Religious information and polls
Comparing U.S. religious beliefs
those in other mainly Christian countries
Christian beliefs vary greatly:
This essay describes how adults' beliefs differ among various Christian
countries, including the Philippines, United States, European countries and Russia.
Included also is the non-Christian country of Israel as a comparison. Israel
is composed primarily of secularists, although their society is governed largely by
very conservative Jewish faith groups.
Two international surveys were conducted during 1991 and 1993 by the International
Social Survey Program (ISSP). This is currently located at the National
Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.
A comparison beteeen the ISSP survey and common Gallup polls on religion is instructive. The ISSP seeks information on the level of strong beliefs in God and other religious topics. When the Gallup Poll conducts a poll on belief in God, they seem almost to design a question to obscure the results. They ask for belief in "God or a universal spirit." Like the ISSP survey, Gallup does not differentiate between belief in monotheistic God as defined in Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and other religions, and the creator God in Deism who has since disappeared, polytheistic pantheons of deities, the Goddess and God of Wicca, etc. Futher, Gallup does not differentiate between any of these deities and some vague notion of a supernatural entity who is perhaps impersonal.
In 1991, subjects were asked to agree or disagree with each of the following seven
||God: "I know God exists and I have no doubts about it"
||Afterlife: I definitely believe in "life after death"
||Bible: "The Bible is the actual word of God and it is to be
taken literally, word for word." A yes answer probably implies that the
subject believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and
that its authors were inspired by God.
||Devil: I definitely believe in "the Devil."
||Hell: I definitely believe in "Hell."
||Heaven: I definitely believe in "Heaven."
||Miracle: I definitely believe in "religious miracles."
Results are shown below. Appended to the list are:
||the results of a survey showing the percentage of persons who said yes to
the following question: "In your opinion, how true is this? ...Human
beings developed from earlier species of animals.." The results are
a measure of belief in human evolution, and
disbelief in creation science.
All numbers are in percentages.
since 1944, the Gallup Poll has been asking Americans whether they "believe
in God or a universal spirit." The answers have always been 94% or
more affirmative. These numbers have been so widely reported in academic
articles, and the media that they have been almost etched in stone. However,
the ISSP results are under 63%. The wide gap is probably due to the
different wording of the question asked. The ISSP requires a degree of
certainty of belief in God that is not present in the Gallup Poll. This shows that
many Americans who believe in God are not very certain about their conviction. An additional difference is caused by the
term "universal spirit" that Gallup has introduced into the question. Many Americans believe in some vaguely defined supernatural entity, but do not refer to him/her/it/them as "God."
A similar drop is seen between the Gallup Poll and the ISSP poll over
belief about life after death. American results are typically 75% and 55%.
Again, the degree of certainty expected for a positive answer to the ISSP
question is probably responsible for the difference. Many Americans seem to
hope for life after death, but are not that certain that it
Americans, Irish, Filipinos, and Poles together form a group of
Christian cultures with a much higher degree of traditional religious belief than the
other predominately Christian countries shown.
The results on the evolution question may reflect the strength of a
scientific, secular world view in the society. The results on the existence
of God might reflect the strength of traditional religious belief. The two
seem to be inversely related.
||A comparison of data from East and West Germany is interesting.
Presumably, at the end of World War II, the two populations would have held
similar religious views. But the East Germans were exposed to almost two
generations of Communist rule, with its oppression of religion and the active promotion
of Atheism. The East Germans have lost much of their traditional religious
belief. Some of the results dropped to less than one third of the values for
West Germany. It will be interesting to see whether residents in the eastern
part of Germany can recover their old levels of belief, and at what rate.
Comparison of the U.S. and Britain
On 1999-DEC-16, Opinion Research Business released the results of a
poll conducted in Britain. 3 Some of their findings were:
||About Jesus Christ:
||14% do not know who he is.
||Less than 50% "believe in Christ". This
probably means that they do not believe that he is the son of God;
the exact meaning of the question was not defined
||22% believe that he is "just a story."
||49% identify themselves as affiliated with a religious group.
||27% belong to the Church of England (Episcopalian, Anglican).
This is a drop from 40% in 1990.
||9% are Roman Catholics, unchanged since 1990.
||3% of the population goes to church only at Easter and
||46% say that they have never gone to church at all.
A 2005 survey of Church of England members and clergy found a
phenomenon that has been often observed in other denominations on both sides
of the big pond: the clergy is more liberal than the congregations.
||97% of both clergy and laity believe in God.
||80% of both clergy and laity believe in the resurrection of Jesus
||62% of the laity and 60% of the clergy believe in the virgin birth
||65% of the laity and 61% of the clergy believe that Jesus converted
water into wine.
||One in three clergy and one in four laity favor the ordination of "practicing
||56% of the laity and 48% of the clergy believe that same-sex
behavior is wrong.
The data was contained in a 180-page report,
titled "Fragmented Faith?. It states that "In many ways ordained
Anglicans look out on to a somewhat different world from the world viewed by
lay Anglicans. Overall, it is the faultline between the clergy and the
committed laity on the issue of homosexuality which may take the Church of
England most by surprise." 4
Related essay on this web site
George Bishop, "What Americans really believe," Free
Inquiry, 1999-Summer, Pages 38 to 42.
Thomas C. Reeves, "Not so Christian America," First
Things, 1996-OCT, at: http://www.leaderu.com/
"More evidence that Britain lacks faith," EWTN News
Ruth Glendhill, "Clergy who don't believe in God," Times Online,
Copyright © 1999 to 2010 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-JUN-07
Author: B.A. Robinson