Gallup International Millenium Survey
by Francois Tremblay (e-mail: [March 10th, 2002]

On the eve of the new millenium, Gallup International conducted a survey on religious belief around the world. This was called the Gallup International Millenium Survey. The tone of the survey itself is very religiously arrogant, so don't read it if that kind of thing makes you angry, like it does for me. One cannot doubt the stupidity of the woman who wrote that release.

A vast amount of people worship, as the maxim goes, not the God of Abraham and Jacob, but rather the god of the poets and dreamers. Is this perhaps the progress done against religious influence?

But enough complaints. What are the important results of this survey and what can we conclude about it, is what I will examine.

The bad news

The general idea of the survey is bad news. The average of religious adherence in the entire world is 87%, and the average of theism is 92% - which is certainly higher than we were led to believe. The percentage is particularily high in North America at 91% and in Latin America at 96%. Despite living in more affluence than most people on the planet, Americans and Canadians seem to be highly superstitious. Furthermore, 63% of people said religion was important to their lives, and half of people in the Americas think God is important in their lives.

Interestingly, despite the idea that North Americans are religious fanatics, it seems it is the most tolerent continent. Only 20% of North Americans think their religion is the only true religion, compared to the 31% average. The result is similar in West Europe. The reason for this singular pattern is not obvious to me, and would surely merit more examination.

Furthermore, the stereotype of the fanatical female gender seems to also be confirmed, albeit to a reduced extent - 69% of women, compared to 57% of men, find religion important in their lives. Women are also more committed to going to church regularily, 35% to 28% for men.

Another received idea in the atheist memesphere seems to be at least not discarded by the data - the idea that religion is heavily determined by culture. Politics seems to have little effect. While in North America religiosity is very high, South-East Asia, which also incorporates some of the freest countries in the world, has lower religiosity (Hong Kong is a noticeable example, being an extremely free country and having only 35% of religious believers).

It seems, at first glance, that the conclusion we must draw is that the cause of atheism is for now hopeless. While the laws are much less strict regarding religious observance than they were in previous centuries, the memetic situation is not any better than it was previously. But, there is a very important caveat...

The God paradox - or, why "religious" doesn't mean "religious"

We also learn that half of religious people consider "God" as a personal being, and half do not ! This throws a huge wrench in the idea that religion is still powerful, since virtually all religions preach a personal, active divine being. It also throws us in a seemingly unsolvable paradox. How can we explain this stunning result ?

First, we note that the pattern of these results is the same as most of the other statistics - the Americas and Africa higher, all others lower. Therefore we must conclude that this has nothing to do with religious tolerence which, as I explained, shows a completely different pattern. Rather, it seems that the more religious a country, the more people are tempted to think theologically on the matter and uphold the notion of a personal god.

A vast amount of people worship, as the maxim goes, not the God of Abraham and Jacob, but rather the god of the poets and dreamers. Is this perhaps the progress done against religious influence ? And what does this indicate of the honesty of religious believers, when half of them are supposed to lie about their very beliefs ? One possibility is that they are simply not intelligent enough to be aware that they are lying. While this certainly cannot explain all cases, I will discuss a bit below about the correlation with intelligence. Whatever explanation we attribute to this datum, if all these people seriously do not believe in a personal god, lack of belief in gods must be majoritary : and it seems a distinct possibility that atheism can expand in a tremendous way by tapping this vein.

Prospects for the future

The result I just discussed is definitively a beacon of hope. Many other facts in the survey should also give us hope.

One of these facts is the negative correlation between education and religion, and also between intelligence and religion. For college graduates, 52% are religious and 25% are committed to church attendance, while the percentages are 70% and 33% for people who only completed primary school. These differences are also proven by the 1991 General Social Survey. A great number of surveys have also shown the negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity ("The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith", Free Inquiry, Spring 1986). Therefore, we may surmise that, as the general level of education will rise, the less theism will take hold.

Another of these facts is how our youths are raised. According to the survey, the young, middle-aged and elderly are religious at respectively 59%, 56% and 63%. More data would be necessary to analyze this trend, but if this is a generational phenomenon, then there is hope that average religiosity will decline with time.

In the end, a comment by the ignorant writer of the report is revealing. She is concerned that religiosity is being considered less important than "the impact of new technologies, scientific developments such as human cloning and economic theory that seems to assert the deification of the market". Yet it would be shameful if we forsook all these great hopes for mankind in exchange for old superstitions. This, in a nutshell, is the battle between atheism and religion, the more profound repercussions : the choice between progress and life, and intellectual morass.

Further Research

  • Gallup International: Official Site
  • Washington Post: Do Americans Believe in God?

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