Survey: Fewer than half Americans believe in God, but many still pray


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Denver, Colo., May 23, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Only about half of Americans now say they are certain that God exists, and though regular religious attendance has declined, many Americans say they still pray several times a day.

A snapshot of American religiosity comes from NORC at the University of Chicago, which released the 2022 data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on May 15. The survey is considered one of the top sources of data on Americans’ opinions.

“The past three years were a period of great trial and change for the United States. Understanding how these times affected Americans’ thoughts, beliefs, and opinions is critical to understanding social change,” René Bautista, director of the GSS, said May 15.

The survey of U.S. adult residents was conducted through in-person interviews, self-administered internet surveys, and phone interviews. The GSS codebook, an accompanying document on the survey methods, says changes to the survey methodology during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in apparent changes in opinion, attitudes, and behaviors in 2021 and 2022 compared with results from previous years.

Do you believe in God?

Among the many views surveyed included the question of Americans’ confidence in the existence of God.

About 50% of Americans said that they “know God exists and have no doubts.” That number has not changed since 2021. This response peaked at 65% in 1993 and fell to 60% in 2008. Another 16% told the GSS that they “believe in God but have doubts,” down slightly from its 1988 peak of 19%. Another 14% said that they believe in “some higher power.”

About 6% said they believe in God “sometimes,” while about 7% responded “don’t know and no way to find out.” Though given the option “don’t know,” zero percent chose this option.

About 7% said they do not believe in God, unchanged from 2021. Nonbelief in God hovered around 2%-3% for decades until 2014, when it began to increase.

Are you religious?

On the topic of self-identified religiosity, 14% told the GSS they were “very religious,” 32% identified as “moderately religious,” and 25% as “slightly religious.” The “moderately religious” showed the largest decline, down from 38% in 2018 and 41% in 2010.

There is an upward trend in respondents who identify as “not religious.” In 2022, 29% chose this response, down slightly from the 2021 peak of 32%. Before 2012, fewer than 20% of respondents had ever chosen this answer.

How often do you attend religious services?

Religious attendance figures appear to reflect this nonreligious trend. Among GSS respondents, 34% said they never attended religious services, a new high. This figure first hit 30% in 2018 and 20% in 1998 after hovering at about 15% for decades.

As many as 11% of respondents said they attended religious services less than once a year, 13% said they attended once a year, and 10% attended several times a year. Only 4% said they attended once a month, 5% attended two or three times a month, and 4% attended “nearly every week.”

About 13% attended religious services weekly, a slight increase over 2021 respondents but a decline from 18% in 2018. GSS respondents have never reported weekly attendance over 30%, though this figure peaked at 29% in 1972, the first year GSS asked this question.

About 5% of respondents attended religious services more than once a week. This response last peaked at 9% in 1993 and has never exceeded 9% since 1972.

How often do you pray?

Self-reported prayer was more popular than self-reported church attendance. According to the GSS, 28% of respondents said they pray several times a day, down slightly from a 2004 peak at 31%. Another 20% said they pray once a day, an increase from 16% in 2021 but down from 28% in 2018, where the figure had held steady for decades.

Another 13% said they prayed several times a week, while 6% prayed once a week. The numbers of those who rarely or never pray are near a historic high: 34% said they prayed “less than once a week or never,” a decline from the 2021 peak at 38%.

Are you spiritual?

The GSS also inquired whether respondents identified as spiritual. Among respondents, 26% identified as “very spiritual,” 32% identified as “somewhat spiritual,” 26% identified as “slightly spiritual,” and 15% identified as “not spiritual.” The nonspiritual have trended slightly upward in recent years, while the “somewhat spiritual” respondent numbers have declined.

Do you have confidence in organized religion?

Confidence in organized religion has also dropped significantly. Confidence peaked in 1974 when 45% of GSS respondents voiced “a great deal of confidence” in organized religion. In 2022, only 15% did, about the same as the all-time low in 2021.

About 49% of respondents voiced “only some” confidence in organized religion, the first time under 50% since 2000. Another 33% of respondents voiced “hardly any confidence” in organized religion, comparable with 2021 and still above the previous peak, 30% in 1989. In 1975, only 11% of Americans responded this way.

The 2022 data for the GSS is based on 3,544 completed surveys from May 4 to Dec. 20 as well as 601 additional completed surveys for an oversample of Black, Hispanic, and Asian respondents from the NORC AmeriSpeak Panel.

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  1. “God is dead” (Nietzsche).”Nietzsche is dead” (God).
    “Ten thousand difficulties do not constitute a doubt” (Cardinal Newman).

    If asked whether they believed in an absolute provider-State, the respondent answers would likely be the reciprocal of those answering whether they believed in an absolute God—or 93% believers in Hobbes’ Leviathan versus 7% disbelievers in creation’s God.

  2. As the pendulum swings things can change quickly. Its properties were discovered by Galileo from which the pendulum clock was made. Later it was used in hypnosis by physicians as a calming therapy.
    A pendulum swing’s return has historical reference similar to the Greek cyclic nature of change. Faith doesn’t appear to fall into a cyclic swing from greatness to poverty back to greatness. Although that can be challenged in Israel’s back and forth religiosity, forth motivated by chastisement. Except in this unique moment in man’s history the revelation of Christ is the ultimate inspiration for faith.
    Faith in Christ, his passion and crucifixion, the supreme act of love for sinners has infinite repercussions. We were purchased by his blood. He gave us the Holy Eucharist for spiritual strength. God’s Son will not be crucified again. Although, we do have the Mass. The Mass re presents the sacrifice on the cross that occurred 2000 years past. People are increasingly not interested. Mass attendance and reverence of the Eucharist was, it appears to this writer, our final hope. Our efforts may best be made for the conversion of sinners.

    • Yes, “re presents” as in the “renewal and extension” (not, as so many of the un-catechized misunderstand, a mere facsimile imitation) of the one Divine self-immolation [!] on Calvary, as expressed in St. John Paul II’s Prayer Before Mass:

      Part of which: ““Eternal Father, we members of your blessed son Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body (His Church), in prayerful union with other members of His Church throughout the world, especially those who are suffering or living under oppression,
      and those who desire to go to Mass but are unable to do so; In spiritual communion with the intentions and affections of The Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Sorrows on Calvary, the Angels and Saints in Heaven, our patron Saints, our Guardian Angels—
      We all join in offering this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this unbloody RENEWAL AND
      EXTENSION of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross for the following intentions[….].”

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