Sunday, April 5, 2015


EASTER: VARIATIONS IN BELIEF

Like most Christians, my wife and I participated in services this holy week, which spans Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. As usual, the media rise to the occasion with Bible stories, comments from various religious leaders and a few atheists—just to keep things balanced. Other religions are on the back burner until Monday.


So many statements of beliefs come from the Easter events. Later in the week I’m presenting the results of a survey of Christian Counselors. My colleague, Chris Arnzen, and I were interested in what Christian Counselors do. But we also asked about their Christian beliefs so we could understand what it meant to be a Christian counselor. I’ll take a look at those in another post.
For now, here’s a sample of some core beliefs from various sources.

God: 75% U S (depends)
Belief in God is obviously a core belief. U.S. belief has declined to 58% having no doubt God exists and another 17% have doubts but feel they believe—added together = 75% (GSS, 2014).
Details matter. Overall, Pew researchers found 92% in the U S believe in God or a universal spirit but the figure dropped to 60% if you ask about a “personal God.” I think Christians forget Jesus was a Jew. Anyway, what about Jewish belief in God? Overall, 83% but only 25% see God as “personal.” (Pew)

Australians are split—52% endorse the view of a “classical creator God” compared to 48% who do not (Bible society, 2015).

The NORC (2012) report from 2008 includes results from many countries. Their statement was: “I believe in God now and I always have.” Some examples: U S 80.8%, Australia 39.1%, Great Britain 36.7% and the low was Germany (East) at 13.2%. When they asked about belief in a personal God the numbers drop: US 67.5%, Australia 28.5% and Great Britain 26.9%.

Jesus is God’s Son: 68% (depends)
Another core teaching of Christianity is the belief that Jesus is God’s Son. According to a Harris U S Poll (2013), 68% endorse that belief.
A 2011 survey in the UK asked the question a bit differently by adding some details. For those reporting they are Christians.
“Less than half (48%) of those who ticked ‘Christian’ said they believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who died and came back to life and was the son of God.” (BHA, 2015)

Resurrection: 65% (US)
Now we get to the resurrection. How many believe Jesus was raised from the dead? That figure was recently at 65% in the U S (Harris, 2013).

Bible—is it God’s Word? 27% (U S Fundamentalist perspective)
In recent decades, psychologists and sociologists have focused on understanding fundamentalists. The more I study the research, the more I agree with the views of Williamson and others that the key to understanding fundamentalism in any religion lies in understanding their view of their scriptures.

It turns out that Gallup (2014) has examined perspectives on the Bible using four nuanced questions. And they split their U S sample into Christian and non-Christian groups. I’ll just consider the Christians. Literal beliefs in the Bible as God’s word is at 27%—close to the all-time low of 27%. If you ask if the Bible is God’s word but multiple interpretations are possible, you get another 31%. Ask if the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything should be taken literally you get 31%. Finally, if you ask if the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends and the like you get 7% (4% had no opinion).

Lifeway approached the subject a little differently: 43% affirm the Bible is 100% accurate.

Angels: 88% (U S Christians)
Angels figure in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim stories. And they are a part of the Easter story. A few years ago the AP found that 77 of U S adults believe in the reality of angels. The belief is higher among U S Christians (88%) and at 95% of evangelicals (CBS, 2011).

Heaven and Hell (varies)
The devil is in the details. In surveys, it always matters how you ask the question. Lifeway (2014) asked a U S sample about beliefs in heaven and hell.

Belief in heaven as a real place = 67%. As you might guess, different groups hold different beliefs. Evangelicals were at 90% but even non-Christians reported a 37% belief. About 45% believe there are many ways to heaven.

Hell is real for most people in the U S too— 61%.

Pew also asked about heaven and hell. Overall, heaven wins at 74% and hell is low at 59%.  Christians vary a lot but most are believers in heaven with lower percentages affirm hell. Jews weight in at 38% for heaven and 33% for hell. The Pew figures carry the dates of 2007.



Thoughts
Given the variations in belief about the Bible, we should now wonder how people view God, Jesus, the resurrection, heaven and hell. That is, do nonliteral interpretations of the Bible, allow for nonliteral interpretations of Jesus nature and his relationship with God, the resurrection, heaven and hell? We won’t know until someone asks questions in nuanced ways. Seeing Jesus as God and a personal friend is quite different than viewing God as a distant spirit or force. 

As a psychological scientist I wonder about the connection between a group's view of God and their behavior. 

As a clinician I wonder how a person's view of God influences their thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns, health, and relationships. (See link to multidimensional model of human nature).

The variations in data reveal the importance of caution when reading survey results. Different samples yield different results. And different questions yield slightly different responses. Attention to the details is important.

Tracking polls can be a problem when you do not ask the same people. When the numbers change, you cannot assume people have changed their minds over the years. You just find that as a society or subculture, more people believe this or that compared to a similar group some years ago.

Happy Easter  5 April, 2015

Joyous Festival for Passover 3 to 11 April, 2015

Happy holidays to all.

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