According to a new study from the Evangelical research organization, the Barna Group, more than half of Christians sometimes experience doubts about their religious beliefs. The study, “Doubt & Faith: Top Reasons People Question Christianity,” was based on a survey of 2,005 U.S. adults and teenagers aged 13-17.
The survey was conducted online from December 13-22, 2022, with a margin of error of +/- 2.0 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. The study also used a survey of 511 U.S. Protestant senior pastors conducted online from Dec. 13, 2021– Jan. 3, 2023. An overview of the analysis says, “Over half of teens and adults (so, the U.S. general population ages 13+) report that they’ve experienced doubts about their religious beliefs at least sometimes (12 percent frequently, 16 percent occasionally, 24 percent sometimes) in the past few years.”
It continues, “Similarly, exactly half of those who are Christian or who have some Christian background or experience (50 percent) say they have gone through a ‘prolonged’ period of doubt at some point in their life.”
The study found that 27 percent of respondents said their doubt came from “past experiences with a religious institution.” However, respondents who weren’t practicing Christians said the “hypocrisy of religious people” was their top driver of doubt. Nonpracticing Christians were more likely than practicing Christians to doubt their faith.
Eleven percent of nonpracticing Christians said they frequently experience doubts about their religious beliefs, 18 percent said occasionally, 30 percent responded with sometimes, 24 percent answered rarely, and 23 percent said never. On the other hand, for practicing Christians, eight percent said they frequently experience doubts about Christian beliefs, 12 percent said occasionally, 20 percent said sometimes, 37 percent answered rarely, and 23 percent said never.
The Barna data implies that “three out of four U.S. adults, or 74 percent, want to grow spiritually. The same proportion, 77 percent, say they believe in a higher power. The study concludes that “most in the general population, and Christians in particular, see doubt as a phase to move through, and arriving at certainty is the preferable end goal.”
When asked to name reasons why they doubt Christian beliefs, 42 percent of respondents with no faith said religious people’s hypocrisy, 31 percent said science, 30 percent said human suffering, 29 percent said one religion couldn’t have all the answers, and 24 percent said the conflict in the world.
The Barna study also found that pastors appear to be “attuned” to why people experience doubts about Christian beliefs.
“By an overwhelming majority, pastors assume that past experiences with a religious institution (83%) or the hypocrisy of religious people (80%) cause people to doubt Christian beliefs,” the overview reads. “These are indeed among the top responses among people of no faith, along with science and human suffering. Those in the pews, meanwhile, seem less aware of — or less willing to admit — potential barriers to belief.”
In 2017, Barna released a study that found that about 65% of U.S. Christians admitted to having doubts about their beliefs, with 40 percent saying they had doubt but “worked through it,” while 26 percent said that they still experience it.