A faithful world, believe it or not

On the eve of the New Millennium, when many people are worried about the impact of new technologies, scientific developments such as human cloning and economic theory that seems to assert the deification of the market, concerns about faith and religion may be somehow shrugged off. According to the worldwide Gallup International Millennium Survey, most people still stand by the real thing: almost two-thirds of respondents say God is very important in their personal life.

The survey, conducted in 60 countries, which represent 1.25 billion citizens of the world, highlights that the idea of God is very important for the respondents personal life: positive belief scores on average 7.2 points in a scale from one to ten, the latter being the top mark. Sixty-three percent of those questioned fall within the seven to ten points slot, 16 percent are in a middle-of-the-road position (five to six) and 21 percent show they do not care too much about this (one to four).


Footnote: Excludes DK/NA = (2%)

The Gallup International Millennium Survey was conducted to assess how many people thought of themselves as being part of a religion, their commitment to it, whether God was important to them and the believers image of Him.

We do believe!
Eighty-seven percent of respondents say they consider themselves to be part of some religion and only 13 percent declare that they belong to none. Believers in this context include Roman Catholics, Protestants, other Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and followers of other religions.

Even though this positive answer prevails all over the world, there are differences. The figure for West Africa - where Muslims are the largest and most practicing group, and where the Catholic Church has made significant inroads over recent years - is 99 percent believers, 12 points above average. At the bottom appears East Asia, which stands at 77 percent believers.

But some do not
The old saying that expresses sympathy for Mexico (''too far from God, too close to the US'') may need to be rephrased, taking into account that in Hong Kong (a place too close to Beijing?) 64 percent of the people respond they do not believe in any religion. The figure for the Czech Republic is 55 percent and for South Korea 46 percent.

Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days?
(More than once a week+Once a week)

Footnote: Excludes DK/NA = (2%)

Who believes?
Most people say God is very important to them and it is their educational background which impacts on their beliefs. Fifty-two percent of college graduates are religious as against 54 percent of people with a high school education and 70 percent of those who only complete primary school. Likewise, women are more faithful than men (69 to 57 percent) and the elderly more than young and middle-aged people (63 to 59 to 56 percent respectively).

Educational background may also explain the figures about the importance of God in personal life in the different regions of the planet. West Africa tops the list with 97 percent of respondents saying that God is very important, followed by Latin America with 88 percent and North America with 82 percent. East Asia and Europe are at bottom with 48 percent.

God does not matter for 64 percent of those questioned in the Czech Republic, 55 percent in Sweden, 52 percent in Norway and 49 percent in Denmark. On the other hand, almost everyone surveyed in Ghana, Nigeria, Philippines, Colombia and Pakistan says God is very important for them.

Who cares?
However religious belief does not go hand in hand with church attendance. Here preferences are evenly split according to the Gallup International Millennium Survey. Although 87 percent of respondents say they are followers of some religion, just 32 percent declare they attend services ''regularly'' (at least once a week), 35 percent ''every now and then'' (once a month, once a year or only on religious holidays) and 33 percent never or less than once a yea'.

Women are more committed than men (35 to 28 percent), people with just a primary level of education more so than others (33 to 25 percent) and the church attendance rate is also higher for those under 24 years old.

Among those who almost never go to church, the Gallup International Millennium Survey singled out people living in Western Europe (48 percent) and Eastern Europe (44 percent). By contrast, nine out of ten West Africans and seven out of ten Latin Americans do go to Church.

How important is God in your life? Please use this scale to indicate. 10 means very important and 1 means not at all important.

Footnote: Excludes DK/NA = (3%)

The poll reveals that in spite of the high proportion of people who say they belong to some religious faith, their beliefs are not channeled through ''institutional'' or established practices of worship but is rather expressed as a personal relationship with God by means of meditation or praying in solitude for example. Seven out of ten respondents say they regularly engage in such practices.

Personal God or life force?
Believers do not have a homogeneous image of their God. Forty-five percent of respondents say they think of God as a person as against 30 percent who think of him as a ''force'' or ''spirit.'' On the other hand, 14 percent has no clue about this, eight percent simply do not believe God exists and three percent do not answer.

Which of these statements comes closest to your beliefs? ..

The Gallup International Millennium Survey shows women outnumber men when it comes to seeing God as a person, but there is no gender gap amongst those who prefer to think of Him as a ''force". Men are more prone to deny His existence or be engulfed by doubt -- ironically, one of the most well known Catholic philosophers, René Descartes, proclaimed that doubting was the unavoidable key to becoming a believer.

The image of God as a person is more ingrained among the elderly and those with less educational background. More educated people prefer the idea of the ''force'' or flatly reject the notion of a superior being.

Geographically, six out of ten respondents believe in God as a person in West Africa, Latin America and North America, but the ratio plunges to four out of ten in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, opinions are evenly split in Western Europe and a measure of doubt also prevails among people living in East Asia.

Religious wars?
Several scholars have pointed out that once the Cold War was over the world started heading towards cultural conflicts, of which religion is a key ingredient.

The Gallup International Millennium Survey shows that 46 percent of those surveyed believe there is more than one true religion, as against 31 percent who think theirs is the only true faith. Ten percent respond that there is no such thing and 13 percent choose the option ''don't know'' or ''don't answer''.

Those who are more attached to the idea of just one religion as valid are the elderly, women and people with just a primary education. Geographically, they are concentrated in West Africa and Latin America, while North Americans are the most open minded and Europeans the most agnostic. Is there room in the New Millennium for a ''clash of civilizations'' scenario like that described by some scholars, with religion fuelling the conflicts?

Only God can tell!

Would you say that there exists one and only one true religion, that there is truth in many religions or that there is no essential truth in any religion? ..

Marita Carballo, Gallup de la Argentina

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