In its Religious Landscape Survey, Pew asked Americans the following: “Do you believe in God or a Universal Spirit?” Then, for those who answered affirmatively, they asked this follow-up question:
“Which comes closest to your view of God? ‘God is a person with whom people can have a personal relationship’ or ‘God is an impersonal force’.”
I found the results here surprising. The 92% who replied yes to the first question broke down this way: 60% personal God, 25% impersonal force, 7% other/both. Here’s some of the breakdown by affiliation: 19% of Protestants believe in God as an impersonal force (13% of evangelicals); 29% of Catholics agree, as do 50% of Jews. It would appear many folks are not fully on board with their official theology. 35% of the nones believe in a God who is an impersonal force (representing half of those who reported a belief in God or a universal spirit).
As a check, I looked at data from the ARIS report, which is somewhat less dramatic. Here they asked a different question – no “impersonal force” option, per se. 70% affirmed a belief in a personal God, while 12% selected the option “there is a higher power but no personal God.” This question elicited a bit more in categories called “I’m not sure” and “don’t know/refuse” compared to similar options in the Pew survey (6% each).
Still, as someone who is broadly in the impersonal force/higher power camp, I was interested to learn I might have so much company.