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Everyone else can go to hell, Americans say

The Guardian, USA
Oct. 25, 2003
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles • Saturday October 25, 2003

Hell, wrote Jean-Paul Sartre, is other people. But a new survey of Americans’ views of the afterlife suggests that hell is for other people.

While 71% of Americans believe in hell, only half of one per cent think that they are likely to end up there. And those who are headed that way had better be prepared for a genuinely hellish time.

While 39% of those surveyed see hell as “a state of eternal separation from God’s presence”, 32% subscribe to the notion of fire and brimstone, seeing hell as “an actual place of torment and suffering where people’s souls go after death”.

A further 13% saw hell as “an unknown bad outcome after death”.

Heaven, fortunately, would appear to be much more crowded. With 76% of Americans believing in heaven, 30% see it as “an actual place of rest and reward” and 46% see it as an “eternal place of existence in God’s presence”.

Of those asked, 64% believe that they are on the way to heaven after death.

Only 5% of those surveyed do not believe in an afterlife at all. A further 5% said that they did not know whether there was one or not. A total of 14% said that they saw heaven as “symbolic”.

The survey, which was carried out by the Barna Research Group in Oxnard, southern California, indicates that belief in the concepts of heaven and hell is just as high as it was a decade ago.

Around 100 people were interviewed for the poll which asked opinions in every American state apart from Hawaii and Alaska.

The survey indicates that Americans have a much greater faith in an afterlife, and in heaven and hell specifically, than people in Europe. Previous surveys comparing the two continents have shown an increasing gap between them in terms of peoples’ beliefs in a literal translation of the Bible.

In the meantime, the survey would seem to substantiate the words of the first world war song: “The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling/ For you but not for me.”

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