People's Faith Flavor Influences How They See Themselves

August 26, 2002 – A new study of how American adults view themselves finds those associated with the Christian faith are more likely than others to claim traditional values and to be concerned about the nation's moral condition; atheists, agnostics and people associated with non-Christian faiths are most likely to be politically liberal and least likely to say they are happy; and evangelicals are the most conservative, most satisfied, most spiritually inclined and least stressed out of all U.S. adults.

These are some of the key findings from a new report from the Barna Research Group, of Ventura, California, based on interviews with more than 3000 randomly sampled adults throughout the country.

In the research, Barna divided adults into five distinct faith segments - or "faith flavors" - to explore the relationship between faith views and self-descriptions. The five segments - evangelical Christians (just less than 7% of the respondents), non-evangelical born again Christians (35% of all adults), notional Christians (38%), adults affiliated with a non-Christian faith (13%), and atheists and agnostics (8%) - each emerged with a different personal profile.
 
Evangelicals

Although there are fewer evangelicals than there are either atheists and agnostics or adults aligned with non-Christian faiths, these individuals have become a political lightning rod and are routinely caricatured unkindly by the media. Despite such public vilification, most evangelicals have a healthy self-image. Evangelicals are almost universally "happy" (99%) and were by far the segment that was most satisfied with their present life (91%). This upbeat frame of mind may be related to the fact that evangelicals are the least likely to say they are "lonely" (8%), "in serious debt" (9%) or "stressed out" (16%). The percentage who admit to high levels of stress is less than half the level measured among adults connected with non-Christian faiths (33%) or those who say they are atheistic or agnostic (42%).

At the same time, evangelicals were also nearly unanimous in being "concerned about the moral condition of the country" (98%). This is certainly connected to the fact that nearly nine out of ten (87%) say they are "deeply spiritual" and more than nine out of ten (94%) describe themselves as "absolutely committed to Christianity." In fact, nearly all of them (96%) say they possess "traditional or family-oriented values" and two-thirds of the group (64%) says they are "mostly conservative on political and social issues."

In spite of their moral concerns, they were the group least worried about the future (54%) and least likely to say they are "totally committed to getting ahead in life" (52%).
 
Non-Evangelical Born Again Christians

Adults who have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior and believe they will experience eternal life because they have sought and received His forgiveness, but who do not share other central theological beliefs of evangelicals, comprise just over one-third of the adult population. This group is more likely than all except the evangelicals to claim to be "deeply spiritual" (73%), concerned about the moral condition of the U.S. (94%), to say they are "absolutely committed to Christianity" (63%) and to be "mostly conservative on political and social issues" (34%).

However, this group is indistinguishable from non-Christians and nominal Christians in terms of stress, debt, or addictions. This segment is the most likely of all to admit to being "totally committed to getting ahead in life" (74%), yet is more satisfied with their life than only one of the other four segments. Eight out of ten (79%) say they are satisfied with their current life, topping only the 68% recorded among atheists and agnostics.

Notional Christians

The largest of the three "Christian" segments (almost four out of every ten adults), notional Christians are those who consider themselves to be Christian but either do not have a "personal commitment to Jesus Christ" or do not believe that they will experience eternal favor with God based solely on His grace and mercy. The faith leanings of this group appeared to make little difference in relation to stress, debt, addictions, happiness, life satisfaction or socio-political ideology.

Notional Christians were among the most concerned about the future (67%) and about the moral state of the nation (86%). These concerns are probably tied to the finding that nine out of ten say they maintain traditional or family-oriented values. They were also the segment most likely to admit to being lonely (tied with atheists and agnostics).

Non-Christian Faith Groups

Americans who associate with faith groups that are not Christian represent about one out of every eight adults. Less than six out of ten (57%) say they are "deeply spiritual" (compared to about two-thirds of those aligned to some degree with Christianity). This group is slightly less likely than the three Christian segments to claim to be happy (87%) or satisfied with their life (75%). They are among the least likely to be concerned about the future (56%) or the moral condition of the U.S. (68%).

Those whose faith flavor of choice is Judaism, Islam or some other non-Christian faith are equally likely to claim to be politically conservative (16%) as to claim being liberal (15%). Just less than eight out of ten say they have traditional or family-oriented values (79%).

Atheists and Agnostics

Although they are slightly less than 8% of the American adult population, atheists and agnostics possess self-perceptions that clearly stand out from those of citizens who maintain some definable faith preference. The non-faith segment placed highest among the five niches in claiming to be stressed out (42%), concerned about the future (68%) and lonely (14%). They were the least likely to be satisfied with their life (68%) and to be concerned about America's moral state (60%).

Consistent with the public's image of atheists and agnostics, they were the segment most likely to describe themselves as being politically liberal (32%) and were the group least likely to describe themselves as being conservative (4%) or as having traditional or family-oriented values (71%).

Faith Affects People's Self-Image

According to the director of the research project, the findings suggest that one's faith flavor and self-image have some correlations. "The more deeply committed a person is to evangelical Christianity, the more at ease they report being with their life circumstances," explained George Barna, Directing Leader of the Barna Research Group. "On the other hand, individuals who are indifferent or hostile to all faith systems are notably less relaxed and fulfilled with life. There are various gradations between these two poles, of course, but it does appear that people's faith flavor - that is, their faith of choice and their degree of commitment to that faith - has a substantial affect on how they view themselves. And the data suggest that the more deeply committed to Christianity a person is, the more likely they are to experience greater self-confidence, peace, and fulfillment."

Research Methodology

The data described are from three nationwide telephone surveys conducted in 2002. The first entailed 1006 interviews among adults (18 or older) during January; the second included 1007 interviews during May; and the third survey was conducted in July among 1012 adults. All respondents were selected using a random-digit dial sample (RDD). The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. (The sampling error for subgroups may be higher because the sample size of those segments is smaller. As in all survey research, non-measurable inaccuracies besides sampling error may be present in the data.) All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

"Born again Christians" were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "born again."

"Evangelicals" are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches; their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical has no relationship to church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church they attend. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984 it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. This research was funded solely by Barna Research as part of its regular tracking of the social, religious and political state of the nation and its churches.

If you would like to receive a bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna Research web site (www.barna.org) by providing your e-mail address in the section of the home page that offers The Barna Update.
 

 

How Americans Describe Themselves, According to Their "Faith Flavor"

 
evangelicals
non-evan., born again
notional Christians
non-Christian faith
atheist/agnostic
stressed out
16%
29%
32%
33%
42%
deeply spiritual
87
73
51
57
19
completely/mostly satisfied with your life today
91
79
79
75
68
totally committed to getting ahead in life
52
74
70
62
58
concerned about the moral condition of this country
98
94
86
68
60
have traditional or family-oriented values
96
94
90
79
71
absolutely committed to the Christian faith
94
63
32
N/A
N/A
mostly conservative on social and political issues
64
34
25
16
4
(average subgroup size)
69
355
380
128
77

How Americans Describe Themselves, According to Their "Faith Flavor"
 
evangelicals
non-evan., born again
notional Christians
non-Christian faith
atheist/agnostic
stressed out
16%
29%
32%
33%
42%
deeply spiritual
87
73
51
57
19
completely/mostly satisfied with your life today
91
79
79
75
68
totally committed to getting ahead in life
52
74
70
62
58
concerned about the moral condition of this country
98
94
86
68
60
have traditional or family-oriented values
96
94
90
79
71
absolutely committed to the Christian faith
94
63
32
N/A
N/A
mostly conservative on social and political issues
64
34
25
16
4
(average subgroup size)
69
355
380
128
77
 

The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.

© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.


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