By Bob Smietana
Americans like to talk to God. And He talks back—to some of us.
Three-quarters of Americans say they talk to God, according to a new survey from Pew Research. One in four (28 percent) say they get a reply.
Nearly all evangelicals talk to God. So do most folks from historically African-American churches. People who identify with those two traditions are most likely to say they get a reply.
“Six in 10 people in the historically black Protestant tradition say this communication is a two-way street and that God talks directly with them,” says Pew in a report on in the survey. “Forty-five percent of evangelicals say the same.”
Catholics (83 percent) often talk to God, as do Jews (63 percent). But they’re less likely to say they get a reply. Twenty-three percent of Catholics and 9 percent of Jews say God talks to them.
And almost half (46 percent) of “nones”—those who claim no religious affiliation—say they talk to God as well. Thirteen percent say God talks back.
The one group that rarely talks to God: Atheists.
Three percent of atheists say they talk to God. One percent believe they get a reply.
God of the Bible?
Pew’s study of more than 4,700 Americans found 89 percent say they believe in God or some higher power or spiritual force.
But it’s not always the God of the Bible.
Just over half (56 percent) of Americans say they “believe in God as described in the Bible.” An additional 33 percent “believe there is some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe.”
That includes 9 percent of Americans—nearly 1 in 10—who say they don’t believe in God but believe there is a higher power or spiritual force.
Not surprisingly, Christians are most likely to believe in the God of the Bible.
“Overall, 8 in 10 self-identified Christians say they believe in the God of the Bible, while 1 in 5 do not believe in the biblical description of God but do believe in a higher power of some kind,” according to Pew’s report.
By contrast, 17 percent of “nones” believe in the God of the Bible. Fifty-three percent believe in a higher power. Twenty-seven percent don’t believe in God or a higher power.
Pew found big differences in how Americans who believe in a higher power describe God compared to those who believe in the God of the Bible.
Among those who say they believe in God as described in the Bible:
- 97 percent say God loves all people, regardless of their faults.
- 97 percent say God has protected them.
- 94 percent say God knows everything.
- 87 percent say God has rewarded them.
- 86 percent say God has the power to direct/change everything.
- 70 percent say God determines what happens in their lives all/most of the time.
- 50 percent say God has punished them.
- 40 percent say God talks to them.
Among Americans who believe in a higher power/spiritual power:
- 69 percent say a higher power loves all people, regardless of their faults.
- 69 percent say a higher power has protected them.
- 53 percent say a higher power knows everything.
- 53 percent say a higher power has rewarded them.
- 39 percent say a higher power has the power to direct/change everything.
- 37 percent say a higher power has punished them.
- 25 percent say a higher power determines what happens in their lives all/most of the time.
- 15 percent say a higher power talks to them.
Pew also found generation gaps in how Americans look at God. Two-thirds (65 percent) of those 65 and older believe in the God of the Bible. But only 43 percent of adults younger than 30 hold that view.
“The survey also shows that, compared with older adults, those under age 50 generally view God as less powerful and less involved in earthly affairs than do older Americans,” according to Pew.
“At the same time, however, young adults are somewhat more likely than their elders to say they believe that they personally have been punished by God or a higher power in the universe.”
Older Americans are also more likely to believe in a final judgment. Seventy percent of those 50 and older believe “all people will ultimately face God’s judgment.” That drops to 56 percent for those in their 30s and 40s, says Pew, and to 49 percent for those under 30.
For years, Pew and other polling organizations have asked Americans if they believe in God. But they haven’t asked what that God looks like.
As America is in the midst of a religious transformation—becoming more secular and more diverse at the same time—Pew decided to ask for more details. The organization hopes to follow up with more studies in the future.
This new survey “can help illuminate how Americans conceive of God at this particular moment in time and also set a baseline for future studies that may be able to go further toward establishing how and why beliefs about God are changing over time,” says Pew.
- What Do Americans Believe About God? New Research Explores Our Theology
- Americans, Especially Millennials, Want God Without Religion
- Religious Nones Still Thank God, Ask for His Help
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.