27 March 2016

Americans believe in heaven and the resurrection, but are not so keen on hell


We’ve been asking a few religious questions recently and publish the answers below.

Today, we asked how people saw this day. Able to choose more than one option, a little more than half of YouGov’s First Verdict panel was inclined to see it as “the day that we remember Jesus Christ, his resurrection and victory over death” and a third saw Easter Sunday as the holiest day in the Christian year. 17%, however, recognised today as “a day when Christians remember a scientifically impossible fiction – no person has even been raised from the dead”.Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 22.31.54

The percentages who told us that they would deliberately pay attention to the Pope’s Easter message or who would avoid it were almost identical. Asked “How much attention will you give to the Pope’s Easter message?” 10% answered “a lot, he is a great, wise man of God” and another 16% said “a little bit, he is sometimes interesting”. 25% said “not at all”. A further 39% said they might “accidentally” come across it in their news habits but wouldn’t deliberately choose to follow or ignore anything the Bishop of Rome said.

Two days ago we presented a list of religious ideas to panellists and asked them to identify those which had personal relevance to them:

  • The only option to get above the 50% threshold was “heaven” with a 55% identification level. And we clearly prefer the idea of an eternal future with the angels than infernal damnation with devils (or however people understand these possibilities for after-lives). Only 39% choose “hell” as “significantly meaningful”.
  • Judaeo-Christian ideas like salvation (48%), sin (47%) and Messiah (41%) scored more than non-Christian ideas like Buddhism’s nirvana (6%) or Islam’s Umma (1%) but Covenant (27%) and Trinity (33%) were less resonant for people than the Hindu and Buddhist idea of karma (36%). Although I imagine many don’t think of karma in religious terms and only see it as some sort of you-get-back-from-life-what-you-put-into-it creed.
  • 22% couldn’t identify with any of the ideas. That’s a similar nearly-one-fifth who described Easter Sunday as an “impossible fiction” above but a bit less than the quarter who intended to avoid the Pope’s Easter message because they defined themselves as irreligious. This suggests about 17% to 25% of Americans are agnostic, atheist or follow more new age beliefs.

And finally on religious attitudes, we recently asked the panel about Senator Ted Cruz’s appearance on his presidential campaign trail with a controversial evangelical pastor, Kevin Swanson. The full question and answers are below but I thought it was worth highlighting that 11% of respondents agreed with the option that stated “homosexuality is sinful and people who do have gay sex risk going to hell”.


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Tim Montgomerie is Editor of Portrait of America