A recent Pew survey shows that 80 percent of “Millennials”-about the same percentage as with older respondents-say they believe in miracles . There’s also a consistency of belief in concepts like demons, angels, and prayers. Yet increasingly few people ages 18-29 claim an affiliation with an major organized religion. If “belief” in church, synagogue, or mosque is going down (the percentage of “unaffiliated” youth was smaller in surveys done in 1970 and 1980), why would belief in miracles and the more supernatural elements of religion stay the same?
Researcher Greg Smith, in the great tradition of collectors of data, takes no position-but he does point out that ” very consistently, we find more people saying they believe in heaven than say they believe in the existence of hell .” And it’s worth noting that the survey tied together the question of angels and demons. (Do you completely agree/mostly agree/disagree, etc, that “angels and demons are active in the world”?) In her book The Wishing Year , Noelle Oxenhandler raises the question of whether some religious beliefs are meant to be literal articles of faith or whether it’s possible that the idea is simply to live as though a particular belief was true with the faith that the belief itself will lead to a better life. The question may not really be whether most Americans truly, rigorously believe in angels and heaven, but rather whether most Americans, of any age, want to believe. Who wants to check off a box on a form denying the possibility of miracles?