By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new nationwide survey of adults’ spiritual beliefs found that many American Christians don’t believe in the existence of Satan, think Jesus sinned while He lived on earth, and do not believe the Holy Spirit is a living being.
The survey, conducted among 1,800 people throughout 2008 by The Barna Group, found a variety of beliefs among Christians, many of them contradictory or at least inconsistent.
For instance, four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” However, when asked if a person could be under the influence of demons, two out of three Christians (39%) said yes.
American Christians are also conflicted about the existence of the Holy Spirit. The majority (58%) agreed that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” But almost the same number (55%) said they believe the Bible is accurate in all its teachings even though the Bible clearly describes the Holy Spirit as more than a symbolic reference to God’s power or presence.
Evidence of the effect Hollywood may be having on people’s perception of the faith is most clearly seen in the way people responded to a question about belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. More than one-fifth (22%) strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17 percent agreeing somewhat. Holding the opposing view were 9 percent who disagreed somewhat and 46 percent who disagreed strongly.
George Barna, founder of The Barna Group and author of nearly four dozen books analyzing research concerning America’s faith, suggests that Americans are constantly trying to figure out how to make sense of biblical teachings in light of their daily experiences.
“Most Americans, even those who say they are Christian, have doubts about the intrusion of the supernatural into the natural world. Hollywood has made evil accessible and tame, making Satan and demons less worrisome than the Bible suggests they really are. It’s hard for achievement-driven, self-reliant, independent people to believe that their lives can be impacted by unseen forces.
“At the same time, through sheer force of repetition, many Americans intellectually accept some ideas – such as the fact that you either side with God or Satan, there’s no in-between – that do not get translated into practice.”
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