Most Western Europeans No Longer Believe in Heaven and Hell, Survey Finds

(Photo: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci)Ipsos' global survey, "Perils of Perception," has found that in a number of Western nations only a minority of the population believe in Heaven and Hell. The survey was conducted in 38 countries on Sept. 28-Oct. 19, 2017.

A global survey of people's perceptions of major religious beliefs has found that in a number of Western nations a majority of the population no longer believes in Heaven or Hell, even if they profess a belief in God.

A global survey on the perception of people around the world has found that in a number of Western countries, relatively small portions of the population believe in Heaven and Hell, though more believe in God.

"Some countries significantly overestimate belief in Heaven: Japan guessed that 42 percent of people believe in Heaven when the actual figure is just 19 percent. In South Africa, the pattern is the opposite; their average guess is that 67 percent believe in Heaven, but actual survey results show belief in Heaven is 84 percent," reported Ipsos' "Perils of Perception" survey, which was published on Wednesday.

"Guesses on how many people believe in Hell follow a similar pattern of big errors in both directions. For example, people in Spain think that 43 percent of Spaniards believe in Hell, when actually only 19 percent say they do.

Belief in God was also split. For example, Swedes think nearly twice as many people believe in God than actually report they do (37 percent versus 22 percent)."

The findings are based on 29,133 interviews conducted in 38 countries worldwide between Sept. 28–Oct. 19.

One major trend among the countries profiled, when looking at Western nations, is that the perception is that more people believe in Heaven and Hell than actually do. 

Only a minority of the population in Germany, Norway, Australia, Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, France, Spain, Japan and Belgium said that they believe in Heaven and Hell, though in almost every case people assumed that greater propitons hold such beliefs.

The narrative was more divided when it comes to perceptions of how many people believe in God. As a whole, greater numbers said that they have faith in God than those who said they believe in Heaven and Hell.

A majority of people in the United States said that they believe in God, Heaven and Hell, though again belief in God was greater than the latter two.

The trend was noticed by Graham Nichols, the director of Affinity, a network of Christian organisations, who told Premier: "It's difficult to reconcile some of them. Quite a large proportion identify as Christians and yet quite a small proportion believe in Heaven and Hell, so you wonder what those who identify as Christian actually believe."

Nicholas added: "In terms of the Christian message, it's important that people believe in both. They're both things that Jesus talked about a lot. Part of what He spoke about was both Heaven and Hell — Hell to be avoided and Heaven to be entered into."

The Ipsos survey did not provide statistics on specific religions, though a decline in Christianity has been documented in a number of Western countries, including the U.K.

A ComRes survey in September found that as little as 6 percent of British adults are practicing Christians, as defined by those who read the Bible, pray, and attend church on a regular basis.

The poll, conducted in March, found that as many as 51 percent of adults self-identified as Christians, but many did not match up to the before-mentioned criteria of practicing believers.

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