A recent study of surveys taken in 1991, 1998 and 2008, when 42 countries were looked at, has some interesting tidbits to chew on.
There has been a modest decline in God belief around the world:
“Belief in God has decreased in most countries, but the declines are quite modest especially when calculated on a per annum basis,” Smith said.
Europe remains the nerve center of atheism:
Atheism is strongest in northwest European countries such as Scandinavia and the former Soviet states (except for Poland). The former East Germany had the highest rate of people who said they never believed in God (59 percent); in comparison, 4 percent of Americans had that response.
But Gnus really shouldn’t get too excited about Europe as a model for their Gnutopia. I’ll explain why in a later posting.
However, theism is on the rise in three countries:
Although by most measures, belief in God is gradually declining worldwide, it is increasing in Russia, Slovenia and Israel.
And the constant?
Belief in God grows with age
Belief is highest among older adults. On average, 43 percent of those aged 68 and older are certain that God exists, compared with 23 percent of those 27 and younger, according to the report.
“Looking at differences among age groups, the largest increases in belief in God most often occur among those 58 years of age and older. This suggests that belief in God is especially likely to increase among the oldest groups, perhaps in response to the increasing anticipation of mortality,” Smith said. He noted that the higher level of belief was not simply a cohort effect, in which people carry forward attitudes shaped in younger years.
We can intuitively assign a good chunk of this to a growing awareness of our mortality. Gnus, in all their bravado, would spin this as some sort of weakness. I view it as coming to terms with our reality. Mortality casts a shadow that reaches deep into our lives. We can ignore this shadow when we are healthy, full of energy, and death seems far away. But sooner or later, most of us have to come to terms with it. And the fact that we die completely alone.
Of course, there is something else that increases with age. Wisdom. When I look back on my 20-something self, I see someone who was a lot more naïve, more arrogant, and a little bit more foolish.
Here’s a pdf of the actual report. If I get time, I’ll have a look and might offer up a more detailed synopsis.