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Are Angels Out There? America Says Yes

March 19, 2009 11:20 AM
by Shannon Firth
A study of America’s religious beliefs and moral values yields surprising findings about belief in angels.

Many Say a Guardian Angel Has Protected Them

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A survey of 1,700 Americans by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion found that 55 percent believed they had been “protected from harm by a guardian angel,” Time magazine reported. Curiously, this included one in five respondents who categorized themselves as not belonging to any religion.

Christopher Bader, director of the Baylor study, explained the study’s significance to Time: “If you ask whether people believe in guardian angels, a lot of people will say, ‘sure.’ But this is different. It’s experiential. It means that lots of Americans are having these lived supernatural experiences.”

Kenneth Pargament, a psychology professor at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University told USA Today that some people’s image of a guardian angel may be different from the popular perception: “they may not be envisioning an angel with wings so much as a loved one who has gone before them and is looking after their well-being.”

The paper notes that, according to the Baylor study, although both religious and nonreligious respondents shared a belief in angels, black Protestants and Evangelical Protestants demonstrated the highest belief rating, at 81 percent and 66 percent respectively. In contrast, only 55 percent of Catholics and 10 percent of Jews believe in angels.

According to Time, the percentage of angel believers whose annual income exceeds $150,000 was 37 percent.

The survey follows a similar 2006 survey also conducted by Baylor. The more recent survey was taken in fall 2007 via telephone and mail in conjunction with the Gallup organization. Results were published in the book, “What Americans Really Believe.”

Historical Context: Angels in religion and pop culture

In 1993 Time noted an obsession with angels that was “more popular than theological.” At that time, 5 in 10 religious books on The New York Times’ best-seller list were angel-centered, Hillary Clinton sported an angel pin, and the most popular Broadway show was Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.”

Time wrote, “There are angels in Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism; winged figures appear in ancient Sumerian carvings, Egyptian tombs and Assyrian reliefs … Muslims believe that angels are present in mosques to record the prayers of the faithful and to testify for or against people on the Day of Judgment.”

The article asked, “Just what is their nature? Why do they appear to some people and not to others? Do people turn into angels when they die? What role do they play in heaven and on earth?”

Opinion & Analysis: Believing in angels

In 2004, The Washington Post asked its readers, “Do you believe in guardian angels?” and published many of the responses. Reader Kiera Gadson Robinson wrote of her daughter who, at age 11, said she had talked to her grandfather, who had died when the girl was a newborn. She said they talked when she couldn’t sleep at night and that “she would later feel a slight weight on the end of her bed and once she felt the weight, it made her feel better and helped her fall asleep.”

Others, though, are more skeptical. Last year, Tobsha Learner, wrote in The Times of London, “lately the more prosaic New Age version of angel worship has really got my goat. As much as my inner agnostic wants to believe in a celestial hemisphere in which these feathered guardians pluck feathers, then propel them (like errant paper planes) through the dimensions to arrive at one’s feet, say, in the middle of Kilburn High Road’s branch of Marks & Spencer, the inner Newtonian wins out.”

She added that “Schott’s Almanac of Belief” estimates that “26 per cent of men believe in guardian angels, while 50 per cent of women are believers, with 6 per cent of the female gender undecided.”

Reference: Surveys of America’s religious, moral and political beliefs

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