One True God – not as popular as you might think

By Razib Khan | December 4, 2011 5:12 pm

The above results are from an Ipsos MORI from last summer. Please note, the opinions above are restricted only to those who asserted a religious affiliation. Obviously in Saudi Arabia this is irrelevant, as nearly the whole population has a religious affiliation. But it is important in Japan, because there nearly 2 out of 3 individuals in the survey reported no religion, so these are results from the minority who reported having an affiliation (mostly Buddhist). As they say, read the whole thing. Here are some conclusions I drew from these data:

– Even in Saudi Arabia 25 percent of the population would not sign on to a very exclusive reading of their religion. This is not surprising to me. Very exclusive adherence to the proposition that all non-believers are damned is often hard to adhere to in any marginally cosmopolitan circumstance. Obviously there are people who will agree that Gandhi is in hell (this is a litmus test used to smoke out heterodox deviation in some fundamentalist Protestant churches in the USA), or that their close friend is going to hell, but when push comes to shove most people flinch. There seems to be a wide range in responses to this question about religious exclusivism, and I think that’s probably due to differences in priming.

– I have gotten into arguments with Hindus and New Atheists about the exclusive nature of Christianity online. My argument is that they tend to confuse fundamentalist Protestantism with Christianity qua Christianity. If I we believed that Christianity had a basis in truth this sort of attitude might make sense, but as that is not the case I don’t see the line of reasoning where non-Christians can assess who is, or isn’t, exhibiting more fidelity to Christianity. Granted, you can think of religion as a mathematical system where you can test propositions by inference from axioms. But I don’t think that’s too useful, though I see its logical coherency (and even in that case, it is trivially obvious to show that “fundamentalists” are themselves often revisionists who play fast & loose with what might “plainly” be inferred from the source text of a religion). The reality is that in most developed nations the vast majority of Christians no longer adhere to a position exclusivism which has come to make the Abrahamic religions particular distinctive. In fact, if you look at the survey in the results it indicates that Hindus in India are as exclusive in their understanding of their religion as Christians in the United States!

– Speaking of Hindus (and Buddhists to a lesser extent), these data speak to a difference between Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions. Though Hindus are not quite as universalist as Swedish Christians, matching social development they are quite tolerant. The Hindu model in India in a religious sense mixes a moderately high level of commitment with an acceptance of pluralism. This is pretty much the stereotype of Hindus in relation to Abrahamic faiths. In contrast, you have the Muslim model, which combines high levels of commitment with low levels of pluralism. Finally, you have the developed nations model, excepting the USA, which combines low commitment and high pluralism. India and the USA seem to occupy similar space in many ways in these data.

– Finally, in these results Turkey and Saudi Arabia seem to be positioned at the two poles of Islamic piety. I think that that is actually a good choice, as all other data indicates that Tunisia and Egypt would fall in the middle of these extremes (Tunisia closer to Turkey, Egypt to Saudi Arabia). What does that tell us? If you look at the results you’ll see that Turks as a nation seem to express attitudes and sentiments not too far from those of the USA. As I’ve long said, this is an important insight about the Islamic world: one of the most organically secular Muslim nations is in the same zone as the most pious of Western nations (along with Poland and Malta). In many ways the American Republican party today is probably analogous to moderate Islamists of the AKP; though I would suspect that the AKP has a larger “tail” of social conservatism than the Republican party.

COMMENTS NOTE: Any comment which misrepresents the material in this post will result in banning without warning. So you should probably stick to direct quotes in lieu of reformulations of what you perceive to be my intent in your own words. For example, if you start a sentence with “so what you’re trying to say….”, you’re probably going to get banned. I said what I tried or wanted to say in the post. Period.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Religion
MORE ABOUT: Religion

Comments (14)

  1. Dwight E. Howell

    Reasonable enough I suppose. There is more than enough data that only the most draconian measures can force people to low religious pluralism over a long time span.

  2. Theophile

    Hi Razib,
    I have also found the “New Atheists” do not want to acknowledge Fundamental Protestantism as being any different than any Christianity, Roman Catholic or otherwise. On the claim of “exhibiting more fidelity to Christianity”(According to the Bible); the testimonials of those believers described in Foxes book of Martyrs* cannot be disputed. It’s a shame this book has been put out of our history classes, churches, and memory. I guess it can’t be made politically correct, seeker friendly, or support blind nationalism(secular or theocratic), without altogether erasing it’s text and rewriting history.
    What percentage of “professing, church attending, Christians” would You say have read through the entire Bible on their own, pondering what it said? The world ecumenical movement is under way, the mantra “since we all agree it must be true” giving way to “what we eventually will agree on, must be true(never mind the apathy in the confusion).
    It kind of reminds me of an article I read where the author suggested a “mandatory internet voting system, for a pure democracy”. I commented asking him if he had read Plato, he responded “no, and I don’t plan to, too boring”.

  3. #3, u know i’m an atheist, right?

  4. In contrast, you have the Muslim model, which combines high levels of commitment with low levels of pluralism.

    By that, you mean that people who practice Islam are intolerant towards other religions? Shocker.

  5. marcel

    In re Turkey and Saudi Arabia holding down the 2 poles of Islamic piety, I’d want to see where Malaysia is before accepting that with confidence. My impression (about which I must admit I am feeling less certainty as I type) is that Malaysian Islam is pretty relaxed. Also, what is the current religious makeup of what is currently considered to be Bosnia? Did the war make it more unitary? If so, I’d like to see where it falls.

  6. #6, i’m giving an “out” for ex-communist nations. they’re all more secular by and large than turkey. e.g., kryghyzstan’s current head of state is an agnostic woman of kyrghyz background.

  7. jb

    There are certainly lots and lots of Christians today who do not believe that non-Christians automatically go to Hell, but my understanding has been that this is pretty recent, and that prior to maybe 150 years ago the official teaching of most Christian sects was that all non-Christians — indeed, often all Christians not belonging to the correct sect — were in fact damned.

    That’s certainly what the medieval wars of religion in Europe were about (or at least how they were justified). And it explains why Puritans in New England were willing to hang Quaker missionaries. (The Quakers however did not consider all non-Quakers damned, so they were an early exception to the rule). And I believe the Catholic Church taught that non-Catholics were damned well into the 20th century (until Vatican II?). I remember reading some hair-raising quotes from 19th Century popes about Protestantism! So while many of the theological particulars of modern fundamentalist Protestantism are new, the exclusive attitude towards salvation isn’t one of them.

  8. Diogeron

    I was certainly taught in Catholic schools that all non-Catholics would go to hell or purgatory. One more reason why I am not religious

  9. It may be interesting to compare the levels of democracy and plurality, as well as education of people in those countries, with this results.

  10. Giggsy

    ”Obviously in Saudi Arabia this is irrelevant, as nearly the whole population has a religious affiliation”

    Is it not compulsory to be Islamic in saudi arabia, hence the climate for christians, jews, hindus, buddist and athiest is not and has never been accommodated?. Also i read that to leave Islam is an offense or to go against the koran and other religous texts, so in that environment would it be safe to say its a governmental order to believe and ….no choice is actually given?


  11. Steve Arizona

    Why aren’t Jews as a religion or Israel as a country mentioned?

  12. It’d be worthwhile to note that 10 – 15% of the Indian population is Muslim, albeit mostly a moderate and tolerant form when compared to the purists who chose to move to Pakistan/Bangladesh following partition.

    @Jorge Laris (#10), you’d need an objective measure of democracy and plurality to define that, but I don’t think you can argue that the countries represented in the chart above are significantly far apart on the issue (barring Saudi Arabia) – Turkey, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa are all functioning democracies as much as the others; education levels don’t differ much between the US, Australia and the European countries despite the significant differences in views.

  13. albeit mostly a moderate and tolerant form when compared to the purists who chose to move to Pakistan/Bangladesh following partition.

    this is kind of a stupid comment.

    1) muslim purists (e.g., deobandis) opposed partition (albeit, more for reasons of muslim supremacy)

    2) the people who moved moved because they could, not ideology. e.g., they were geographically close, and had the economic means to move.

    finally, you can look at muslim views in the WVS. indian muslims aren’t different from bangladeshi ones last i checked. the data above are for hindus only.

    update: just to note, removing hindus only for india gives a number of 29 percent. so i was wrong in my last sentence.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar