Unusual patterns in beliefs about religion, spirituality, god, and ghosts


I came across this 2007 survey about British public attitudes towards religion and other beliefs such as ghosts, telepathy, witches, and the like. The survey found that only 37% of the respondents said that they considered themselves religious but a much larger 56% said they believed in god. So there must be many who think that being religious involves more than believing in god, such as attending religious services or being involved in other religious exercises.

But I was more surprised that while 56% believe in god, only 36% consider themselves to be spiritual. I had imagined that the spiritual group would be larger than the group that believes in god, since saying one is spiritual usually covers all manner of vague beliefs including god. What does it mean to believe in a god but not be spiritual?

I found the responses to various superstitions to be interesting too. It looks like about 20-30% of people are susceptible to superstitious beliefs. As much as 38% believe in ghosts and an astonishing 36% say that they have actually seen a ghost.

Comments

  1. KG says

    Just a hunch – “spiritual” may have a less positive connotation in Britain than in the US. Older people in particular may associate it with spiritualism – the claims of “mediums” and “psychics” to contact the dead.

  2. anat says

    People who believe in God but aren’t spiritual – they believe in God, but don’t believe anything specific about God. Or perhaps don’t believe they can connect to God, don’t believe God interferes with their personal lives, don’t believe he(?) listens to their personal prayers.

  3. says

    Speaking as a Brit, though only anecdotally, I know many people who say things like “Well, I reckon there’s probably some kind of god,” but they don’t give it much thought beyond that. They don’t pray, attend church, or do any of the things you’d think of as being “actively” religious.

  4. John Morales says

    Two domains of existence: the earthly and the supernatural.

    Spiritual people believe the supernatural and the earthly interact.

    Goddists believe they have a soul which survives (bodily) death.

    The two sets intersect.

  5. Randall Lee says

    What does it mean to believe in a god but not be spiritual?
    .
    If you ask or were to ask any religious person whether they consider themselves to be a spiritual entity or whether they hold what they perceive to be spiritual values, they would respond yes almost unanimously to both questions.
    But when such persons are asked to self identify themselves as either religious or spiritual they usually choose religious because the adjective better describes the fact that they either believe in or adhere to certain religious practices and rules as opposed to the group that is strictly spiritual which holds that the keeping of particular religious practices or rules are unnecessary to maintain what they perceive to be their spirituality.
    .
    As far as the claim that “20-30% of people are susceptible to superstitious beliefs.”, I would argue that the percentage is much higher than that. For instance, well into the 90 percentile are those persons that believe that one group of murderers and thieves will ultimately protect us from the rest of the worlds murderers and thieves. They call this superstition the belief in governmental authority.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Speaking as a Brit, here’s my interpretation of those results:
    For us, merely to believe in a god requires nothing of us. It’s a “yeah, whatever” response. It’s a legal requirement that every school in Britain (not just the faith schools) provides a “daily act of collective worship”, so we’re brainwashed from day one of school to just take for granted that there’s a god. Most believe there’s a god like they believe there’s an Antarctica – we’ve been told, there’s no particular reason not to believe, it’s not something that requires thinking about because it has absolutely no effect on our lives. God/no God – most people don’t actually care. I can tell you now, it’s lovely living in a country that really doesn’t give a shit what you believe as long as you keep it to yourself.
    But to be religious – that means you have to DO something. Most basically, it means you have to go to church and mean it, not just go to christenings, weddings and funerals, turn up drunk to midnight mass at Christmas or attend every Sunday until your kid has got into the good school. Also, “religious” people are known for doing other things:
    – giving 10% of their wages to the church
    – standing in the high street pestering passersby
    – banging on about Jesus all the bloody time
    – sexually molesting children.
    It should be no surprise that, when answering pollsters’ questions, people might prefer not to be associated with those people.
    Given how matter-of-fact the “believe in God” thing is, it’s no surprise to me that it doesn’t require you to be the kind of happy-clappy, hippy-dippy flake who “considers themself spiritual”. In the UK, “spiritual” means things like “goes to yoga, hangs a dreamcatcher in the window, is “allergic to wifi” and believes washing up liquid gives you cancer”.
    Ghost belief, and especially ghost experience, is in my limited experience very very strongly correlated with intelligence and educational level. Ask most British people with a three digit IQ if they’ve ever seen a ghost and most of them will not call you a fucking idiot for asking the question. They’ll be thinking it, though – British people are, in the main and at first, quite polite towards people they perceive to be fucking idiots. That one third of the population are in fact fucking idiots, though, would surprise nobody.

  7. RationalismRules says

    As much as 38% believe in ghosts and an astonishing 36% say that they have actually seen a ghost.

    I’d be surprised if these two figures didn’t closely correlate. We all experience unexplained phenomena from time to time – we skeptics look for naturalistic explanations (eg. pareidolia), but superstitious people interpret those experiences as confirming their superstitions – so if you believe in ghosts it’s almost inevitable you’ll ‘see one’ at some point in your life.

  8. KG says

    For instance, well into the 90 percentile are those persons that believe that one group of murderers and thieves will ultimately protect us from the rest of the worlds murderers and thieves. They call this superstition the belief in governmental authority. – Randall Lee@5

    It’s entirely typical of you to use a completely unrelated thread to push your stupid anarcho-capitalist crap, and by implication, sneer at everyone who disagrees with it.

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