What do American Christians believe?

June 20, 2007 | By | 11 Replies More

Not in resurrection of the body, according to this Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll.  Only 36% believe in it.  This presents a problem for many theologians, since bodily resurrection is a prominent Christian teaching (see the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed):

Only 36 percent of the 1,007 adults interviewed a month ago by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University said “yes” to the question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?” Fifty-four percent said they do not believe and 10 percent were undecided.

Americans apparently prefer spiritual or metaphoric resurrection.  Despite their rejection of bodily resurrection, many Americans still embrace other basic Christian beliefs.  Here are some findings of note: 

The poll found that most Americans embrace other major elements of traditional Christian dogma. Ninety percent said they believe in a God or a Supreme Being, with 65 percent saying they are “absolutely certain” that God exists. Seventy-two percent said they believe in an afterlife in which they will have “some sort of consciousness,” although slightly less than half (47 percent) said they are “absolutely certain” of this.

Previous Scripps Howard polls have found evidence that Americans embrace other key elements of the creeds. A survey in 2003 found that 63 percent were “absolutely certain” Jesus died and physically rose from the dead. That poll also found 60 percent “absolutely believe” that Jesus was born of a virgin mother.

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (11)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    I think that this just demonstrates, yet again, that many supposed adherents to the Christian religion don't even fully understand it. Most of those people no doubt believe in the resurrection of their "spirit" or "soul" or some other word for that vague notion of self and…whatever else actually comprises a soul (this vagueness has bothered me to no end and I've written about it before). They probably imagine that in "heaven", their body has no impurities, that the lame can walk and that the arthritic feel no pain, and that we all can look young. That sounds more desireable, and it even makes more sense (if you believe in a soul). The possibility as just rising from the dead like some kind of holy zombie doesn't really appeal, does it? And so, despite the prominence of bodily resurrection in Christian teachings, people again use their religion to instead believe whatever they'd prefer to believe.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    One of the reasons Christianity is so popular and widespread is because it offers such a smorgasbord of choices about what to believe. If you want to believe in a god who is loving and forgiving, you can. If you want to believe in a god who is authoritarian and punishing, you can. If you want to believe you are good and your enemies are evil, you can. If you want to believe you are evil and your enemies are good, you can. If you want to believe all people are equal, you can. If you want to believe women and slaves are property, you can. The wide range of choices, even contradictions, are undoubtedly what enabled Christianity to appeal to so many indigenous cultures and gain so many footholds around the world.

  3. Devi says:

    I remember my response when my former pastor told me that my actual physical body would be resurrected. I cried in dismay, "but I don't want this body. I want a skinny one!"

  4. gatomjp says:

    This poll is no surprise to me. I don't really know anyone personally who would fit the description of fundamentalist. Rarely have I met anyone who takes Christianity that seriously. Even the most religious people I know (Catholics, mostly) take their Christianity with a half-smile. They pick and choose what is comfortable for them to believe and many of them don't buy into the more fantastical elements of the religion, like virgin birth and resurrection. They shrug and say, "Who knows?" They imply, "Who cares?"

  5. "I don’t really know anyone personally who would fit the description of fundamentalist. "

    And who voted for Bush? This is a serious question.

    "Rarely have I met anyone who takes Christianity that seriously."

    I've spent some time in the States and there's definitely a difference to here (a Catholic area). I've never heard in any other place so many people mention in small talk conversations how much Jesus loves you. Or "God bless you". Good grief, even one of my cousins is now standing at a corner and preaches to whoever passes by. Many many Americans take it seriously.

  6. gatomjp says:

    "Many many Americans take it seriously."

    I don't doubt that many do, proj. Just not in my experience, for what that's worth.

    I would also bet that even among the people that take it seriously, there are a fair number that don't swallow ALL the mythology, but simply see Catholicism as a good way to live their lives.

    Where's "here" for you, proj? You say you live in a Catholic area yet those Catholics don't take it as seriously as Americans? In what way do you find that they don't take it seriously?

  7. Vicki Baker says:

    Well I have to counter the idea that American fundamentalism is more true to the Bible or a somehow more authentic version of Christianity. They too are "picking and choosing" – how many have sold all their posessions, for example. Also there's a lot of pretty dodgy exegesis in their claim that America has a special role in the "end times" and similar claims.

    When you enter the realm of the polysemous, it's not like any interpretation is good as another -some interpretations will be superficial, others will wring a deeper meaning out of a given text.

    Finally, Christianity is fairly unique in putting so much emphasis on orthodoxy as opposed to orthopraxy. In Judaism and Islam, for example, beyond having to state that their is only one God, most of what makes you a Muslim or a (practicing) Jew is behavioral. Likewise in Buddhism beliefs are not given much importance, beyond the basic 4 Noble Truths, the emphasis is on the actions of the Eightfold path.

    That said, many Christians hold their beliefs lightly, but are quite serious about the behavioral requirements of following Christ.

  8. "I would also bet that even among the people that take it seriously, there are a fair number that don’t swallow ALL the mythology, but simply see Catholicism as a good way to live their lives."

    Sure they don't. If you talk with them most will say that the Bible is full of metaphors and parables, but then you have to consider, they accept religious (and political – you haven't answered my question about the Bush voters by the way -) leaders who do seem to take parts the Bible literally (like limbo till recently), who condemn birth control, talk very solemnly about Erich's favorite topics like virgin birth :D, etc – why is that?

    "Where’s “here” for you, proj? You say you live in a Catholic area yet those Catholics don’t take it as seriously as Americans? In what way do you find that they don’t take it seriously?"

    We produce popes here. 😀 People are religious, but I think it has become less important. My mom over twenty years ago got scolded by her neighbors because she hung up laundry on Sunday. I'm not sure if people would still react the same nowadays though.

    I can't remember the last time anybody here gave me a blessing and told me that Jesus loved me (especially not from people I barely know). I saw people in buses with ribbons around their necks that were embroidedered with "Jesus loves you." It seems to me that you find more people in the States for whom it would be really hard to accept that you are not religious, not even Christian, than here. They make me feel somewhat uncomfortable, not because they're not nice, more because of their expectations. Here nobody cares when I say I don't belong to any denomination, it's also been a while since anybody asked. I have to admit though I do believe that a non-Catholic governor is very very unlikely.

    The last time I had a talk with an openly devout Catholic was during a job interview at his home office. He had decorated one wall with a couple of pictures of barely dressed women and was also somewhat inappropriate with the physical contact, so yeah, obviously they do not take the Bible here very seriously. 😀

  9. By the way, do Catholics count as Christians anyway? I read a couple of comments on a forum once that I found hilarious. It seems people over there believe that Catholics have some very strange traditions (like eating the body of the Lord) and are not really Christians at all.

  10. gatomjp says:

    Proj: I didn't answer your Bush question because politics depresses me so much that I don't follow it enough to feel that I can intelligently discuss it. However, I will say that I have a few aquaintences who voted for Bush DESPITE his religious views, never thinking that he would try to take things this far. They too are appalled and ashamed.

    I also think that if leaders seem to take the bible literally it may be because they are accustomed to thinking and speaking in absolutes. "We MUST have a tax cut!", as opposed to, "I'm pretty sure we need a tax cut but it might not be possible so I'll see what I can do."

    If Americans seem to wear their religious beliefs more prominently, it could be because we proclaim EVERYTHING more prominently. We are accustomed to wearing brand logos on our t-shirts and defining ourselves by their slogans. Are you a "Just do it" kind of person or a "Is it in you?"? Bumper stickers let you know exactly where people stand on abortion, nuclear power and education as well as religious outlook. (The Jesus fish stick-on vs the Darwin fish stick-on has been an especially entertaining battle of the icons.) For Americans religious affiliation is more like sports affiliation. Are you on our team? Or are you one of THEM?

    Those're my half-assed theories for today!

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    OK, so I now see that virgin birth is actually possible (though highly unlikely). http://www.slate.com/default.aspx?id=2179865

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