Survey: Wealthier Nations Less Religious

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Results from a recent survey may agree with that familiar Scripture passage.

A Pew Research Center report recently showed that religion is less likely to be central to the lives of individuals in richer nations than poorer ones.

The survey found a strong relationship between a country's religiosity and its economic status. According to the report, which released last month, African and some Asian countries – which are among the poorest in the world – scored highest on the religiosity scale. Meanwhile, rich Western European countries are among the most secular. Canada, Japan and Israel are also wealthy nations that have low levels of religiosity.

The United States, the wealthiest nation, was "most notably" an exception, scoring higher in religiosity than those in Europe. The level of religiosity in the United States was found to be similar to less economically developed countries such as Mexico. Americans tend to be more religious than the publics of other affluent nations, the survey stated.

Other exceptions include the oil-rich, predominantly Muslim kingdom of Kuwait which has a much higher level of religiosity than its economic situation would predict.

The Pew survey also measured the highly debated relationship between religion and morality. Results showed that in much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, there is a strong consensus that belief in God is necessary for morality and good values. In Japan and China, however, the majority does not agree that believing in God is required for morality.

Throughout much of Europe as well as Canada, majorities think morality is achievable without faith.

Opinions were more mixed in the United States. There, 57 percent say belief in God is necessary to have good values and to be moral while 41 percent disagree.

In many countries, younger people were significantly more likely to reject the notion that morality requires a belief in God.

Over the last five years, the percentage of people who think believing in God is necessary for good values has increased in nine countries, stayed about the same in 10, and declined in 13. Sharp decreases were found in Eastern Europe, India and Kenya.

The survey was done as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which is a series of worldwide public opinion surveys that encompass a broad array of subjects.