Friday, May 20, 2011

How common is belief in the Second Coming?

The idea that the Rapture will occur tomorrow is, of course, extremely silly.  And since I'm in the mood to speak seriously, it's not worth speaking of at all.

Or is it?  If lots of people believe it, that in itself is serious.

I tried searching for statistics, and most numbers I found lacked citations.  For example, this article claimed its numbers came from Pew Research Center, but failed to actually cite the survey.  I couldn't find any such survey fitting the description.  Also, the "return of Jesus Christ" is not equivalent to the Rapture.  FAIL

But I eventually found a relevant study from 2006 produced by Pew Research Center (see page 19-22).

 Graphic comes from Pew.  The survey included 2,003 US adults, but the above graphic only shows statistics for the 1,670 respondents who identified as Christians. [Edit: clarified]

Unfortunately, the survey did not ask about belief in the Rapture, much less Rapture specifically on May 21st.  You can't always get what you want.  I'm not sure, but I think the best proxy is the belief that the world situation will worsen before the second coming.  Pew identifies this belief with "pre-millenialism", which is one of the varieties of Rapture beliefs.

Are these numbers higher or lower than you expected?


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

So I've completely forgotten how to do stuff with percentages, which is worrying, but I think that 4%ish of the total population are Christians who don't believe that Christ will physically come down to Earth (assuming all non-Christians didn't believe in the return of Christ). I really thought they'd be a larger proportion of Christians than that.

miller said...

The 4% figure is D.K./Ref., which means they don't know or refuse to answer. The number who don't believe Christ will come down to Earth is 17%.

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

Yeah, but I was taking into account the amount of non-christians in the survey, who amount to a vast proportion of the 17%

miller said...

No, the graphic only shows the subset of US adults who identify as Christians. I should make this clearer.

drransom said...

I find it a bit surprising that 33% of Christians believe the time of Christ's return is revealed in Biblical prophecies, since mainstream Christian theology, as I understand it, holds that humans cannot know the time of Christ's return. (The basis for this is Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32.) Otherwise I'm not all that surprised.

I'm quite surious about the 23% of Christians who think peoples and nations can affect when Christ returns. What do they believe hastens it? Are they trying to do that?

drransom said...

Quite curious, I mean.

Alex said...

What i find alarming is the amount of people who are christians: around 83% of the population of the USA, assuming the 2,003-people sample they took is representative of that country's population.

That sounded awful. I'll explain myself.

I'm a rather outspoken (and "loudspoken", for that matter) criticiser of such events as the inquisition, the objective of which was to hunt down and murder everyone who was not a christian. I am a strong believer in freedom of thought, and as such i will, to more or less quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall (, "defend (...) your right to" believe in whatever you believe in even if i don't agree with your beliefs. As an immediate corollary to this, i believe that nobody in the world has the right to force their beliefs on anyone.

What is the meaning of all this? That people (read: the pope, priests, etc) do not have the right to force those who believe in a god to believe in their version of the god. If someone wants to believe in a god, let them, but do not force them to embrace the absurd and contradictory dogmas written on a book called "The bible" and the horribly rigorous lifestyle suggested by those who allegedly follow said book. As the most atheist person i know of, i don't only hold other atheists in high regard, but also any person who believes in a version of "God" that isn't one of the many "mainstream" versions illustrated in such books as the Bible, the Coran, etc.

It is not, then, the amount of believers that bewilders me, but rather the amount of christians ('bewilder' is, on second thought, too strong a word; my cynicism, pessimism and misanthropy have turned me into someone who is no longer truly surprised by anything evil, stupid or both which a human or group of humans may do). Most people need to believe in something so as not to feel like they are all alone in an empty, indifferent universe, and i have no problem with that. But if each of these people believed in their own version of a god everything would be much different (read: much better). Instead, most of them submit to an organised system of beliefs created by someone and "polished" over the years in order to control as many people as possible, and this is unacceptable. The vast majority of cases can probably be reduced to "i believe in what my parents believe(d) in because i grew up in a household which followed those beliefs and therefore i never learned to think for myself", which is extremely sad.

To wrap it up, then, it is rather depressing that in this day and age --when we are supposed to be so enlightened that science and truth are held in the highest regard (ha, i wish!), so advanced that we have walked on the moon and explored (with remotely controlled unmanned spacecraft, but still) the confines of our star system, so intelligent that we have created a worldwide system of open and free communication for everyone with a computer to enjoy-- 83% of the inhabitants of one of the world's most influential nations still are christians as opposed to free-thinkers. I imagine that all or most nations have more or less similar statistics in this regard, with perhaps a higher percentage of christians in hispanic countries and a higher percentage of atheists in places such as northern Europe or something; in general, i'm sure way more than 50% of the world's population has an imposed belief system rather than one they chose and built themselves. And that is what i find alarming.