Countries and Belief in God

From LiveScience:

Percent of residents who said they were certain of God’s existence:

  • Japan: 4.3 percent
  • East Germany: 7.8 percent
  • Sweden: 10.2
  • Czech Republic: 11.1
  • Denmark: 13.0
  • Norway: 14.8
  • France: 15.5
  • Great Britain: 16.8
  • The Netherlands: 21.2
  • Austria: 21.4
  • Latvia: 21.7
  • Hungary: 23.5
  • Slovenia: 23.6
  • Australia: 24.9
  • Switzerland: 25.0
  • New Zealand: 26.4
  • West Germany: 26.7
  • Russia: 30.5
  • Spain: 38.4
  • Slovakia: 39.2
  • Italy: 41.0
  • Ireland: 43.2
  • Northern Ireland: 45.6
  • Portugal: 50.9
  • Cyprus: 59.0
  • United States: 60.6
  • Poland: 62.0
  • Israel: 65.5
  • Chile: 79.4
  • The Philippines: 83.6

Percent indicating atheism:

  • East Germany: 52.1
  • Czech Republic: 39.9
  • France: 23.3
  • The Netherlands: 19.7
  • Sweden: 19.3
  • Latvia: 18.3
  • Great Britain: 18.0
  • Denmark: 17.9
  • Norway: 17.4
  • Australia: 15.9
  • Hungary: 15.2
  • Slovenia: 13.2
  • New Zealand: 12.6
  • Slovakia: 11.7
  • West Germany: 10.3
  • Spain: 9.7
  • Switzerland: 9.3
  • Austria: 9.2
  • Japan: 8.7
  • Russia: 6.8
  • Northern Ireland: 6.6
  • Israel: 6.0
  • Italy: 5.9
  • Portugal: 5.1
  • Ireland: 5.0
  • Poland: 3.3
  • United States: 3.0
  • Chile: 1.9
  • Cyprus: 1.9
  • The Philippines: 0.7

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Barb

    Interesting but I’m surprised to see East/West Germany. Germany has been unified for quite awhile–

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am somewhat certain that I would have to include myself in the not certain count. But it could because of liberal commandment #1 Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

  • Joe rant

    Which “god” were they certain of? The Biblical God or a non-descript higher force?

    Look at the gulf in GB. 60% agnostic? Wow.

  • AHH

    “Certain” is a pretty high bar. I’m a Christian, but I don’t think I could honestly put myself in that category.
    Israel’s high certainty score surprises me; people I know who have been there comment on how nonreligious much of the society is (beaches packed on the Sabbath, etc.).

  • http://www.ScottCochrane.com Scott Cochrane

    Canada’s inferiority complex will be heightened, as we discover we are neither Christian NOR atheist! :)

  • Darren King

    As others have pointed out, how you phrase the question makes all the difference. For any nation/culture on a postmodern bent, offering “certainty” about anything would be suspect. Therefore I find the question and results of limited value.

  • Mark

    The question and results are still quite illuminating. I am a missionary in Latvia, where most Latvians I know (it would be different among the many Russians who are resident here) would have some kind of belief in some kind of God. But only 21% are certain. It is of great cultural significance to know that, and then pursue why that is so.

  • Joey Elliott

    DRT / AHH,

    I don’t know how anyone can read the Bible faithfully, profess Christ as Lord and Savior, and not be certain of God’s existence, not to mention other things pertaining to salvation. Utterly shocking and heartbreaking to me.

  • Jeremy

    Joey, I don’t know anyone that’s being honest that is absolutely certain. I know a few pastors that are, but admit that it took them years to get there. “Certainty” is a big word when dealing with matters of faith.

  • Joey Elliott

    Jeremy,

    I am being honest and I am absolutely certain. The concept of questioning someone else’s certainty is a bit strange, in my opinion.

    I personally can’t imagine not being certain of God’s existence, not to mention his promises. Rather, his promises are a “sure” and “steadfast” anchor to my soul.

  • AHH

    Joey @8, I’m sorry my lack of absolute certainty breaks your heart. I won’t question your certainty, but please don’t make those of us who are wired differently feel like we are not faithful.

    There is a wonderful book, written years ago by a prof at a Christian college named Daniel Taylor, called The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment. Oversimplifying, Taylor identifies two types of (God-given) personalities: those like you for who certainty comes easily, and “reflective” people like me who wrestle with doubts, see all sides of an issue, see shades of gray, question themselves and others, etc. It can be hard for the two to understand each other (much like extroverts and introverts), and the church often makes the reflective types feel out of place. The Kingdom of God needs both, and Taylor encourages people like me not to let lack of absolute certainty (which we are not wired to attain) stop them from stepping out in faith and following Jesus. I won’t go so far as to say that book saved my faith, but it has helped. Lesslie Newbigen’s Proper Confidence covers ground that is not unrelated.

    I am not a Christian because I am certain, but because my encounter with God as revealed in Jesus has been enough to get me to follow in spite of my doubts. I know I could be wrong, but that is where I have chosen to put my weight. On a good day about 10% of me thinks I am fooling myself; on a bad day it might be more like 50%. But one must choose a path, and where else would I go besides the path of Jesus which usually seems pretty right even if I am not certain. I believe, help my unbelief.

    To all who are certain like Joey, all those of you who I sometimes envy: please understand that comments implying that certainty is an essential characteristic for a faithful Christian tend to push people like me a little closer to apostasy.

  • Joey Elliott

    AHH,

    You have indeed stretched my perspective and helped my understanding of people different than me. Thank you.

    I hope, despite my failures thus far, that you can hear my exhortation towards certainty not as a requirement, but as a precious gift not to give up on. My respect for you and others like you quadrupled when I read, “where else would I go besides the path of Jesus which usually seems pretty right even if I am not certain. I believe, help my unbelief.” I can tell you that without certainty I would be in a ditch somewhere. God knows me and knew I lack the courage to follow Him without assurance of His existence. I admire your courage in not needing that in the form of absolute certainty.

    I also want you to know, even with certainty, as the foremost sinner that I know, I indeed can relate to the cry for help in my unbelief. My “unbelief” is more in the distrust in his promises, such as joy in suffering, or deliverance from still indwelling sin. However, part of my certainty in His existence, and therefore in His promises, is the effect the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, has on regaining my trust and belief in His grace and goodness.

  • Jeremy

    Joey, I wasn’t questioning your certainty. I was mirroring back your assertion from experience with my own. I see AHH responded in a far better manner than I could, so I’ll leave it be.

    I’d be curious to see the questions asked. It seems to me that there’s a huge difference between “certainty” that God exists and simply “indicating” atheism.

  • Kenny Johnson

    On the certainty vs not certain theme… I’ve struggled with doubt my whole life. Both as a non-Christian (didn’t grow up in a home that talked much about Jesus) and as a committed follower. I still struggle. . . and like AHH, I have good days (10% not certain) and bad days (50%). Those bad days suck.

    Then there’s my wife. She’s never, in her entire life, ever doubted God’s existence, Jesus, The Bible, etc. On that, we simply can’t understand each other. I can’t for the life of me figure out how all the questions and doubts that I wrestle with daily mean nothing to her. She can’t understand why I think so much and worry and wrestle and struggle.

    Not sure why I’m wired this way… but it is what it is.

  • CGC

    Hi Kenny and all,
    This reminds me of my brother and his wife. HIs wife has all kinds of questions, concerns, and issues in trying to figure out how science and faith work together if at all. He simply really donen’t care and is quite happy in his faith in Christ without worrying about how all this stuff is supposed to work it way out. Yes, people are often hot-wired differently and some times this can be complementary rather than why is the other person not more like me?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Joey Elliot, AHH said many things that resonate with me, but let me say some in my own words. This may get a bit mystical, but that is how I am.

    I am, by nature, not certain of a whole lot. We often talk about scientists on this website and while I am not, strictly speaking a scientist (I am an engineer), science is my life. Now please, let me explain how that makes me uncertain, it is probably different than you think.

    I naturally think of god and creation as something that I can only make gestures toward the true meaning. I wave my hands, and as a limited being describe god and nature and the true metaphysical reality, but recognize the whole time that I probably sound like my dog sounds if she was describing how food ends up in her bowl. It is simply so far above me that I am sure I do not do the fundamental nature of god and reality justice. That is the nature of the way I view the cosmos.

    Frankly I think god is likely so very different from our concept of him that we would not even recognize god if we had actual knowledge of god. Much like Moses being showed where god had been, but not being able to see god. I view the universe as a place that shows what it is like in a place that god had been, but it is not directly god, just his evidence.

    Am I certain there is a god? No. I bet the actual idea of god is not even something that could be considered to be singular or plural, something that is or is not, it is something for which we lack the comprehension. I am actually pretty certain that there is no god like the god that I can conceive.

    I would imagine that for most people that incredible lack of certainty would create anxiety, angst, or hopelessness. But not for me. I want to follow a god that is bigger and better than anything that I can imagine. That vision gives me wonder, and I bet god is wonderful :)

    That’s on good days. On bad days I feel like we truly might just be simulations conducted by some far distant progeny and we will not be able to tell the difference. I really don’t believe we will be able to tell the difference.

    But I try to avoid bad days, because if that is the case then it does not matter whether there is or is not a god, regardless of my concept of that god.

    Sorry for the flaky answer, but you did sort of ask. I wish I could just believe and be happy. But that cannot happen.

  • AHH

    Joey @12,
    Thanks for the kind reply. We probably all (myself certainly included) need reminders now and then that God’s church is made up of a vast variety of personalities, styles, etc., and that we can’t expect others to be just like us. In various ways at various times, we are all oddballs in the eyes of others, and we all have growing to do in learning to live and love in the Body of Christ amidst that diversity.

  • Joey Elliott

    DRT,

    I would resonate with everything you are saying, were it not for the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and Scripture. Now, from earlier conversations, I recall our differences in understanding of the Bible (I believe in inerrancy), and so I’m not meaning to send us on a tangent, or say your approach to certainty is insufficient or wrong or less faithful or whatever. I just wanted to make sure you knew that I would probably be equally hestitant about certainty were in not for what I believe God reveals truly and authoritatively about Himself in Scripture. So without Scripture, everything you said is of course reasonable and how arrogant of us to think we could be certain about anything regarding an eternal Creator God who is beyond our comprehension. Yet, while He does not reveal Himself exhaustively (leaving room for mystery and discovery and God being God, bigger than our finite minds), He does reveal Himself truly in Scripture. I fall on my knees in thankfulness when I think about His grace and the fact that He didn’t have to reveal Himself outside nature at all.

    I don’t mean to imply to you or anyone that I am somehow more faithful, discerning, or special because I have certainty. I just believe that God intends the Christian to have certainty (even if not absolute certainty), and the Bible is full of exhortations and promises towards that, and the “bad days” are not meant to be days wondering whether he exists, but fighting for joy knowing he does, even though sometimes the application of his promises are not always easy to understand. But through the Holy Spirit and the Bible (and the community of the church!) He comforts us and speaks truth and life into our souls. How great is our God?!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I thought I would add one more thought, to bring my thoughts back down to planet earth.

    I was just going over this with my wife (I know I don’t talk about her often, but she is sitting on the deck with me now), and realized that for me, and her, and many of us, the decision is a decision. I needed to actually decide to believe. Once I did that, I have become free. I am now free to believe, feel, celebrate, anger, rejoice and so many things because I have given myself the latitude, the ability, the permission, to simply believe.

    It is not easy for some of us to do that. But it is freeing.

    My wife, has not come to that point yet.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Joey, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    Yes, we have no inerrency (alusion to yes we have no bananas, is that PC?).

    I just can’t go to that land of scriptural inerrency. I am much more predispositioned to believe creation is inerrent than the bible. But let me qualify that both require interpretation. It’s just that the bible is likely to have now two layers of interpretation, the writers, and me, while creation only has me because the writter is god.

    But I don’t worship creation, and I certainly do not worship the bible. Both are created, in the end.

    I like what you say about god revealing himself in scripture, and I too believe that he does, but it is still subject to interpretation. I think Christian Smith’s thesis of pervasive interprative pluralism is true. And given that, we are left with looking through a glass darkly.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with your stance or perspective. It is enviable in many ways. The problem occurs when those on my side or your side view their side as THE side. Then we have a problem because we have allowed our perception of reality to be reality and lose the notion of our finite being.

    Thanks for the interaction.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Joey Elliot, I think I left one primary part of the equation out of this, and that is the revelation of Jesus.

    This is, frankly, the linchpin for my belief in god. Not the bible, categorically speaking, but the revelation of Jesus. It is the testimony, testament, and faith (fullness) of Jesus that speak to my belief (choice of belief) in god. I think Jesus looks like what god looks like in human form, albeit a rather better than most human form.

    But that does not change my concept of the god definition and certainty.

    I am finding this to be increasingly difficult to express adequately. I am pretty certain this will make no sense to most, or all, but if we were to draw an isosceles triangle with two points on the bottom and one at the top, with Jesus on one bottom point and the rest of creation on the other, I believe that both go to god at the top, but god at the top is something that we don’t have direct access to and, given the fact that he is god after all, is likely so radically different that all we can do is look at the base we have and realize that they point toward him/her/it/them/god. We simply only have signposts and pointers toward god.

    But putting that back into the Jesus question. Is Jesus god? Well, yes. Well, who knows. But he is what we have. I think that Jesus is (almost certainly :) ) what god looks like in our form.

    This is way to tough to talk about.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Argghhh. Sorry for so many comments, in 99.99% of situations, yes, I believe in god no question, he even talked to me directly (really).

  • http://mikesnow.org Michael Snow

    8 percent certain and over half atheist in the land of Luther?

  • Joey Elliott

    DRT #21,

    Do you separate revelation of Jesus and revelation of the Bible? How?

    Obviously the revelation of Jesus is the purpose of the revelation of the Bible, but unless you were alive during the incarnation, how do you know anything about, or experience, Jesus outside of the Bible?

  • CGC

    Hi Joey,
    I know your comment was directed at DRT but since I have experienced Jesus outside of the Bible, the answer is the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of Jesus. When Paul had a vision to go to Macedonia, was there a biblical scripture that told him to do that? Actually, a close reading of the earliest Christians in the book of Acts had all kinds of encouters with the resurrected Jesus, even after Jesus ascended to heaven. How many times for example do we read that Paul went to such and such place or did not go to such and such place because the Spirit of God forbid him. There is more to the Christian life than just the Bible. The whole history of the church for the past two thousand years are filled with people have experiences and encounters with Christ.

  • Steven Friedrich

    I guess Canada must be full of agnostics.

  • http://Leadme.org Cal

    I agree with the commenters that have said that certainty is a silly question in post-modern countries. Some would say they’re not even certain they’re real (as they speak from their very own mouths!). I don’t know how I’d answer that question. I am not certain and yet I am very certain.

    My dad said once the reason I believe over him (which he is agnostic of some sort) is that I have faith. Yet I am a radical doubter and have a hard time believing anything fully and thoroughly. Yet as time wears on (and not much has, I have been following Christ Jesus for only a little over 2 years), my trust in my king grows. I love my parents and my friends and trust them, but loyalty, fully in love and in trust, only belongs to a lord and the only lord I bend my knee to is Jesus.

  • Joey Elliott

    CGC,

    I’m not talking about Paul, who encountered the resurrected Jesus, or the apostles, who did as well (in addition to living with Him during His ministry). And even in experiences you are talking about, Paul did not contradict the truth of Scripture in his discernment of the Spirit’s promptings.

    I’m talking about those after His ascension (us). Yes, of course, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit that encounters us. But I think it is a departure from the general understanding and precedent of the New Testament and church history to say that we can know and experience the Holy Spirit of Christ (indeed savingly) outside the truth of Scripture. This does not mean that you always have to have your physical Bible open to experience the Spirit or understand Jesus and the gospel, but just that said experience is going to be confirmed by the truth of Scripture, and the words and message are the same. The Bible is the content of the message, while the Spirit, as God Himself, is our helper in understanding, and the means of the delivery of the message.

    Even Jesus acknowledged the reality and importance of Scripture as revelation: “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

    “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

    So he sent the Holy Spirit, but not to replace Scripture. Jesus explained Scripture and helped us understand it while He was still with us. Now the Holy Spirit helps us understand it . God the Holy Spirit does not just reveal to us some abstract truth about God that we, through our fallen discernment, somehow figure out alongside our intuition. He reveals the truth of Scripture, the special revelation of God the Son.

    Consider in the Book of Acts: “And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’ So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’” (Acts 8:29-31)

    The Spirit prompted Philip, (not separate from Scripture truth he had known, but in confirmation of it), and then through the Spirit he explained Scripture to the eunuch.

    If after Jesus ascended, and the Father gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, but the “Word of God” did not become incarnate to us in the form of Holy Scripture, all we would have is a mystical, subjective religious experience, not much different than many other world religions. How would we discern the Spirit of this age from the Holy Spirit without the confirmation of Scripture? About a million passages come to my mind in regards to this. Instead, we still have what many would consider mysticism in the form of the Holy Spirit, but it is grounded in the truth of Scripture that makes us wise unto salvation. The Bible is not humans attempt to explain God. It is God’s attempt to explain Himself to humans. How is that possible?? We are finite, he is infinite! We could never fully understand Him in human words! Answer: He does it supernaturally through the Holy Spirit. He breathes it into Scripture, and we understand it through the Holy Spirit. Nothing is impossible with God. When you think about it, it makes much more sense that God would speak to us in objective human words than in subjective human emotions or experience, especially, when with what I’m arguing, he does both! Just not emotions or subjective experience only – confirmation in the word to give us hope and security.

    A random person sitting under a tree is not going to know and experience the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus without at least the living word of Scripture (if not the physical book) spoken to him/her, through the Holy Spirit.

    “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17)

    What is the word of Christ if not the truth revealed in Scripture?

    I’m not trying to elevate the Bible over Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but just to challenge the assumption that Scripture is only as reliable, if not less reliable, than creation or the Holy Spirit speaking in separation from Scripture. This no doubt raises many likely disagreements about the Doctrine of the Word of God, the Canon of Scripture, etc. but I thought it was worth it because without the baseline of Scripture, there is no real way to avoid “encounters with Jesus” meaning prosperity gospels, self-help gospels, discrimination gospels, and a million other different doctrines that are contradictory to the revelation in the Bible, and in turn pathways to destruction. If people can encounter Jesus without the truth of Scripture, we better pretty quickly start defining what that means Scripture is even good for, because it will soon become a sacred book at best, a fairy tale or outright lie at worst, and we will have no baseline for truth, and soon enough have something very different than Christianity.

  • CGC

    Hi Joey,
    Okay, I get your concern and where you are coming from now. Actually, I don’t think anybody was promoting Christian experiences without being tested by the Word of God. I will say you may have felt uncomfortable with some of us talking about a Christian experience outside of the Bible but certainly must be tested by Scripture to your talking of the word of Christ sounds almost synomous with the written word (I think we both agree that the incarnate and living Word is supreme) and that never contradicts God’s written word). So it seems to me this is about two sides of the same coin discussion where we both really believe in both sides of the coin.

    Actually, it seems like the Catholics have a better baseline of truth of church, scripture, tradition, and the magisterium whereas it seems like Protestants come down to proper hermeneutics in interpreting Scripture which still yieds a lot of different Jesus’s. The authority of scripture does not save us from interpretive pluralism as Christian Smith presents in “the Bible made impossible.” I would say that I am with you Joey if you are arguing for the primacy of Scripture. I think we go down a lot of problem roads when we start arguing for sola scriptura in how many pop-evangelicals do today.

  • Greg

    Why is not a single African or Central American country on this list, and only one South American County and two from Asia/Pacific Islands? In other words, why has the developing world been excluded from this study?


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