There’s a new Pew Research poll that attempts a pretty nifty trick of not just grouping Americans by what religion they claim, but also what actual religious beliefs they actually practice. This day and age, that’s probably a lot more telling than someone just saying “I’m a Christian” or “I’m a Muslim,” and the results are interesting. A particular finding that stands out: People of almost all religious stripes hold a few beliefs traditionally written off as “New Age-y.”
First, some background. The study sorted Americans into seven very broad religious types. There are the “Sunday Stalwarts,” the most traditionally religious of the bunch, who make up 17 percent of Americans. There are the “God and Country Believers,” who tend to define their religion more by political and social conservatism and make up 12 percent of the country. There are the “Diversely Devout,” who call themselves religious but also mix in a dash of spiritual beliefs from other practices, who make up 11 percent of the country. These three types, which make up 39 percent of the country, are considered “highly religious.”
The “somewhat religious” set make up 32 percent of the country. About half are considered “relaxed religious,” who say they believe in God but don’t think that belief is necessary to be a moral person. And the other half are “spiritually awake,” who subscribe to more New-Age beliefs and generally believe in an afterlife of some kind.
And then there are the “non-religious” people, who make up 29 percent of the country. 12 percent of this group are called “Religion Resisters,” who believe organized religion does more harm than good, and 17 percent are the “Solidly Secular,” who hold no religious beliefs at all.
But even within these groups, there’s a lot of crossover (so don’t be surprised if you or people you know seem to fit into more than one category). Most notably, New-Age beliefs pop up in almost every group. 41 percent of all Americans, including 32 percent of the Sunday Stalwarts, believe in psychics. 42 percent of all Americans believe spiritual energy can be found in physical objects.
By contrast, only 11 percent of Americans read the Bible daily. And just 20 percent say religion is the most important source of meaning in their lives.
But also, 56 percent of Americans say they believe in the God of the Bible and 77 percent say that some sort of higher power has protected them. So while this study adds new layers of nuance to a very old American conversation, it also proves something we’ve suspected all along: When it comes to faith, things are complicated.