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56% Say that God Controls Everything that Happens (PRRI/RNS 2011)

Americans Believe God Controls Everything

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Americans tend to believe that everything is under God's control and thus everything that happens must happen according to God's wishes. According to a 2011 PRRI poll, 35% of Americans completely agreed that God controls everything and 21% mostly agreed. That leaves only 34% who disagreed at all. The belief that God controls everything that happens carries significant consequences for other beliefs about the world and politics.

The Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service conducted a survey on Americans' views about God in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. When asked how much they agree or disagree with the statement "God is in control of everything that happens in the world," people responded:

  • Completely Agree: 35%
  • Mostly Agree: 21%
  • Mostly Disagree: 17%
  • Completely Disagree: 17%
  • Don't Know / Refused: 2%
  • The belief that God is in control over everything follows naturally and logically from some basic Christian doctrines, biblical verses, and popular attributes ascribed to God. It would be difficult for most Christians to believe that God created everything, that God has a plan for everything, and that God is omnipotent without also concluding that on some level God is ultimately in control of everything.

    At the same time, though, believing that God controls everything carries with it serious implications that few Christians are willing to accept. It means, for example, that God is also responsible for everything — and that includes everything bad, like natural disasters. You can't be in control without also being responsible and you can't be responsible for everything without also being responsible for everything bad.

    The logic is airtight, but it has little impact on the large numbers of Christians who simply deny that God has any responsibility for anything bad, even if they say in the next breath that God is in control and has a plan. Christians cannot abandon the idea that God is in control, but they also cannot abandon the idea that God is perfectly good. So they just adopt mutually contradictory beliefs about God and pretend that the problems don't exist.

    This survey was by the Public Religion Research Institute was done with phone interviews of 1,008 adults between March 17 and March 20, 2011. The margin of error is +/- 3%.

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