RELIGION: Survey: Americans think bad things just happen; God is not responsible

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(RNS) — Few Americans blame God when bad things happen in their lives, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that looks at how people respond to suffering in the wake of a pandemic that has killed more than 750,000 Americans.

The survey of 6,485 U.S. adults polled online in September shows that Americans overall have a strong belief in God and that belief appears to be unshaken in the midst of hardship and suffering, such as have occurred with the COVID-19 virus.

Instead, many Americans place some of the blame for the suffering in the world on individuals and institutions.

Instead, many Americans place blame for the suffering in the world on individuals and societal institutions. Seventy-one per cent of Americans agree that it is mostly due to people’s actions. Sixty nine percent say that it is mostly because of how society is structured.
Statements are a description of their views. )

” People tell us that they believe that suffering is part of living.” Gregory A. Smith, associate research director at Pew, said. “A lot of suffering can be caused by people or systems that have created .”

Although questions about the cause of suffering around the world are new to Pew’s center, it has previously surveyed Americans about their beliefs in heaven, hell, and God. Those beliefs — 91% said they believe in God or in a higher power, 73% believe in heaven and 62% in hell — are remarkably consistent with past studies. One-third of respondents believe in reincarnation, which has also remained stable over the years. )

“What do Americans feel when they hear about human suffering” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

When they hear about terrible things happening to people, most Americans said they feel thankful for the good things in their own lives (71%) and sad for those who are suffering (62%). Ten percent stated that they are happy for the suffering of others because they deserve it.

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A quarter of Americans said they feel the need to turn off the news when they hear about people being hurt. .”

But American views of God are generally forgiving. More than 70% of Americans said they “rarely” (26%) or “never” (48%) feel angry with God for allowing terrible things to happen to people.

That’s great news, according to Jamie Aten, a Wheaton College disaster psychologist. Aten stated that studies show that people who blame God for bad things in their lives are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and trauma.

“Most Americans say the suffering in the world comes from people — not God” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

But the survey’s finding that 80% of Americans think the suffering in the world comes from the actions of other people may not be the perfect antidote.

” The danger is that when we blame others, we might see different levels or biases, people harming other groups, Aten stated. “This may explain why there is so much tension in the U.S .”

,” Aten said.

Half of Americans, the survey found, endorse the idea that God chooses “not to stop the suffering in the world because it is part of a larger plan.” And 44% said “Satan is responsible for most of the suffering in the world.” Evangelicals and Black Protestants were especially likely to take this position.

“When asked to explain suffering, majority of U.S. adults say that sometimes bad things just happen” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Still, the survey’s finding that 69% of Americans think suffering is mostly a result of the way society is structured gave hope to theologian Emilie M. Townes, dean of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

“Over the last 20 years or so I noticed this not so subtle change in which people say, ‘We need to look at what we do to each other more,’” said Townes. “This is more the root cause of most suffering than God punishing us in any way. This is evident in many liberation theologies. People are asking why they are causing suffering .’”


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