Heaven And The GOP

The Pew Research Center is often referred to as the “gold standard” in research methodology, and their results frequently shed light into corners of society that are otherwise dim. One recent study illuminated a rarely-noted distinction between Republicans and Democrats that may (or may not) explain some behavioral differences.

According to Pew, Republicans are considerably more likely to believe in heaven–and to believe that only their religious beliefs will get folks there. As the report on the study noted, not only are there big differences between Republicans and Democrats on matters here on earth, there are similarly large differences in the specific beliefs they hold about life after death and who is entitled to it.

A majority of Americans believe in both heaven and hell, including 74% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats. But about a third (35%) of Democrats say that they do not believe in either heaven or hell, compared with just 14% of Republicans who say this.

In fact, when given the option to express belief in some sort of afterlife aside from either heaven or hell, a quarter of all Democrats say that they do not believe in any afterlife at all, which is much higher than the share of Republicans who express the same view (9%).

Of course, as the report acknowledges, much of the difference can be attributed to the religious composition of today’s parties. A large majority of Republicans are Christians, a much higher share than Democrats. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to be religiously unaffiliated –to  describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.”

 Large majorities of Christians in both parties believe in heaven, hell or both, including 95% of Republican and GOP-leaning Christians and 90% of Democratic Christians. And in addition to being more numerous in the Democratic Party, religious “nones” who are Democrats are far more inclined than religiously unaffiliated Republicans to say they believe in neither heaven nor hell (68% vs. 47%).

But even among those who believe in heaven, Democrats and Republicans also differ on who deserves to get in. In general, Republicans who believe in heaven are more likely to offer an exclusive vision of it – as a place limited to those who are Christian or at least believe in God – while Democrats tend to say they believe that heaven is open to many people regardless of their sectarian identities or beliefs about God.

Among the people in Pew’s study who claim a belief in heaven, an “overwhelming” share says that people in heaven will be free from suffering and will be reunited with loved ones who died previously. They expect to meet God and have perfectly healthy bodies. People who believe in hell say it’s a place where people experience physical and psychological suffering and become aware of the suffering they created in the world. (Given the emphasis on bodily health, you might expect these folks to be more active proponents of universal health care here on Earth, but consistency doesn’t seem to factor in…)

Ordinarily, I’d take these results with a pretty large teaspoon of salt. I think it was George Gallop who observed that Americans routinely lie to pollsters about three things: sex, drug use and religious belief and observance. As good as Pew is, I have trouble believing that they’ve found a way to ascertain the degree to which these responses are truthful.

Or the degree to which they are accurate representations of respondents’ religious identities.

I have Christian friends who feel strongly, for example, that many of the purportedly pious folks who self-identify as “Christian” are really Christian Nationalists, a rather different thing. And with respect to belief in heaven and hell,  I often think back to my mother’s “belief” in heaven and hell–according to her (somewhat idiosyncratic) theological lights, heaven and hell are what humans create and experience here on earth, during our lifetimes, which is why Jews have a duty to heed biblical and talmudic exhortations about doing mercy and pursuing justice.

Accurate or not, the Pew study is admittedly consistent with what we see around us: a Republican Party obsessed with protecting  (White) “Christian” privilege, and a Democratic Party trying to improve lives in the here-and-now.

Evidently, Republicans believe their eventual ticket to heaven depends entirely upon their success in creating a society that imposes their religious views on the rest of us–it sure doesn’t seem to require correcting hellish situations here on planet Earth.


  1. In a secular government, this shouldn’t even be studied. It falls in the category of “who cares about your religious beliefs.”

    Sadly, with most matters today, many of those who identify with the Republican brand, fail to understand the distinction between secular and non-secular matters.

    If doing a poll based on many FB posts I see, I’d say there are quite a few people who identify with the Democratic Party who also don’t know the distinction.

    The problem we have is people cannot turn it on and off. We should be teaching them in school how to turn it on and off. They shouldn’t be allowed to graduate from high school unless they grasp that fundamental idea.

    Not just voters, but the media and politicians cannot grasp the difference. For God’s sake, Mike Pence abused it all the time.

    Now our judges don’t know or don’t care about the difference which is truly scary. How can they take an oath to the constitution without knowing the difference?

  2. The brainwashing starts with children attending churches alongside their parents. It’s a form of child abuse for me. Disagree all you want but how else can a population make kids believe in fairy tales, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Religion has caused more deaths in humans than any other crime against humanity.


  3. Aging Girl,

    Thank you for summarizing the origin of the ultimate disinformation campaign: Church dogma and slavish cultishness. You are singing to the choir as far as I’m concerned.

    As mentioned many times before, “religion” has its origins in someone in a tribe exploiting fear and ignorance. Nothing more. The fear of the unknown still reigns among those same fearful, willfully ignorant people – irrespective of their secular education. The premise is simple: scare somebody enough or give them a false hope reward to be a believer, and they’ll follow you anywhere. The cult of Trump is a perfect example.

    Religion, organized or not, has no other recourse than to defy intelligence and to confirm insanity.
    Why are we the only species that has taken steps to make ourselves extinct? Won’t Heaven be ever so crowded with 8 billion new souls? Oh. Right. Those pushing the buttons will go to Hell. Never mind.

  4. IF there is a Heaven and IF it is populated with Republicans; I sure as Hell don’t want to go there.

    Republican I have known tend to be puritanical in their thinking but their preoccupation with sex as sin but participating in illicit sex in massive numbers; being assured of their place in Heaven by seeking forgiveness from their leaders. Their leaders used to be those behind the pulpit on Sunday mornings but are now their elected political officials whose faces are probably not to be found among the congregants in any so-called Christian denomination.

  5. I consider myself to be a Christian Existentialist. Regardless of what happens after this life, what matters most is what we do to make this a better world before we leave it. JoAnn, let’s get together and party when we die.

  6. On the last day of judgement it is said all our earthly belongings fall to the floor. God forbid Rev Hagee is at the front of the bus! I am just not prepared for that kind of exposure!😇

  7. Some theologians now are understanding that why many people do not believe in God, or in heaven or hell, has to do more with their own hang ups on who God is, His morality in scriptures or their psychological stance due to the circumstances in their lives, whether it be in their own personal lives, the controversies in churches they belonged to, or how they perceive the church as a whole. Its not so much a problem with the apologetics or defense of the faith, for example the mathematical probability of 900 prophecies of a Jewish messiah, his time outlined time arrival noted in the book of Daniel, the existence of DNA suggesting a requiring by chance that it takes over 17 billion years while a simple protein would take over 7 billion years and the earth itself is less than old this time.
    Karl Marx was w ho believed there wasn’t anyway in anyway Gods forgiveness through Christ could help him overcome his ills of his own sins, he was assuredly headed for hell. His thoughts were therefore theologically changed. He no longer believed man was to have an incentive to grow. Although he and Adam Smith had similar ideas of “economy”, Marx left out that man had an inner self , a heart or soul that caused him to achieve, a personal need to better his family.

    The evil that unions saw in Obama what was universal healthcare came in the form of the ACA. Making all healthcare equal, It beyond taking care of the 20 % who don’t have it, it taxed or penalized many excellent union plans to be downgraded. I know many have an ideology that doesn’t agree with this. They are like Marx, they don’t see or understand incentives of corporations to be able to have insurance plans that compete with other plans that they pay for as a benefit.
    Yes most Republicans who are Christians can be talked into having , wanting and needing the poor to have health care coverage provided by the government, but they also want the incentive to have the best health care system in thecworld

  8. Regarding the comments, so parents should be prosecuted for “child abuse” for taking their children to church? Religion is a “crime against humanity?” Wow, just wow. Yeah, nothing extreme there…

  9. Secular and Religious power have long been intertwined and through the millenniums have tried to justify their existence.

    In my Boomer Lifetime I have witnessed the Counter-Culture beginnings in the late 1950’s and it’s growth in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Counter Culture brought Civil Right’s, anti-war and anti-draft demonstrations and Women’s Lib Movement. The music of that era was radically different from what proceeded it. All of these movements were a threat to the establishment that relied first and foremost on conformity.

    I also witnessed the “Backlash” against the Counter-Culture. You were supposed obey. Do not question why you are being drafted just go off to War in Vietnam. Perhaps no institution better exemplifies – Obey without question than Religion. You have to believe no matter how illogical it is.

    For the GOP no sub-group better fits in than the Bible Thumper’s, who reject any compromise with the Secular-Liberalism. Since Raygun, the Bible Thumper’s and the Tel-Evangelists (who are in reality just Religious Oligarchs) have welded themselves together.

    I guess if you can believe in a 7 day creation, Noah’s Ark and other Supernatural B.S. you can believe in Jewish Space Lasers setting Firs in California.

  10. Since Stalin was an atheist, I am fairly certain that religion is not the sole source of war and violence. Stalin may have killed more Jewish people than Hitler. I’m not sure that historians really know. If you want more knowledge regarding this, read Karen Armstrong’s A History of Violence.

    I am certain that there is hell on earth. All I have to do is look at Syria, Yemen, the anti-vaxxers. I am also certain I get glimpses of heaven with every act of kindness I see, when the moral arc of the universe moves forward, when people forgive one another, when people of different races or faith traditions stand together to speak truth to power.

    When I read Clara Barton’s biography in elementary school, I became inspired to become a nurse. She nursed both Confederate and Union soldiers because she saw them all as “children of God”. She was a Universalist Christian.(There’s no such thing as hell after life, only heaven.) She believed in creating the kingdom of heaven on earth, that we need to address the suffering here on earth and stop worrying about whether we go to heaven or hell. And yes, Shiela, your mother was right!!! I am certain Clara Barton would agree she was right.

    I really believe (like Tolkien) that it is those who have a deep lust for power and/or wealth who create hell on earth. Some of those leaders use religion to gain power. They want all that power so that they can justify their grandiose delusion of omnipotence. Just look at Trump. And yes, he used religion to gain power.

    I don’t know about any of you, but, for me, any day I get to give a random act of kindness and/or senseless beauty is a good day for me!! After all each of us can choose to feed the white wolf or the black one. Forget about everyone and everything else. Are you going to feed the white wolf or the black one?

  11. Believing in religious fantasy predisposes folks to believe other myths, like republican big shots are interested in the welfare of the country not just more money for their owners.

  12. Christian religion is based on fear of death and provides a means of defeating such fear via belief in a some 2,100 year old revolutionary philosopher who the historian Josephus noted in a couple of lines was executed by the Romans, but due to the later conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine and the two Councils of Nicea (which determined what would and would not be in the bible) and the reach of the Roman Empire, it caught on and is still with us today. The monogod theory stolen from the Egyptians’ monogod Sun God Ra has replaced the Greek and Roman polygod theory and few if any today ask where any of such gods came from.

    Yes, religion or a pretense of religion has historically served state leadership and popes well. Thus we have had crusades (where one critic notes that the crusaders raped more Christian women en route to expelling the Saracens from the Holy Land than Saracen women after they arrived), popes who led armies (Thou shalt not kill?), and the Hundred Years War in Central Europe where Protestants and Catholics slaughted one another, etc. On the positive economic side, such belief has provided employment in building cathedrals and monasteries by medieval guilds.

    I think religion is either on the way out or (since fear of death is still with us) sujected to new interpretations along Unitarian/Universalists lines. Time will tell.

  13. The former historian for Crown Hill Cemetery gave two talks about the history of the Protestant church at a church we attended more than thirty years ago. The basement of that old downtown church had a huge dining room, multiple ovens and two institutional sized refrigerators. His major point was that the decline (attendance was already declining then) of church attendance had more to do with the dramatic increase in options for meals and entertainment, obviating the need for church suppers and other ‘fellowship’ activities at churches. Churches in the fifties and sixties served as important hubs for social activity. Now we have many more options to entertain ourselves without the bother of dealing with other people. Say what you will about heaven, hell, atheists, agnostics and believers. The problem remains that a sense of community continues to decline everywhere and we have no idea how to recreate that in a meaningful, connecting way in our brave new world of the internet and the lightening speed of change.

  14. I guess some holy rollers can’t take criticism and mockery of their religion. You people are no different than those on the other side of the planet that want what’s it called…Sharia law. Those women are not free. How is that any different than Christianity?

    Up and until women come up with a religion where we’re in charge, then I don’t want to hear about your bible thumping ideas for a culture. Men have raped and pillaged our planet and the humans on it. I think they have failed as leaders.

    Like JoAnn, if heaven includes Republicans and praising a god for eternity, I’d rather go to hell.

  15. …heaven for climate, and hell for society.
    – Mark Twain’s Speeches, 1910 edition, p. 117.

  16. I’m just teaching the five-year-old about myths, and how they confuse people and cause war. I specifically include religion, especially patriarchal mono-god ones.

  17. Fascinating conversation to a very interesting blog. I am glad I found my way to All Souls Unitarian Church in January 2017. It certainly kept me sane during those dark times. UU theology has a lot to offer humanity. I am not willing to give up on my search for the beloved community. I am not ready to dismiss the study of ancient religious texts or mystical myths if for no other reason than they give me insight into who we are as a people yesterday and today. And sacred text and myths do reveal to us the most basic truths of what it means to be human. No, I don’t want a spiritual existence on this holy earth to become obsolete — or worse, destroyed. Destroyed not only by the greedy religious charlatans that prey upon the innocent worldwide, but also destroyed by cynics and pessimists. We need ways to learn about, talk about and to share the holy. I pray we can aspire to preserve the true religious traditions and insights. We need them.

  18. Vernon, I am with you, fully. The brain-washing starts so early, as in bringing one’s toddler to a church, and having him kiss each and every
    iconic drape, as witnessed in a Santa Fe church, some years ago.
    Given that people have images of a heaven, with, or without, 12 levels of angels, and so on, and that at least some Christians see it as a place where
    they will meet their God, I wonder how they, especially the Christian Nationalists, might feel when they encounter Blacks, and other non-caucsian
    Christians in GOD’S HOUSE!!!!!!!!
    Do Baptists believe in a Baptist heaven, devoid of Lutherans, the Episcopelians and Catholics each in their own? Will there be religious wars when
    the Evangelocls find themselves in that “Golden City on a Hill” with those “others?”
    Speaking of religious beliefs, are the raping, and sodomizing priests bound for glory? Presumably, they “BELIEVE!”

  19. People who believe in God can not only take scoffing and linguistic scourging, they are seeking truth not myth. The real myth is the science fiction proposed to explain away God in the midst of an unexplanable design of our solar system. Listen to this discussion of how the earth in relation to its other planets and only in specific sizes, gravitational pulls, the existence of air for breathing… there is no intellectual honesty or integrity to think there is not a design. Most can wish away by saying oh it could happen by chance but not really understand engineering or biological creation at all.
    Its a good discussion you can’t ignore and furthermore read the suggested book. is Atheism Dead by Eric Metaxas


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