Written by Sherry
Friday, 19 September 2008 07:07
"More than half of all Americans believe they have been helped by a guardian angel in the course of their lives, according to a new poll by the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion. In a poll of 1700 respondents, 55% answered affirmatively to the statement, "I was protected from harm by a guardian angel." The responses defied standard class and denominational assumptions about religious belief; the majority held up regardless of denomination, region or education — though the figure was a little lower (37%) among respondents earning more than $150,000 a year
The guardian angel encounter figures were "the big shocker" in the report, says Christopher Bader, director of the Baylor survey that covered a range of religious issues, parts of which are being released Thursday in a book titled What Americans Really Believe. In the case of angels, however, the question is a little stronger than just belief. Says Bader, "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."
Sociologists may need further research to determine how broadly the data should be interpreted. The Baylor study tested other statements that might indicate a similar belief in the supernatural intruding into everyday personal experience — "I heard the voice of God speaking to me"; and "I received a miraculous physical healing." But far fewer people claimed to have had those experiences."
"Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department at New York's Barnard College, says that the Baylor angel figures are one in a periodic series of indications that "Americans live in an enchanted world," and engage in a kind of casual mysticism independent of established religious ritual, doctrine or theology. "There is," he says, a "much broader uncharted range of religious experience among the populace than we expect." Just possibly, Baylor has begun to chart it."
So many things to say about this. The article's attempts to describe Catholic beliefs in this area were strangely off as they seemed startled that we believed in the possibility of the supernatural outside a pure sacramental context.
I would heartily agree with the last paragraph. Having done thousands of gifts interviews with ordinary Catholics and other Christians, we know that lots of people have experienced the numinous and astonishing.
This also fits well with one startling result from the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey that we point out in our Making Disciples seminars.
The number of Americans who believe miracles happen today is higher across the board in all categories than the number who believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God. (Remember this survey taps into how American regard themselves and the religious labels they may use for themselves often don't correspond with dictionary definitions.)
Self-proclaimed "athiests": 6% actually believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 21% believe miracles happen today.
"Agnostics": 14% believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 37% believe miracles happen today.
"Secular Unaffiliated": those who respond that religion is not important and don't consider themselves to be part of any formal religious community. 20% believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 48% believe miracles happen today.
"Religious unaffiliated": those who respond that religious is important or very important but don't consider themselves to be part of any formal religious tradition. 49% believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 78% believe miracles happen today.
For many Americans, the numinous and the super-natural exist independently of a personal God. Think of all the films (martial arts, anyone?) we see in which characters experience and do all sorts of "miraculous" things that are portrayed simply as little manifested human abilities; the result of long discipline, secret knowledge, and training.
But a personal God that might demand something of us? Undermine our sense of autonomy or personal power? We're not as eager to embrace that. We want miracles that we control and are the ultimate source of. Miracles without the Lord of the gifts.
So ID readers? We openly believe in guardian angels around here.(Catholics having celebrated the liturgical Feast of the Guardian Angels - October 2 - since 1615.)
Had an encounter with your guardian angel that you'd like to share?
If you share yours, I'll share mine :-}