- A 2021 Pew Research study* surveyed U.S. adults about their beliefs concerning heaven, hell, and the afterlife.
Nearly 75% of U.S. adults express a belief in heaven, according to the survey. That is important because it is a common belief that comes from people’s experiences and personal knowledge from various sources. The belief in heaven is especially strong among various Christian subgroups, while it is less common among religiously unaffiliated Americans, with only 37% sharing this belief. The unaffiliated group includes individuals who describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” half of whom believe in heaven, as well as agnostics (26%) and atheists (3%).
The belief in hell is less widespread among U.S. adults, with approximately 62% expressing this belief. Differences in beliefs across various subgroups of the population are notable. For instance, a smaller percentage of Christians believe in hell compared to those who believe in heaven. Around 90% of Protestants in the evangelical and historically Black traditions believe in hell, while about 69% of mainline Protestants and 74% of Catholics share this belief.
All of the statements coming to us from people now living in the next life state that there is no such place as a hell with eternal suffering. The widespread belief in a hell demonstrates the ignorance most people have about the details of the life after this life.
Around 26% of all U.S. adults, which amounts to one in six individuals, state that they do not believe in either heaven or hell. Within this group, 7% believe in some form of afterlife, while 17% do not believe in any afterlife at all.
For those who believe in an afterlife but not in heaven or hell, their perceptions of the afterlife. About 21% of respondents in this category express belief in an afterlife where one’s spirit, consciousness, or energy continues to exist after the physical body has passed away or in an alternate dimension or reality. Some describe it as a resting place for spirits and energy, distinct from the traditional concept of heaven, indicating uncertainty about whether death marks the end.
Another 17% of respondents in this group believe in a cyclical existence or the attainment of enlightenment after death. They envision the living world as a cradle for the soul, where individuals undergo lifetimes of learning and growth, retaining memories and lessons in the afterlife, which serves a greater purpose prepared for by the experiences in life.
Among other responses, some believe that people’s energy reunites with the universe in some form, while others envision a peaceful state without suffering. It’s worth noting that a considerable portion (42%) of those who believe in an afterlife but not in heaven or hell did not provide a specific response. That reflects the widespread lack of knowledge today about life in the afterlife.
Believers largely see heaven as free from suffering, hell as just the opposite
The survey not only inquired about the general belief in heaven and hell but also sought to understand specific characteristics that Americans associate with these destinations. Respondents were presented with nine potential traits for heaven and five for hell, and they were asked to indicate whether they believed these traits were “definitely like this,” “probably like this,” “probably not like this,” or “definitely not like this.”
The findings reveal that when it comes to heaven, the majority of U.S. adults are most likely to believe that people in heaven are definitely or probably free from suffering, with approximately seven out of ten individuals holding this view. This perspective is almost unanimous among the 73% of Americans who express belief in heaven.
Other characteristics that received significant support among Americans for heaven include the idea that people are reunited with deceased loved ones (65% of all U.S. adults), can meet God (62%), and have perfectly healthy bodies (60%). Additionally, around half of all U.S. adults (48%) believe that people in heaven are reunited with pets or animals they knew on Earth, while over four-in-ten respondents think that people in heaven can see what is happening on Earth (44%) and can become angels (43%).
On the other hand, smaller portions of the population believe that people in heaven can have relationships with living individuals on Earth (25%), or that they have the ability to choose whether they want to cease existing (15%).
Regarding hell, the survey asked about five different traits associated with it. About half of all U.S. adults, and the vast majority of the 62% who believe in hell, say that people in hell definitely or probably experience psychological suffering, become aware of the suffering they caused in the world, and undergo physical suffering. A slightly smaller share (44%) believe that people in hell definitely or probably can meet Satan. Moreover, about half of U.S. adults think that people in hell are cut off from having a relationship with God.
*”Views on the afterlife,” Pew Research Center, November 23, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/11/23/views-on-the-afterlife