I favor separating my discussions regarding the existence of god or gods from those about religion or religious denominations and sects. This is partly why.
I would have thought that, are you an atheist? and do you believe in god? were two versions of the same question. Apparently not.
In America, when someone asks if I believe in god, what do they mean? When I answer, what am I claiming? Are the inquisitors asking the same question I think I’m answering?
According to PEW Research, it is not always as simple as yes you do, or no you don’t. As we know, and as PEW suggests, within specific religions or religious denominations, members may not agree even though they admit to a belief in the same god and claim to practice the same religious denomination.
PEW did two surveys, one here and one in Europe. In the American survey, (view article here) wherein they worked out some clarity, the researchers claim that while 80% said they do believe in god, one third of that “yes” group does not believe in the god of the Bible.
Only two-thirds of that “believing” group believe in the god of Abraham. That’s 56% when you apply the sample to the total, or slightly more than half of the USA population. That does not mean, however, that the other 44% does not believe in god.
While 19% of the respondents said they do not believe in “god,” almost half of those who said no (9%) correspond with about a third of the people who said that they do believe in god. In other words, overall, one third of Americans, whether they profess a belief in god or not, think there is a higher power or spiritual force of some kind, according to PEW. I find that interesting.
PEW thus claims that according to their survey only 10% of Americans believe there is no higher power, spiritual force, deity, or god. We can split hairs regarding definitions of belief, disbelief, doubting, skepticism, and all of that. What PEW is suggesting is that while many of us claim not to believe in god, about half of those do believe that there is “something.”
It’s different in Europe. There, this number of nonbelievers is multiplied by 2.5 (about 25%) since a much greater number claim no belief in the higher power/spiritual force.
I think these surveys are interesting and have some merit. They are more in the food for thought category than good answers because people lie all the time. The whole social survey construct must be viewed with some degree of skepticism. Culture and human nature play into the answers. In the United States we are more likely to say we do believe in god when we don’t. In Europe, the reverse is likely.
A Jew, Christian, or Muslim might see someone who dismisses the god of Abraham but suspects a higher power or spiritual force exists as Pagan or even atheist. On the other hand, an avowed atheist may see the same person as a believer, just not in the Biblical sense.
I know people who claim to be Wiccan or Pagan. I have had discussions with some who use the terms Universe or Nature in the sense of a higher power or spiritual force. That makes sense because when we say god, most believers assume we mean what they believe, the god of the Bible, for example.
So, if someone asks me if I believe in god, my answer is “no.”
But maybe it should be more like this…
Please explain your question.
What do you mean by god?
What do you mean by believe?
Why do you ask?
While my accurate and honest answer is, I do not believe in any god, higher power, or spiritual force, perhaps it’s not a question for which I have such a simple answer. If the water is muddy or cloudy for the likes of PEW Research, it is a communication quandary for me. It’s as complicated as we are, but that is why it’s so damn interesting.