Ask Americans if they believe in God, and 80% of them will say yes. But what God do they believe in? The one described in the Bible, or something else? These are the questions the Pew Research Center set out to answer in its 2017 survey of over 4,700 US adults.
Overall, the statistics broke down as 80% believers versus 19% nonbelievers, with 1% declining to answer. Of the responders who answered yes, 58% said they believed in God as described in the Bible, while 23% said they believed in some other higher power or spiritual force. Among the nonbeliever contingent, 10% said they did not believe in any type of higher power or spiritual force whatsoever, but 9% said they did.
These statistics, however, are only the tip of the God iceberg. Survey respondents gave substantially different answers to the follow-up questions depending on where they fell on the religious, political, and ethnic spectra.
Perhaps not surprisingly, US Christians comprised the group that most expressed a belief in the God of the Bible, with 80% expressing this view compared with 20% who believed in some kind of another higher power instead. Conversely, the majority of Jews and those with no religious affiliation believed in a higher power as opposed to the God of the Bible. Their percentages came to 56% and 53% respectively.
The religiously unaffiliated group was further broken down into atheist, agnostic, and “nothing in particular.” Even among these, however, 72% said they believed in some kind of a higher power, just not in the God described in the Bible. Among the “nones,” only 27% said they believed in no higher power at all. The percentage for agnostics amounted to 30%, while for atheists it was 81%.
As you might expect, Republicans and Democrats tended to be as far apart on their view of God as they are on virtually all other issues. Among Republicans and those who leaned toward the GOP, a full 70% said they believed in God as depicted in the Bible. Only 45% of Democrats, on the other hand, expressed this belief. The percentages of those believing in a higher power as opposed to the God of the Bible came in at 39% and 23% respectively. Democrats were three times more likely than Republicans to report that they believed in no higher power or spiritual force at all, 14% versus 5%.
Ethnic background, too, played a role in one’s belief about God. For instance, white Republicans’ beliefs broke down as 72% for the God of the Bible, 22% for some other higher power or spiritual force, and 5% for no god at all. The percentages for nonwhite Republicans came in at 60%, 32%, and 5% respectively.
Compare this with white Democrats, of which only 32% believed in the God of the Bible, while 45% believed in a higher power or spiritual force and 21% did not believe in God or a higher force at all. Among nonwhite Democrats, the numbers shifted substantially. Sixty-one percent believed in the God of the Bible, 32% believed in a higher power, and only 5% did not believe in any god or higher force.
So what do all these figures tell us about Americans’ beliefs? Overall, the overwhelming majority of us, 80%, adhere to both our Pledge of Allegiance (“one nation, under God”) and the slogan on our money (“In God we trust”). We just hold substantially differing beliefs as to who the god is that we believe in and trust. In a democratic republic comprised of 328,900,709 people, that just might be a good thing.