noteworthy.

  • First, remember that the press likes to put its own “spin” on stories in order to sell copy. Read the poll for yourself. It is available at: What the poll reveals is that 73% of Americans report a belief in God.
  • Of those believing in God, 58% declare absolute certainty that there is a God. In other words, 15% of believers say that they are somewhat certain that there is a God. In other words, they express some doubts. What the reports fail to understand is that doubt is a part of faith development, not an indication that “I don’t really know what I believe. In reality, the honest response for many of us is “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
  • What is clear is a slight decline in belief in God, from 79% in 2003 down to 73% in 2005. This percentage includes an 8% decline in absolute certainty but a 3% gain in those who say they are somewhat certain that God exists. Finally, there was a 2% increase in those who believe there is no God. What is going on here? Is faith faltering? Maybe not. The most recent poll was conducted over the Internet rather than by telephone. Harris Interactive notes that more people admit to potentially embarrassing beliefs or behaviors when answering online surveys. Perhaps what we have here is not a reduction in faith, but a more accurate reflection of faith in America.
  • The “certainty gap” is most pronounced in adults aged 18-24. Does that mean that the Church is doing a poor job of reaching young adults – well, perhaps, although fully 2/3 of adults in that age range profess belief in God. Admittedly, this is considerably less than the belief professed by those over 50 years old. Another way of looking at this finding is that even though a young person has reached the “age of majority” at 18, faith is still in a formative process, growing and strengthening throughout young adulthood.

The best way of figuring out what the poll does and does not say is to look directly at the poll. You can read it for yourself at Harris Interactive.

Is there anything to be concerned about in this poll? I’ll say! Just under 50% of Catholics and Protestants attend church at least once or twice a month. Not surprisingly, the number is somewhat higher, nearly 70%, for those who describe themselves as “born again.” And the rest? Well, many are “Chreasters.” You know, the people who darken the door of the church at Christmas and Easter. These figures have been consistent from 2003 to 2006.

All of Christianity needs improvement in teaching the value and need of corporate worship. What does it say that a sizeable percentage of people professing to be Christian does not find a compelling reason to gather for worship on a regular basis?

Maybe the headline should have read: “US Adults need to worship God more often.” But then, that doesn’t sell papers, does it?

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