- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

The United States is the most religious of the world's wealthy nations, and that inclination for belief makes it more akin to poorer countries than to other industrial societies, according to a poll of 44 nations released yesterday.

"Wealthier nations tend to place less importance on religion with the exception of the United States," said the survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. "Americans' views are closer to people in developing nations than to the publics of developed nations."

With six in 10 Americans saying religion plays a "very important" role in their lives, the U.S. public is about twice as religious as Canadians and far more inclined to faith than people in Western Europe or Japan.

The study, which called the contrasts "stark global regional divides," found France to be Western Europe's most secular public and Czechoslovakia taking that rank in Eastern Europe, both with just 11 percent of citizens saying religion was "very" important.

The English turned out to be the most religious in Western Europe, with a third saying religion is very important.

"The jury is still out on whether the United States will become as secular as Europe one day," said the Rev. Eddie Gibbs, a scholar of world Christianity at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

"The predictions from the 1960s that American church attendance and conventional belief would decline did not come true," he said. "But I think it is true that beliefs are no longer impacting the culture."

The robustness of religion in the United States has been grappled with by generations of surveys and analysts, with the general finding that even people who immigrate here become more religious in outlook.

Its high rates of professed belief often have been attributed to religious freedom and separation of church and state, whereas in most other countries a state-established religion or a secular state policy has been enforced.

The world survey found the highest religious interest among the public was in the African nation of Senegal. In what the survey called "conflict areas," Pakistan, which has an Islamic society, stood out with a high point of 91 percent of the population saying religion is very important.

Asia's two wealthiest nations Japan and South Korea also show low rates of religious interest. Just 12 percent of Japanese say religion is "very important," while Koreans are just about twice as interested in their Buddhist or Christian faiths (25 percent).

While none of the 10 African nations surveyed dipped below 80 percent on the "very important" question, predominantly Catholic Poland and Italy showed marked secularization.

"Even in heavily Catholic Italy, fewer than three-in-ten people say religion is very important," the study said, while in Poland just 36 percent gave that response.

The highest consistent interest in religion seems to be among predominantly Muslim nations, the study showed, pointing to Indonesia, Pakistan, Mali and Senegal as cases there more than 90 percent of the public said religion was very important.

The survey, which worked with professional pollsters in all the nations, did not use the religious preference questions in China, Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon because they were "deemed too sensitive to ask."

The larger global attitudes survey, reported earlier this month, polled 38,000 people in the 44 nations and found general pessimism about the world's future and resentment toward the United States.

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