Do people in your church believe in God? Two graphs of America’s 43 largest faiths

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St Thomas sculpture

Lawrence OP via Flickr

Sculpture of St Thomas reaching out to touch the risen Christ from the medieval polychromed choir screen of Notre Dame de Paris.

Nine out of ten Americans say they believe in God. But push a little bit and you’ll find there is quite a range of belief across the major churches and religions in America. Let’s look at two ways belief in God differs across religious groups: their certainty that God exists and whether God is a person.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

Pew’s Religious Landscape survey asked people if they believed in God. Almost everyone who was in a theistic religion did, of course. But the survey followed with a question about this belief: “Are you absolutely certain, fairly certain, not too certain, or not at all certain?” Evangelicals, black Protestants, Mormons, and other theologically conservative groups had high levels of certainty– albeit less than their leaders probably expect from their members. Substantial minorities of Mainline denominations expressed less certain beliefs about God.

Hindus and Buddhists had sizable groups who said the believed in God, but the question was general, asking about belief in “God or a universal spirit.” Most Reform Jews and Unitarians are uncertain about or do not believe in God.

Perhaps most surprising, six percent of atheists said they were “absolutely certain” that God exists; nearly one-in-seven agnostics said the same. Just more proof that labels that people claim in a survey don’t always mean to them what they mean to the rest of us.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

But what does “God” mean to people?  The survey asked

Which comes closest to your view of God? God is a person with whom people can have a relationship or God is an impersonal force?

The second graph shows the percentage of each group who are “absolutely certain” that God exists and believe in a personal God. By this measure, only five groups have at least 80 percent of adherents believe in a personal God: Mormons, Assemblies of God, Non-denominational evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witness, and Seventh-Day Adventists.  Next are various evangelical and Black Protestant groups.

While three-quarters of Catholics are certain about their belief in God, only half believe that God is a person who can have a relationship with them.

There are some Protestant groups, most of which are considered Mainline, which have majorities who do not believe in a personal God. The typical person in a United Church of Christ (and Congregationalists), Presbyterian USA, American Baptist, and Anglican congregation is more likely to doubt the existence of a personal God than they are to absolutely believe in such a God exists.

Two of the most interesting differences between the two graphs are the changes for Muslims and Conservative/Orthodox Jews. Four-out-of-five of each group are absolutely certain about God’s existence.  Muslims are far less likely to see God as a relatable person. For Conservative/Orthodox Jews, their certain belief in separates them from Reform Jews. But when asked about what is meant by “God” the difference between these streams of Judaism become much smaller. The vast majority of both groups do not believe in a personal God.

Oh, and there’s still a handful of “atheists” and “agnostics” who are absolutely certain that a personal God exists.

My hunch, however, is that belief among so-called unbelievers will be greeted with less surprise than the unbelief found among so many religious groups.

For more on atheists, read Why so-called atheists believe in God, Heaven, and even the Bible

  • Magdalena

    How do you define “Orthodox”?

  • Chris

    The titles of the article and the first graph seem a little misleading to me. With respect to the first graph, does a person need to be “absolutely certain” of something to “believe in” it? I would put the “absolutely certain” and “fairly certain” together if I was writing about people who “believe in” something. For example, I would say that people who are absolutely certain, and fairly certain, about climate change both “believe in” it.

    In particular, I feel that the title choices make the articles finding’s seem more shocking than they really are. I would be surprised if almost a quarter of Catholics, for example, DID NOT believe in God. But, I am not that surprised that almost a quarter of Catholics are not “absolutely certain” of this. Maybe they have doubts every once in a while, but are still 95% certain, or something like that.

  • Atheism is not religion. Religion is belief in magical deities. Atheism is not believing in the supernatural. Get your facts straight. Maybe by doing some research next time. Religious brain washing has claimed many rational people and such despicable deep mental scars heal slowly. Hardly surprising many Atheists have had a hard time shaking off such evil abuse.

  • Fran

    Yes, I definitely believe in the only true God, Yahweh/Jehovah, and that a close and loving relationship can be had with Him through prayer, regular study and meditation of his Word, the Bible, and association with fellow Christians to strengthen and encourage one another in these difficult days!

    I was not surprised about the chart concerning Catholics. They have lost many due to their scandals and disunity.

  • Diogenes

    What is VERY INTERESTING is that according to the survey, 10% of self proclaimed atheists declare a general ‘belief’ in God, and about 5% declare a ‘belief’ in a specific or personal God. It sounds oxymoronic, but at the same time I would encourage such individuals to explore that conflict further.

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  • Alexandra

    This study is kinda crap. First, they should have asked respondents if they were religious. Many people identify as a certain religion because of cultural ties. They are no longer religious, but maintain cultural ties to the church and participate in the various cultural rites of passage. They should not be included in taking a religious pulse of any sort. In some religions the cultural ties are stronger even without a religious component and the survey results reflect this. Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish and Hindu communities all have strong cultural ties, national identity ties, and cultural practices and rites that go way beyond religion. To a lesser extent mainline denominations also fall into this category. If you want to find out if religious people believe in God you need to ask that question, not just if people who identify with a culture believe in God.

    Also, I agree with a previous poster that the categories should be collapsed, completely sure and pretty sure are essentially the same thing in this survey. Not everyone is comfortable operating in certainties when it come to religion.

  • Nick

    Hi Magdalena,

    Orthodox Christianity is the oldest form of Christianity and is considered by most Orthodox Christians as “Pre-Denominational.” This ancient faith is the second largest “Denomination” in the world but in the United States it is a small group. Most Greeks, Russians, other Eastern European countries are mostly Orthodox Christian, though have been previously occupied by others such as the Ottoman Turks in Greece or Athiest governments associated with the USSR. There are also a lot of Arab Orthodox (Antiochian) and others worldwide. Here is a helpful link to understand Orthodox Christianity:

  • It makes no sense to have “atheist” listed since it is not a ‘religion it however the stated non belief in a god.

    One would have to ask the question like this.

    Inquisitor: What is your religion?

    Answer: I am an atheist, I do not believe in god.

    Inquisitor: Do you believe in god?

    Answer: Yes.

    inquisitor “Bang… head explodes”

  • kab

    Wayne, there are people who proscribe to a particular religion who do not believe in magical deities or the supernatural. These people have a much more nuanced understanding of the god concept than either fundamentalists or most atheists – an understanding that is informed not by creeds, not by understanding god as an object, but as the experience of transforming the world in love. Hence it is possible not to believe in God in the way, say, Evangelicals do, to in fact reject God as an object (and therefore be labeled an ‘atheist’) yet still understand the experience of transformation in love.

  • Joe Cogan

    Absolutely ridiculous. Anyone “absolutely certain” that any “God” exists is neither atheist nor agnostic by definition. Methinks more than a few respondents were trolling Pew.

  • rob

    Their lurks in every person the old evil god of self. iTS A FACT EVERY SIN IS A SIN AGAINST THE FIRST COMMANDMENT .. And a worship at the alter of the god of self..

  • Jon Felton

    How many total people were in the survey? How many people surveyed from each group?

  • Larry

    This says more about how I think about and verbally express my aspirations than how I live and act my expression of my beliefs. The study (see has tremendous value, but this question of belief in God, relative to religious group, is not answered. My life behavior indicators – my checkbook, my relationships, my calendar – tell more about my beliefs than my checkmark.

  • John McGrath

    I am certain that God exists and that he/she is ill served by all religions. That makes me an agnostic or an acclesiast. God would be better served if all the religions disappeared, or recognized that they are cultural/community organizations and really can’t enlighten us about God. Nothing wrong with being cultural/community organizations, except when they talk about God with their all too often ill informed certainty.

  • Of those atheists that had any belief in god, I would ask, “How long have you considered yourself to be an atheist?” I expect, as you suggest, that those few would be new to their unbelief and have some implanted irrationality that they still have to shake off. It took me two years after I began to question to become totally free of my “belief” in a supernatural being.

  • Dusty Sandusky

    There is a flaw in the system/Does not Compute.

    The Definition of ‘Atheist’ is someone who does not believe any god or gods exist. So, for people who label themselves as one who does not believe god exists to say they believe god exists, is a logical fallacy of the highest order. The survey, perhaps, did not clarify what an atheist is.

  • Maria

    Weird not to have a link to the Pew study.

  • Patrick

    How come 7% of Atheist on that chart absolutely believe in God? Is that because they misheard the interviewer and thought he said, “Excuse me, are you a-theist?” Or do you think the 7% who said yes would overlap with a graph of people who don’t know what atheist means? If that is the case, when why do 17% of agnostics are “absolutely certain” god exists? Is Agnostic that much harder of a word to understand?

    Or is there a base line of 7% of people who are insane, and we can lop 7% off of all of the other categories because these people do no posses a need for coherent thought? “Yes, there is absolutely a god, and my fingers are absolutely made of sausages.” Maybe they are just smart asses. If so, why are there more smart ass agnostics than smart ass atheists?

    These people are walking contradictions. Statistical impossibilities. They are remnants from the Big Bang, where matter and antimatter fought to become the dominant force in the galaxy. For the past 13.8 Billion years, with their souls of dark matter, they have been mocking us all and our “quaint” ideas about baryogenesis. They are the inbred litter that Schrödinger’s cat shat out in the box. The Sharia law loving log cabin Republican with his own boy scout troupe.

    OH! MOST FOUL, STRANGE AND UNNATURAL!!! You have violated my mind like a Japanese tentacle monster!!! Oh… to be an atheist. Believing in a harsh and uncaring cosmos, in which my existence is a random roll of the dice and I am destined to die and rot and then be gone forever. Such a fate is infinitely more comforting than the truth. Because the truth is that they are coming. And when they arrive I’ll be waiting for them with a shotgun.

    I’m keeping the last shell for myself.

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  • Atheist

    “My hunch, however, is that belief among so-called unbelievers will be greeted with less surprise than the unbelief found among so many religious groups.”

    How so?

  • Ray

    First, why did you include “Atheist” as a category in “Religion”? Atheism is not a religion.

    Second, anyone who managed to answer in such a way that they appear on your graph at ALL is NOT an atheist.

  • Tom

    I loved your comment, Patrick, up until the end when you started talking about “the truth.” You kind of lost me there. And I hope you aren’t hoarding ammo for use on anyone, particularly yourself. You seem very insightful and funny. I hope you keep sharing that.

  • sara

    I suspect 6% of atheists did not understand the question.

  • Duane

    Who wrote this nonsense? Atheism is not a god or a religion. And, to answer your question most directly, god is a creation of man, and not the other way around.

  • P.

    I’ve been going through the data the table originates fro (2007 PEW data) and I’m not finding the section/ questions for atheists who believe in God.

    I’d appreciate if you could provide that information as I’m finding this rather dubious.

  • Luca Vala-Diovecchio

    Kab. No, they could not be labeled as an atheist, any concept of God is irrelevant. An atheist lacks the belief in God (this doesn’t refer to certain concepts of God, but all of them). The moment you belief or feel there’s a sufficient amount of evidence to state the logical existence of any God is the moment one is no longer described as an atheist. It doesn’t matter if God is described as an object, a feeling, a person or any type of spirit, it’s not possible for an atheist to declare that a God certaintly does exist.

  • Randy Baker

    Isn’t it amazing how many think of themselves personally as the center of the universe (their own “god” (small “g”) , hence their definitions of words (such as ‘atheism”) is the definition all others must bow to, and if one doesn’t they will sure be the first to tell you to cowtow to them! Just amazing! A common phenomenon!

  • Gryphonkin

    Hipster atheists. Makes the rest of us look bad. Atheist, by definition, is not believing in God. Those people are just saying it because they think it’s the cool new thing.

  • Gryphonkin

    No one expects the spanish inquisition!

  • jonnnney

    To be fair. “Nothing in Particular” isn’t a religion either and that was included in the list

  • Ben

    There is something wrong with the polling when it finds 6% of atheists claim to believe in a god. The very definition of an atheist is one who does not believe in any gods. It’s like claiming to be a vegetarian and eating meat.

  • steve will

    The problem here is that the term atheist includes apatheists, anti-theists, adeists, etc… Atheism really only means that you don’t believe in a personal god that interferes with daily life, by definition of the integrated word parts. But many effectively believe in God and spirit only they will be very reluctant to use those terms as most are operating solely in the YHVH paradigm. Agnostics by definition state “IDK” and so they don’t usually have a concrete position, that is the very substance of their logic. I suspect they also included apatheists into this category which would be understandable at a glance. Apatheists are “apathetic about theism” and agnostics do care but just “don’t know”, the end result is a shrug for both of them…though they are frequently completely opposite in their approach to spirit.

  • Jon Walman

    Tobin, Come on, man. You’re really stretching it to say, “The vast majority of both groups do not believe in a personal God” when your own chart shows Catholics to be at least 50% and Muslims to be 37%. That’s a vast majority?! Also, the main reason these religions don’t fully understand or appreciate a personal relationship with God is because it’s not part of their doctrine. While many Catholics don’t read or study the Bible, while Muslims are condemned for reading it. By the way, I don’t have much of a relationship with Muhammed. Protestant churches like mine are surprisingly full of former Catholics who felt something was missing from their faith experience. In many cases, they come to find that it’s Jesus. “I am the way and the truth and the light. No one come to the father except through me.” – John 14:6

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  • Kevin

    Theism is the belief in one or more deities. Atheism is the belief there is no such beings. Both are beliefs, both are based on an inherently irrational position. You can’t prove God does not exist and sadly for many atheists whining like petulant children about burden of proof doesn’t change the FACT that in logic saying a lack of evidence is proof somethind doesn’t exist is a fallacy. Fact is atheists are one more stripe of believer their delusions of superiority not withstanding.

  • Ben

    There is no doubt, whatsoever, that the concept of gods is a man-made invention. While you can’t prove a negative, you can prove if everything in the stories defining one’s god are false, then this god is false. That is why Creationists are so opposed to teaching evolution. Because it refutes the proof their god is real. .

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  • Dan R.

    Quit knocking down straw men. You contradict yourself in one paragraph.

    a) “Atheism is the belief there is no such beings.”
    b) “You can’t prove God does not exist”

    Did you notice the contradiction? In case you missed it, statement (a) says NOTHING ABOUT PROOF. For the billionth time: atheism is non-belief, not disproof!

    “You can’t prove God does not exist”.

    Well, genius, whoop-de-doo! I guess people who don’t believe in Gremlins are inherently irrational, too, since YOU CAN’T PROVE GREMLINS DON’T EXIST. The lack of evidence for Gremlins isn’t proof that Gremlins don’t exist! Those who believe that Gremlins don’t exist are just one more stripe of believer!

  • Andreas

    Kevin, Atheism is not the position that there is no god. This means that atheism is not a belief, and, since the null hypothesis is always the rational position until evidence is presented, it is entirely rational. But apparently don’t know what the words mean you are talking about.

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  • The statement that “six percent of atheists said they were “absolutely certain” that God exists” doesn’t make sense to me in light of the rest of the article.

    The author says the certainty question was a follow-up to one about belief in god. Already, that sounds more like this scenario:

    Q1: Do you believe in god? (We weren’t given the exact wording of Q1.)
    Atheist: No
    Q2: “Are you absolutely certain, fairly certain, not too certain, or not at all certain?”
    Atheist: Certain
    (meaning certain that there is no god)

    But it also goes on to say that the belief in god question was broader than that, including “God or a universal spirit.”

    There’s an OR in the statement “God or a universal spirit.”

    I know atheists who do not believe in god, but do believe in some kind of natural force or spirit that connects people. And that isn’t the same as believing in god.

    So even if it wasn’t confusion over how to answer the follow-up question, it sounds like the best you could say is “six percent of atheists believe in a god OR universal spirit.”

    Given that atheism is defined as not believing in god, it would be more reasonable to assume the latter. I’m not sure why this author assumes the former.

  • Brian

    Nah, it says at least 6% of people get too bored to actually listen to the questions in a phone survey, but are too polite to hang up, so they just say random stuff til the survey ends.

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  • Barry Mayo

    You cannot prove a negative, like does not exist. The burden lies on proving something does exist, which you cannot prove any “god” exists as there is no evidence to prove that, there fore it does not.