NASHVILLE — As Americans attempt to move past the life-altering effects of 2020, their perspective is shifting on some of the most significant questions facing humanity.
A study from Nashville-based Lifeway Research finds, compared to a decade ago, U.S. adults today are more likely to regularly wonder about meaning and purpose in this life but less likely to strongly believe finding a higher meaning and purpose is important.
Americans are also more likely to contemplate whether they will go to heaven when they die but less likely to strongly believe there is more to life than this physical world.
“In the midst of such a discouraging season, fewer Americans are convinced there is something more to this life than their daily activities,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “A large majority still lean toward there being an ultimate purpose for a person’s life, but instead of escaping the pandemic with thoughts of something greater, far fewer strongly hold such a view. A growing number of Americans have become open to the idea that this might be as good as it gets.”
Fifty-seven% of respondents said say they wonder, “How can I find more meaning and purpose in my life?” at least monthly, with 21% saying they consider the question daily or weekly. Six% said they think about it yearly, while 23% said they never wonder about finding more meaning and purpose. Another 15% weren’t sure.
Compared to a 2011 Lifeway Research study, Americans today are more likely to regularly think about how they can find more meaning and purpose. A decade ago, 51% said they wonder about finding meaning and purpose at least monthly, with 18% saying they think about it daily and 19% saying weekly. Thirteen% said they thought about that question yearly, and 28% said they never considered it.
Eighty-one% said they believe there is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life, while 68% say a major priority in their life is finding a deeper purpose. These percentages are similar to 2011. Those who strongly agree with each statement dropped, while those who somewhat agree rose.
Fifty-nine% said they found a higher purpose and meaning for their life, with 28% disagreeing. Religiously unaffiliated Americans are the most likely to disagree (37%). The survey indicated Americans who belong to a religion other than Christianity are the most likely to agree (80%).
It indicated that among Christians, the more often they attend church, the more likely they are to say they found a higher purpose and meaning for their life. Half of those who attend church less than once a month said they’ve found such meaning for their life, compared to 69% of those who attend one to three times a month and 76% of those who attend four times a month or more.
Forty-five% said they wonder, “If I were to die today, do I know for sure that I would go to heaven?” Thirty-seven% said they never think about that question, and 18% weren’t sure. Compared to 2011, more respondents said they wonder if they’ll go to heaven daily (15% to 8%) and fewer said they never think about it (37% to 46%).
Christians who attend worship services four times a month or more (46%) are as likely to say they never wonder about their eternal destination as the religiously unaffiliated (47%), but perhaps for different reasons.
“The question of going to heaven doesn’t cross the minds of people who don’t believe in heaven and those who are completely certain they will go to heaven,” McConnell said. “While the Bible teaches one can be certain a place is prepared for you in heaven, nearly half of Americans pause each year wondering if heaven is waiting for them.”
Even if most Americans aren’t regularly contemplating admittance to heaven, the vast majority believe there is more to life than just what they can see.
Eighty-five% of respondents said they believe there is more to life than the physical world and society, while 9% disagreed and 6% weren’t sure. In the latest study, respondents 18 to 34 and those 35 to 49 (87%) were more likely to say there is more to life than the physical world than those 65 and older (79%). The religiously unaffiliated were the most likely to disagree (20%).
The online survey of 1,200 Americans was conducted Sept. 9-23, 2020, using a national pre-recruited panel. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, education and religion to more accurately reflect the population.
This article is reprinted with permission from Baptist Press, official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. Go to https://www.baptistpress.com/ for more information.