The God Gap

News: World News
by Paul Murano  •  •  July 23, 2020   

New poll confirms loss of faith across West

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DETROIT ( - A new international poll indicates most people in the developing world connect morality and good values with God, while with Europe and the United States that is not the case.

Pew Research Center worldwide poll

On Monday, Pew Research Center released a worldwide poll, conducted in Spring 2019, that surveys the connection between belief in God and morality, as well as the importance of God and prayer in one's life.

Of the 38,426 people in 34 countries surveyed, more than half say religion is either "very important" or "somewhat important" in their lives. However, Europeans generally show less religious commitment than people in other regions. Spanning six continents, a median of 45% say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. But there are large regional variations in answers to this question.

A country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), personal income, age, formal education level, ideology and recent escape from under the "iron curtain" of Soviet communism are other factors influencing people's personal philosophy and religiosity.

Data Breakdown

Across the world, the importance of God, prayer, and religion in one's life (59%) rated considerably higher than the belief that faith in God is necessary to be a good, moral person (45%).

Breaking it down, most of Western Europe — where the encroachment of modernism and secularism has been most pronounced — say belief in God is not necessary to be a good person.

In the United States, 44% say they believe God is necessary for morality — down from 58% in 2002.

Sweden had the lowest percentage of agreement that God is necessary at just 9%. On the other end of the spectrum, the Philippines and Indonesia each overwhelmingly agreed that God was necessary — at 96% each — while several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were right behind them in the mid-'90s.

In the United States, 44% say they believe God is necessary for morality — down from 58% in 2002.

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The general pattern emerged that the higher the GDP was for a given country, the lower their collective belief was that God is necessary for morality. The inverse was also true. Countries with higher personal incomes also were less likely to believe God is necessary to be a good person. Another general pattern was observed in virtually every country: The older the people are, the more likely they are to believe God is necessary for good values.

Respondents' level of formal education also displayed a clear pattern. Countries with less formal education were more likely to see God as necessary, whereas those with higher education levels did not think so. Secular values in higher-educated countries may have been a factor.

Most of Western Europe — where the encroachment of modernism and secularism has been most pronounced — say belief in God is not necessary to be a good person.

The poll also proved conclusive that people on the ideological Right were much more apt to believe God was necessary for morality than was the ideological Left. In the United States, that discrepancy was 63% to 24%.

Curiously, when it comes to the importance of religion in one's life, 70% of Americans found it somewhat or very important, while 29% said it was not very important or not at all. Western Europe had considerably lower numbers on its value of religion. On the other hand, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and much of Asia has very high numbers reflecting the importance of religion.

A noticeable number of people internationally held belief in God to be more important than prayer in their lives. To no surprise, those who consider themselves "religiously unaffiliated" were much less inclined to see God as important in their lives.

Left to Interpretation

The questions used the word "God" and did not distinguish between religions, even in countries traditionally believing in many gods (Hinduism) or no God (Buddhism). There was also no distinction made between conflicting beliefs about God even in the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Likewise, no definition was offered on what made good values and morality, and no distinction was made with regard to various forms of prayer and meditation. In other words, the terms God, morality, prayer and what is "good" were left to the respondents to define for themselves.

Lastly, there was no mention of necessity in the context of the cultural milieu of the times. As mentioned by St. Paul and taught by Aquinas, the natural moral law is written on every human heart, and is discernable through natural human reason. But the question arises: Could what's "necessary" for having good morals in premodern times be different than what's "necessary" in the era of mass media — inundating people with secular values of materialism and relativism, influencing their personal formation since childhood?

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