Christianity is the world's largest organized religion. But what do Christians believe? The figures below have been calculated from research conducted by the Pew Research Center. For the United States, they represent the beliefs and values of more than 251 million Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's witnesses, and Orthodox Christians. For Latin America, they represent the views of 520 million (largely Catholic) Christians.
The United States
The idea that the Bible is the word of God and is something to be understood literally is highest among Protestants (46%) and Jehovah's witnesses (48%), and lowest among Catholics (23%). Mormons are particularly accepting of nonliteralism over literalism (50%).
Two-thirds of U.S. Christians (67%) are pluralists and hold that there is more than one true way of understanding the Bible. Just over a quarter (28%) hold the opposite viewpoint and believe that there is one and only one true way of understanding its religious teachings.
Attitudes towards homosexuality are almost evenly divided. The most disapproving attitudes exist among Jehovah's witnesses (76% discouraged), while the most accepting attitudes are found among Catholics (58% accepted).
U.S. Christians are slightly more roughly split on whether abortion should be legal or illegal. "Pro-choice" attitudes are highest among Orthodox Christians as a percentage (62%), while "pro-life" attitudes are most common among Jehovah's witnesses (77%).
According to the official position of the Catholic Church, the bread and the wine offered to Catholics during communion is transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. That is, the bread and wine are not symbols for Jesus's body and blood, but literally just that. This fact strictly makes communion an act of unseen vampirism and cannibalism.
So far as the beliefs of Latin American Christians go, 83% believe that the bread and wine really do transform into flesh and blood. Just 14%, or 73 million people, believe that no genuine transformation takes place.
Protestants are slightly less inclined to believe in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine than Catholics are, with 75% of them believing it compared with 86% of Catholics.
For comparison, a poll was carried out by the Irish Times in 2012 that found that only one-quarter of Irish Catholics polled believe that transubstantiation really occurs, while two-thirds believe that the bread and wine are symbolic.
27% of Latin American Christians report having received revelation from God
The statistics appearing on this page were based on data published in the following studies by the Pew Research Center:
"U.S. Religious Landscape Survey." Pew Research Center. June 2008. Available here.
- "Religion in Latin America." Pew Research Center. November 13, 2014. Available here.
- "The Global Religious Landscape." Pew Research Center. December, 2012. Available here.
Information concerning the total population of the countries surveyed was taken from the CIA World Factbook (here).
Note that the percentages don't total to 100% in most of the graphs because it was possible for someone to say they didn't know, to offer a different answer than those that the surveys were prepared for, or to refuse to answer a question. More information about the sample sizes and the margins of error can be found in the Pew publications themselves, along with information concerning the methodology employed and difficulties encountered. However, for the Pew study that looked at Christians in Latin America, the sample sizes ranged from 1500 to 2000, and had margins of error between ± 2.8 (Nicaragua) and ± 4.0 (Peru and Paraguay). For the U.S. study, the sample sizes ranged from 18,900 for Protestants to 215 for Jehovah's witnesses, and had margins of error between ± 1.5 points for Catholics and Protestant subdivisions to ± 7.5 points for Jehovah's witnesses.
In interpreting the numbers found on this page, be aware that the fact that a belief or value x exists for a given subset of Christians does not by itself show that Christianity is wholly or even partly responsible for that being the case. By themselves, the statistics on this page say what is the case, not why.
Be also aware that someone might respond to a question with a particular answer not because they genuinely believe it, but because they think that is how they should answer it. For example, a Catholic might answer that they believe the bread and wine in communion literally transform into the flesh and blood of Christ not because they actually believe it does, but because they believe they should believe it. Polls like those carried out by Pew find answers to what people believe based upon what people report believing, not what they actually believe, and the two needn't be the same.