Faith and Pessimism

John ArmstrongCulture

Religious faith and personal optimism go together concluded an Angus Reid World Poll based on a survey of 20 nations in late 2006. "Despite variations across the globe, spirituality clearly does seem to have an influence on the way people actually feel about life day-in and day-out. 60 per cent of global respondents who expressed optimism about the future say religion is very important to their daily lives. Conversely, 63 per cent of respondents who felt pessimistic about their outlook think religion is simply not that significant."

The Angus Reid Poll found that religion was on the decline in both Europe and Canada, which is no surprise to those who pay attention to these things. Indians, South Africans, Mexicans and residents of three Middle East countries still consider religion an important part of their lives. France was at the bottom of the list, with only 17 per cent of respondents expressing an interest in religion, with Britain at 23 per cent, Germany at 24 per cent and Spain at 31 per cent. Italy is the lone exception among continental European nations with 51 per cent having an interest in religious faith. One can understand why Pope Benedict XVI is deeply concerned about "Christian" European culture and its future when these numbers are put into some critical context.

Saudi Arabia was the most religious country of the 20 nations surveyed at 96 per cent, followed by Egypt with 89 per cent and South Africa with 70 per cent. Lebanon and Mexico were at 65 per cent each and India at 55 per cent. (This last number surprises me having made several trips to India in the 1980s.) Moving to North America, the proportion of Canadians who say religion is very important in their lives has declined from 61 per cent in 1992 to only 39 per cent today. (The laws and common morality of Canada have both slipped precipitously during this same period of time, making Canada increasingly more like Europe than like their American neighbors to the south.)

A similar decline in the United States, however, showed that religion being very important in people’s lives had moved downward from 83 per cent to 63 per cent. Mexico is the only predominantly Catholic country where more than 60 per cent of respondents expressed a real interest in religion.

What does this kind of data really mean? Perhaps not that much but one thing does seem quite clear. When you divorce religious practice from everyday life the results will usually be a rise in pessimism and nihilism. Western cultures are plainly losing their Christian foundations while a Christian revival in the global south and Africa is causing religious faith to grow exponentially. In Asia the same is increasingly true. One can only wonder what this picture will look like in another 10 to 15 years, given these kinds of trends. It seems clear that the West will grow increasingly secular, thus more pessimistic, while other major population centers might experience just the opposite effect. Could God be altering the landscape of the world and a different, and increasingly less-Eurocentric, faith will become predominant? Most believe this will be the case.