Survey Finds Few Americans Attribute Suffering to God

A survey published by the Pew Research Center (PRC) on November 23 showed that most US adults don’t blame God for bad things happening, but rather people and society are to blame.

Conducted between September 20 to 26, the survey polled 6,485 U.S. adults online through the American Trends Panel (ATP). The ATP consists of more than 10 thousand adults located in the U.S. and is selected randomly to create a nationally representative sample.

The survey’s significance is apparent amidst the ongoing pandemic that has killed more than 700 thousand in the U.S. and more than 5.2 million globally. The survey’s goal is aimed at understanding the current perception of suffering.

The survey used a prepared list of possible explanations and open-ended questions. The open-ended questions asked participants to provide their own words when explaining how they see suffering. The survey asked the respondents, “in your own words, why do you think terrible things happen to people through no apparent fault of their own?” The responses were varied and included responses that were simple and short; others were complex paragraphs. The reactions were sorted and yielded seven distinct categories.

Among the respondents, 35% see terrible things as random events; most of them wrote the phrase “life happens,” while others wrote similar ideas but in different verbiage. The next category is at 13%, with respondents seeing suffering as part of God’s will or that God enabled these terrible things.

The remaining categories were all below ten percent, with respondents blaming sinfulness and free will, both at eight percent. Seven percent see suffering as part of destiny or a person’s fate or karma. Six percent blame the social structure for the terrible things happening, while four percent see suffering as a means for growth.

For the prepared statements, the study allowed participants to choose more than one response.

The survey asked the respondents to choose who they blame for the suffering in the world from given choices. Asked if “suffering is mostly a consequence of people’s own actions,” 71% believe that this is the case. While 69% believe that “suffering is mostly a result of the way society is structured.”

Both the top choices from the prepared questions were chosen by more than half of the respondents. Gregory Smith, associate director of research of the RRC, said, “people tell us they think a lot of suffering is just part of life.” And that “a lot of suffering is caused by people or systems people have created,” Smith added.

The survey also looked into religious aspects when it comes to suffering. Respondents to the survey were asked if they believe in God or any kind of higher power. Among respondents who believe in God, 80% of them think that the suffering in the world comes from the action of people, not from God.

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