62% of American believers feel coronavirus is God's way of telling us to change how we live: Poll

62% of American believers feel coronavirus is God's way of telling us to change how we live: Poll
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A majority of Americans think that the coronavirus pandemic is God's way of telling people to change the way they are living, and many believe that God will protect them from Covid-19, according to a survey.

The analysis shows that 62% of those who believe in God say they feel God is telling humanity to change the way we are living, and 55% (26% strongly agree and 29% somewhat agree) feel God will protect them from being infected. In reply to a question, "thinking about the coronavirus outbreak, do you feel God is telling humanity to change how we are living", 31% "strongly agreed" and another 31% "agreed somewhat". 

The new study by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press (AP)-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research states that while the coronavirus pandemic "has shuttered congregations across the country", religious Americans’ sense of spirituality and faith remains strong. About a quarter of Americans say their faith or spirituality has strengthened because of the outbreak and only 1% say it has weakened. 

Most Americans attribute blame for the current coronavirus situation in the US on governments, global trade and other things in nature, though one in 10 Americans attribute it to "human sinfulness". While 43% blame the current situation on foreign governments' actions or policies, 37% blame the US government, 28% blame other things in nature, 21% blame global trade and 11%, say human sinfulness is the culprit.

"The current economic and public health crisis has, in no way, weakened people’s faith. On the contrary, many Americans feel that God is sending humanity a message with this disease. But what is striking is that when it comes to blaming, people are not pointing fingers at particular groups such as sinners, non-believers, or followers of other faiths. Nor are they looking for natural causes. People are pointing fingers at governments," dean of University of Chicago’s Divinity School David Nirenberg says in the analysis.

Overall, 47% of Americans are very or extremely worried that they or someone in their family will be infected with the coronavirus, a number that has increased since February and early March. Further, 18% are worried about being infected with the flu.

(University of Chicago Divinity School/AP-NORC poll)

The nationwide poll was conducted between April 30 and May 4 "using the AmeriSpeak Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago". Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,002 adults. According to the poll, white Evangelical Christians are more likely than other Americans to feel that God will protect them from being infected (67% versus 53%), they are less likely than others to doubt God exists (7% versus 15%) or feel God has abandoned humanity (3% versus 10%) because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While few can attend religious services in-person, many continue to pray privately in their homes, and more are watching live-streaming services than before the outbreak. And though many support allowing drive-through (87%) or in-person (51%) religious services — at least with restrictions — less than half think measures prohibiting these services violate freedom of religion. The poll shows 34% believe prohibiting in-person religious services violates freedom of religion, while 42% say prohibiting drive-through religious services violates freedom of religion. "Fifty-one percent of Americans think in-person religious services should be allowed in some form, though only 9% think services should be allowed without any restrictions. More say drive-through services should be allowed in some form," shows analysis.

By comparison, 76% say people should be allowed to visit outdoor spaces like parks or beaches at least in some form, and 49% say the same about a protest, rally or march in public. “55% of Americans disapprove of the protests that have taken place in some states in the US against stay at home orders compared to 31% who approve and 14% who neither approve nor disapprove. Those who approve of the protests are less likely than those who disapprove to follow social distancing measures like limiting trips outside the house, keeping a 6-foot radius from others, and limiting interactions to small groups," says the report.

(University of Chicago Divinity School/AP-NORC poll)

Among other findings, while a majority of Americans still say they have helped or checked in on neighbors, fewer have done so since the pandemic (56%) compared to 2019 (62%). Fewer also say they have made donations to a religious organization (47% in 2019 versus 33% now), volunteered with religious (29% in 2019 as compared to 15% now) or non-religious groups (28% in 2019 versus 14% now), or participated in a public protest (8% in 2019 versus 4% now) since the outbreak. 

More are watching live-streaming services weekly (33% now versus 19% before). Fewer are attending in-person services (7% now versus 27% before). Similar numbers are privately praying (56% now versus 56% before) and participating in informal services (10% now versus 14% before). Protestants (27% in 2019 as compared to 44% now), Catholics (11% in 2019 versus 22% now), other Christians (22% in 2019 versus 31% now) and people with other religions (6% in 2019 versus 16% now) are all watching more live-streaming services now than before coronavirus pandemic. 

"Like in many facets of life these days, people are adapting and finding ways to fulfill their spiritual needs during the outbreak. Even with congregations closed, private prayer continues and more Americans, across faiths, are now regularly watching live-streaming religious services online than in 2019,” says Trevor Tompson, director of the AP-NORC Center, in the analysis. 

As of May 16, more than 1,443,390 coronavirus cases have been reported from across the US and over 87,560 have died in the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. 

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