Angels in America

A new survey finds that nearly 70% of Americans believe in the existence of angels, more than believe in the devil or hell.

American’s belief in angels (69%) is about on par with belief in heaven and the power of prayer, but bested by belief in God or a higher power (79%). Fewer U.S. adults believe in the devil or Satan (56%), astrology (34%), reincarnation (34%), and that physical things can have spiritual energies, such as plants, rivers or crystals (42%).

The large number of U.S. adults who say they believe in angels includes 84% of those with a religious affiliation — 94% of evangelical Protestants, 81% of mainline Protestants and 82% of Catholics — and 33% of those without one. And of those angel-believing religiously unaffiliated, that includes 2% of atheists, 25% of agnostics and 50% of those identified as “nothing in particular.”

Why are angels so appealing?

“People are yearning for something greater than themselves — beyond their own understanding,” said Jack Grogger, a chaplain for the Los Angeles Angels and a longtime Southern California fire captain who has aided many people in their gravest moments.

“For a lot of people, angels are a lot safer to worship,” said Grogger, who also pastors a nondenominational church in Orange, California, and is a chaplain for the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.

When people have some kind of lucky escape, the idea that their ‘guardian angel’ was looking out for them makes sense, especially if the angel had some relationship with them while alive.

Jennifer Goodwin of Oviedo, Florida, also is among the roughly seven in 10 U.S. adults who say they believe in angels. She isn’t sure if God exists and rejects the afterlife dichotomy of heaven and hell, but the recent deaths of her parents solidified her views on these celestial beings.

Goodwin believes her parents are still keeping an eye on the family — not in any physical way or as a supernatural apparition, but that they manifest in those moments when she feels a general sense of comfort.

“I think that they are around us, but it’s in a way that we can’t understand,” Goodwin said. “I don’t know what else to call it except an angel.”

I kind of get it. God and the devil are formidable figures, like the CEOs of major corporations whom one may find it hard to relate to. Angels, on the other hand, are more like a hotel concierge, someone whose job it is to help you and thus one can feel a personal relationship with them.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    I remember about 20 years ago there was a huge fad in angels. ‘Touched by an Angel’ was a hit TV show for many years and before that was ‘Highway to Heaven’. I don’t see much in the way of angel references today. Crystals were big a couple of years ago, but they seem to be on the downslope. Probably Tarot cards are the biggest thing today, at least I can say that a hell of a lot of them get shoplifted from the bookstore I work at.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    moarscienceplz @1:

    I don’t see much in the way of angel references today.

    Well, there was the hugely popular play with the same title as this post, the 2018 revival of which received a record number of Tony nominations.

  3. John Morales says

    As with so many other things, I find it difficult to believe that such a large proportion of USAnians actually have that belief.

    (I find it far easier to believe that they say that, of course)

  4. beholder says

    Good to see that 98% of atheists want nothing to do with this nonsense.

    I kind of get it. God and the devil are formidable figures, like the CEOs of major corporations whom one may find it hard to relate to. Angels, on the other hand, are more like a hotel concierge, someone whose job it is to help you and thus one can feel a personal relationship with them.

    Right, because when I think of something relatable, I think of a multi-rimmed, self-intersecting wheel angel with a sparkling topaz exterior, filled with eyeballs.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    An “angel” is simply a “messenger”.
    Modern tech would have slimmed down heaven’s organization considerably.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    By contrast, after watching “Drive Angry” and “Supernatural” , I conclude hell has some seriously impressive characters. My favourite would be The Accountant.

  7. John Morales says


    An “angel” is simply a “messenger”.

    Etymological fallacy.
    Their description and functions are more as servants of God than as messengers.

    For example, cherubim aren’t messengers.
    Nor are seraphs.
    Nor are ophanim (the beholder types hitherto-mentioned).

    I conclude hell has some seriously impressive characters

    Devils are fallen angels.

    (Not to be confused with the Hounds of Tindalos, who inhabit the angles of time)

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @9: In Judaism, malakim, meaning ‘messengers’, is used both as a generic term for angels, and as a specific rank of angels in a hierarchy (so, distinguished from cherubim, seraphim, etc).

  9. sonofrojblake says

    I’d be interested to know what proportion of US “adults” believe in Santa, the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. That might give some useful context. I do wonder why the question wasn’t asked, as it’s no more nor less bloody stupid than the ones that were.

    There are just so many implied contradictions, so many subsets who need some follow-up questions:
    -- you DO believe in “God” but you DON’T believe in angels? (10%) (so… how do you pick which bits of the Bible to ignore? Because angels are pretty pivotal characters from start to finish in both testaments…)
    -- you DO believe in angels, but NOT the Devil? (13%) (same question, pretty much, although even “The Devil” is a slippery concept -- the whole “devils are fallen angels” nonsense is effectively non-canon Bible fan-fic)
    -- you are a self-described atheist, but do DO believe in angels??? (2%) (just… eh?)

  10. John Morales says

    Generic term in Judaism, maybe.

    But there are quite a few different types, and none are really messengers.

    (For example, guardian angels aren’t messengers, are they? They’re guardians)

  11. John Morales says

    sonofrojblake, it’s worse than that.

    The literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods,” according to Merriam-Webster. And the vast majority of U.S. atheists fit this description: 81% say they do not believe in God or a higher power or in a spiritual force of any kind. (Overall, 10% of American adults share this view.) At the same time, roughly one-in-five self-described atheists (18%) say they do believe in some kind of higher power. None of the atheists we surveyed, however, say they believe in “God as described in the Bible.”

  12. says

    I think many people like the idea of having someone “on the inside” looking out for them. And if that’s someone you knew and loved, all the better (a win-win). As my mother would tell me when I was little, “If you’re going to dream, dream big. It doesn’t cost any more.”

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @12:

    none are really messengers.

    In Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), Gabriel (/ˈɡeɪbriəl/ GAY-bree-əl)[N 2] is an archangel with the power to announce God’s will to men

    You’d think a self-styled expert on Catholicism would know this.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    sonofrojblake @11:

    how do you pick which bits of the Bible to ignore?

    That’s what humans do; pick and choose. Surely it doesn’t surprise you?

  15. says

    Angels, on the other hand, are more like a hotel concierge, someone whose job it is to help you and thus one can feel a personal relationship with them.

    Before monotheistic religions erased and did their level best to bury all their precursors, this role was filled by the dozens of various gods and goddesses and other creatures of folklore, major and minor, that made up all the polytheistic religions of the Celts, Greeks, Norse, Native Americans, Persians, etc. Present-day polytheists still see their respective patron/matron deities the same way many people see angels.

    As a character in “Count Zero” put it: “There’s a God, Gran Met, but he’s big, too big and too far away to worry if your ass is poor or you can’t get laid…Some duster chops out your sister, you don’t go camping out on Yakuza’s doorstep. But you do talk to someone who can get the thing done.”

  16. says

    Oops, forgot to add that I’ve been in a few New-Agey stores that sold angel-related stuff alongside Pagan/Wiccan/polytheistic stuff. Same need/demand, different pantheons.

  17. sonofrojblake says

    @Rob Grigjanis, 17:

    Surely it doesn’t surprise you?

    Oh no, not at all, it’s just the question of how you choose that I find endlessly fascinating. That, and how you justify that choice to yourself, and square it with a continued belief in an all-knowing entity who knows which bits of their holy law you’ve just skipped. People SAY they believe… but they sure as shit don’t act like it.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Sonofrojblake @ 20

    Ordinary believers (and most priests/imams etc) do not bother to be consistent.

    For internally consistent logic you have to go to J R R Tolkien (and, to some extent, his son Christopher). The Silmarillon and associated books are way more interesting than the “legacy fantasy” preached in churches and mosques .

    As we are talking make believe anyway, I would nominate the characters in Lucifer and Preacher for a modern list of baddies and goodies.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    sonofrojblake @20:

    it’s just the question of how you choose that I find endlessly fascinating

    It’s a conundrum. How did I come by my worldview? I could come up with an answer, going back to my childhood. But how much of that tells the real story, rather than the one I construct much later? How much of it was actually choice? I honestly don’t see how I could have turned out differently given my experiences, my environment, my personality, etc.

    But people with similar backgrounds ended up far from where I am. Others ended up not so far, but with weird (to me) priorities. Why?

    There’s a tendency for us to see the weird (to us) stuff other people buy into, and ask “how can they possibly think that?”. Or say “if only they thought about it a bit, they’d see how silly they’re being”. I just think there are depths* to people’s processes that defy resolution by simplistic analysis or any number of what seem like “gotcha” questions.

    OK, old man ramble done.

    *Of course, sometimes there’s no depth at all, but assuming that can be a mistake, IMO.

  20. John Morales says

    Rob @16:

    You’d think a self-styled expert on Catholicism would know this.

    What I wrote: “quite a few different types, and none are really messengers.”
    What you quoted: “none are really messengers.”

    I was referring to the types of angels, not about specific angels.
    The archangels (a particular type) have various roles, e.g. Michael is the angel of combat, Samael is the angel of death. And yes, Gabriel is basically the Mouth of Sauron for God.

  21. John Morales says

    Just pointing out that a Gabriel is not a type of angel. It’s a singular angel.

    You yourself noted that the mal’akim are the Judaic messenger angels, and in that taxonomy they rank 6th out of the ten ranks of angels.

    Point being, my initial comment regarding the matter noted it was an etymological fallacy to say that because the generic term originates from ‘messenger’ that angels in general are messengers.

    What they are in the various mythos is divine servants.

    (Some servants are messengers, etc)

  22. KG says

    It’s odd, but not actually inconsistent, for an atheist to believe in angels, because “angel”, like almost all natural language terms, does not have a precise, generally agreed definition. An atheist could consistently (although not rationally) believe in winged-humanoid beings with unusual (even supernatural) powers, some or all of whom spend their time guarding individual people. In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy, there are angels, able to travel between the multiple parallel worlds, but the only god, the “Authority”, is a fraud -- he’s just another angel, and his power, such as it is, is actually being exercised by a regent, a former human being, because he’s become feeble and senile.

  23. outis says

    But… what about the Japanese (and presumably Chinese) word for angel, 天使 tenshi, which is composed by heaven + messenger? Seems very clear cut.
    But… do I wish to discuss angels? Nay! Piffle to those feathery fools, with their iffy aerodynamics and sanctimonious manner.
    It’s just a flimsy excuse to send you over there:
    best anime movie ever made, even if it’s almost 40 years old.
    English subs here, but lousy definition:
    it’s been on YT forever, but I wonder how much longer before they’ll disappear it. Dig in.

  24. wsierichs says

    The ancient Greeks believed each person had a guardian deity, called a demon. Christians took over this idea. They claimed that pagan deities were actually evil beings sent by Satan to fool people into worshiping him, trying to prevent them from converting to Christianity.. Some writings over the centuries of conquest -- destruction of the pagan cultures of Europe, particularly, but also elsewhere -- claimed that demons sometimes could be seen fleeing temples as Christians entered to cleanse them. Armed demons also sometimes were reputed to defend temples against Christians, except Christians never suffered any harm. This is where the belief in evil demons vs good angels, who watched over Christians, originated.

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