Is the United States the most religious nation in the world?

Pollster George Gallup, who may know as much about religious trends in the United States as anyone, said earlier this year that perhaps it was. Contrary to the gloomy pronouncements of some, Gallup sees little erosion of religious beliefs in our society. “Americans have in fact held firmly to basic religious beliefs over the last quarter century,” he says, “while a dramatic change has come about in certain European nations during this time.”

On a deeper level, however, it is difficult to claim the title “most religious” for the United States, or for any other nation, for that matter. In the biblical sense of “the nations” (ta ethne), some entire nations are highly religious in their way. The Sawi of Peace Child fame, for example, believed in a multiplicity of evil spirits dwelling in stones, trees, wind, and lightning. There were no exceptions, so it could be said that the Sawi are a totally religious “nation.” And even if we restrict “religious” to Christian, we find peoples in the world more religious than the United States. No area of the world is more thoroughly Christian than northeast India, where large tribes of headhunters have become followers of Jesus Christ during the last seventy-five years. Approximately three-fourths of the people in those tribes are Christian now. The Mizo “nation” leads with some 98 per cent of its population Christian.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the people of the United States are very religious. One recent Gallup survey found that 71 per cent of adults (eighteen or older) were members of a church or synagogue. This is quite remarkable, given ...

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