ARIS 2008 Report: Part IB - Belief

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A new belief question was introduced into ARIS in 2008. Table 4 shows that when asked about the existence of God less than 70 percent of Americans now believe in the traditional theological concept of a personal God. This question was not asked in 1990 and 2001. A surprisingly large proportion of contemporary Americans, just over 12 percent, believe in a deist or paganistic concept of the Divine as a higher power. Whereas Table 3 showed that 
only one percent of Americans actually self-identify as agnostics, Table 4 reveals that 10 percent hold agnostic beliefs (5.7% a "softer" form and 4.3% a "harder form" of agnosticism). These findings about the "belief" aspect of religiosity tend to complicate our interpretation of some of the trends and findings in the earlier tables relating to "belonging." If 76 percent of Americans self-identify with Christianity and 80 percent with a religion then many millions do not subscribe fully to the theology of the groups with which they identify. 

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Table 5 reveals the dimensions of a significant trend in "belief" among the 76 percent of contemporary Americans who identify as Christians. These respondents were specifically asked "Do you identify as a Born Again or Evangelical Christian?" No definition was offered of the terms, which are usually associated with a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ together with a certain view of salvation, scripture, and missionary work. As the table shows, 45 percent of all American Christians now self-identify in this manner and they account for 34 percent of the total national adult population. What is significant is the recent spread of Evangelicalism well beyond Christians affiliated with those groups that are members of the National Evangelical Association so that millions of Mainliners and Catholics now identify with this trend. 

Tables 4 and 5 show that there is a real and growing theological polarization in American society whereby 34 percent of the population believe they are "Born Again" but 25-30 percent reject the idea of a personal divinity. These questions on belief reveal the cultural polarization between the pious and non-religious portions of the national population, which are today roughly similar in size. 

ARIS 2008