Some words have very specific well understood meanings and some do not. For example if I told you that I liked coffee, then you would probably, if curious, ask for a bit more detail, “What kind of coffee?”. Rather obviously I might mean filtered, instant, or even that I grind special beans after they have been through the digestive tract of some monkey in Indonesia. So yes, that last one called civet coffee really is a thing and will cost you up to $600 per half kg.
Well, perhaps not.
If however you want to get into words that are heavily overlaid with multiple interpretations, then try common religious terms such as God, Heaven, Angels, Hell, and of course their good buddy, The Devil.
Gallup have just published the results of their latest incarnation of a poll in which they asked people if they believe in any of these entities. It’s the fifth time they ran this poll. The first was in 2001, then again in 2004, 2007, 2016 and now once again in 2023.
The Rather Curious results
They ran the survey as follows. For each of the five in turn, God, Heaven, Angels, Hell, and The Devil, they asked respondents to say if it was something they believed in, something they were not sure about, or something they just did not believe.
This was done last May. Since crunching the data takes time we only get the results now. Their respondents consisted of a random sample of roughly about 1,000 adults living in all 50 states.
So here is how it panned out …
Now here is the curious bit. You might assume that these five entities were all part of a “belief” package deal. The assumption you would make is that people who believe in one would most probably believe in all five.
Looking at the above what becomes clear is that while the “I’m really not sure” numbers are consistent, the following are not …
- 16% of the people who believe God is real, don’t believe that The Devil is real
- 8% of the people who believe that Heaven is real, don’t believe that hell is real.
- 5% of the people who believe God is real, don’t believe angels are real.
Dig into the details and it gets even quirkier
Gallop broke their results down by various different things such as religious practise, politics, income, age, and of course gender and education. Here is how that panned out …
There are a few observation from the above that you could most probably guess and so they are not a surprise …
- The more educated you are the less people leaned into believing in the big five.
- The younger you are the less you are inclined to believe, and that is in many ways a mirror to the young being nones; Gen Z really are going to save us all.
- The GOP has pandered to religion and used it as a tool to manipulate voters to play for their team for decades, hence Republicans are far more inclined to believe in the big five.
Well yes, of course there is a “however”, because when you run such polls weird quirky stuff will often pop up, so here you go…
- 2% of the people who attend church on a weekly basis, and remember that is a rather large chunk of the population, do not believe in God.
- Even larger percentages of the weekly churched do not believe in Heaven (8%), or Hell, (16%), or The Devil (14%) – So yea, 2% of those that believe the devil is real, do no believe that Hell is real, so how exactly does that work?
- Meanwhile, 25% of the non-religious do actually believe in a God and Angels
- Vast numbers of Catholics don’t believe in any of the big five (15%).
But let’s put all that aside for now, because fascinating as all that is, it’s not the big item here that has landed with a resounding thud.
The Long Term Trend is Downwards
So here it is …
While belief in the supernatural is still rather popular, the overall trend is downwards.
Well OK, for some odd reason belief in Devil during the “W” Bush era went up, but has now dropped down well below the 2001 initial poll.
In a day and age where there are people who publicly declare stuff like the following tweet, not as a parody, nor as a joke, but as a statement of what they believe to be true …
… then you might indeed be tempted to despair.
While the lunatic fringe are indeed becoming a tad more open with their lunacy, the general population are letting go of old supernatural superstitions. In other words, the ongoing trend is rather clear – today we are a far less superstitious lot.
This is not just about one lone isolated poll. The story of a sharp decline manifests within other recent polls. For example …
- Declines in the numbers of people who go to a Church (Gallup, June 2023)
- Confidence in organised religion continues to drop (Gallup, June 2023)
- The rise of the nones (Gallup, Dec 2022)
There within that ongoing downwards trend rests hope for a far better future.