Poll asks: Was Japanese disaster a sign from God?

According to a new poll, 56 percent of Americans completely or mostly agree with the idea that God is in control of everything that happens in the world.

But only 38 percent completely or mostly agree that natural disasters are a sign from God.

I guess the 18 percent in between might say that God is in control of natural disasters — but doesn’t intend them as a sign.

Maybe? I don’t know.

The new poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service, of course addresses the meaning, or lack thereof, of the tragic earthquake/tsunami in Japan and our other recent disasters.

Overall, 70 percent said they believe God is “a person with whom people can have a relationship,” a very Christian way of looking at the world.

Only 8 percent said they did not believe in God.

A few interesting findings (to me):

Only 18 percent said the suffering of innocent people sometimes causes them to have doubts about God. 48% completely disagreed with the idea.

40 percent agreed with the idea that natural disasters are “God’s way of testing our faith.”

On the question of whether recent natural disasters are evidence that we are in “end times,” 21% completely agreed and 23% mostly agreed. 20% mostly disagreed and 32% completely disagreed.

83% agreed that the U.S. should provide “significant financial assistance” to Japan and other countries that suffer.

My friend and former colleague Nicole Neroulias wrote up the results for Religion News Service and was kind enough to interview me because of my book on the subject.

I hope I didn’t summarize things too…tightly. It’s hard to talk in sound-bites. How many times have I heard that from people I have interviewed?

(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’?

Christmas Day has passed, but we aren’t even half way through the 12 Days of Christmas.

So I don’t feel that I am too far behind the curve in getting to an interesting study on how Americans celebrate Christmas.

A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas (89% celebrate only Christmas).

83% of Americans say they usually watch a Christmas movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

66% say they usually attend a church service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

According to a release: “Roughly equal numbers say they read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (43%), the famous Santa Clause poem, as read the biblical story about the birth of Jesus (40%) as part of their traditional Christmas celebrations.”

On the contentious question of whether people should be wished Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, respondents were nearly divided.

49% prefer Merry Christmas. 44% like Happy Holidays.

The Institute breaks down the “greeting” findings further:

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A majority of white evangelical Protestants (69%) and white mainline Protestants (57%) support stores using “merry Christmas.” A majority of Catholics (55%), however, support stores using more generic greetings like “happy holidays.”

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans also support saying “merry Christmas” as opposed to more generic greetings. In contrast, nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Democrats say stores and businesses should be using “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” out of respect for people of different faiths.

A majority of Americans living in the Midwest (56%) and the South (54%), and a plurality (49%) of those living in the West say stores and businesses should greet customers with “Merry Christmas,” while nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans living in the Northeast say businesses should use more generic greetings.