In God we trust

More than 90 percent of Americans believe in God or a universal power, and more than half pray at least once a day, according to results of a poll released Monday that takes an in-depth look at Americans' religious beliefs.

The poll, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, also found that nearly three-fourths of Americans believe in heaven as a place where people who have led good lives will be eternally rewarded. And almost 60 percent believe in hell, where people who have led bad lives and die without repenting are eternally punished, the poll found.

Majorities also believe that angels and demons are at work in the world and that miracles occur today as they did in ancient times.

Among the more startling numbers in the survey, conducted last year: 57 percent of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.

In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.

This is the organization's second report that is based on one of the largest polls of Americans' religious beliefs ever conducted, with more than 36,000 adults interviewed.

The first report released in February took a broad look at the American religious landscape, while this report dives deeply into the faith and politics of religious, and nonreligious, Americans.

On the political side, for example, it found, among Jews who pray daily, 36 percent are politically conservative – more than twice as many as those who pray less often. Among evangelical Christians, 56 percent who pray daily are politically conservative, compared to 40 percent of all other evangelical Christians.

On the whole, though, that difference holds true more for Christian faiths than non-Christian faiths, the poll found. “Members of non-Christian faiths,” the report says, “tend to be much more moderate or liberal.”

Two-thirds of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 22 percent of Mormons. Also, 77 percent of people who attend historically black churches are Democrats or lean Democratic, while only one-third of those who attend evangelical churches are Democrats or lean Democratic.

It also found some agreement among the most faithful and the least faithful. While it confirms that those who attend church and pray frequently are most likely to oppose legalized abortion and believe that homosexuality should be discouraged, it finds less of a divide on other issues.

More than 60 percent of Americans across the religious and secular spectrum want the government to do more to help the needy and support stronger environmental laws, for example. And majorities in most religions believe the United States should concentrate more on problems at home and pay less attention to problems overseas, according to the report.

On these issues, “we can see a kind of consensus that exists across a great variety of religious groups,” said Smith.

The study confirmed what is already known about the United States – that it is a deeply religious nation. But it fleshes out that stereotype with myriad details that add depth and complexity, and some surprises, to the picture.

For example, along with 21 percent of the people who describe themselves as atheists but express a belief in God or a universal spirit, more than half of those who say they are agnostic express a similar conviction.

But most Americans – even many of the most religiously conservative – have a non-exclusive attitude toward other faiths.

Seventy percent of those affiliated with a religion believe that many religions, not just their own, can lead to eternal salvation. Just about one-quarter believe there is only one true way to interpret their own religion's teachings.

“Even though Americans tend to take religion quite seriously and are a highly religious people, there is a certain degree of openness and a lack dogmatism in their approach to faith and the teachings of their faith,” said Smith.