Survey: Few Americans blame God for COVID-19 pandemic, other tragedies

A new survey from the Pew Research Center revealed that many Americans held fast to their faith during the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t blame God for the virus that caused millions of illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths while plunging the world’s economy into a freefall. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, since March 2020, more than 259 million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 5 million people have died around the globe. More than 7.5 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. 

Aside from the pandemic, the world has witnessed other tragedies and devastating natural disasters including floods, hurricanes and wildfires. 

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Pew researchers said they found that many Americans believe the tragedies and human suffering were happenstances — also attributable to people’s actions and the way society is structured. Researchers also found that fewer Americans blamed God or questioned God’s existence because of tragedies.

Surveyors provided participants of many religions — including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons — with open-ended and multiple-choice questions regarding their views on why terrible things happen. 

Upon reading "Sometimes bad things just happen," 44% of the survey respondents said the phrase described their views very well and 42% said it described their views somewhat well. Sixty-one percent of Americans think that suffering exists "to provide an opportunity for people to come out stronger." In a separate questionnaire, 68% said that "everything in life happens for a reason."

Seventy-one percent of Americans said the phrase "Suffering is mostly a consequence of people’s own actions" described their views somewhat well, and 69% of Americans said they support the statement, "Suffering is mostly a result of the way society is structured."

A large majority of U.S. adults (80%) believed that most of the suffering in the world comes from people rather than from God, according to researchers. At the same time, half of all U.S. adults, or 56% of religious believers, believed that God chooses "not to stop the suffering in the world because it is part of a larger plan."

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Forty-four percent of all U.S. adults said the notion that "Satan is responsible for most of the suffering in the world" reflects their views either "very well" or "somewhat well.

Meanwhile, 14% of U.S. adults overall affirmed that "sometimes I think the suffering in the world is an indication that there is no God.

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Researchers also asked participants about their thoughts on an afterlife. They found that many Americans believe in an afterlife where suffering either ends entirely or continues in perpetuity.

Nearly three-quarters of all U.S. adults (73%) say they believe in heaven, while a smaller share – but still a majority (62%) – believe in hell. Meanwhile, roughly a quarter of U.S. adults say they believe in neither heaven nor hell, including 7% who believe in some other kind of afterlife and 17% who do not believe in any afterlife at all.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.