Who Believes in the Devil?

Contrary to media wisdom, a belief in the devil is widespread--even among the nation's best-educated.

 

Belief in "the devil" is as high as it's been since pollsters started to inquire, according to two polls released this week.



A

poll

released yesterday by Harris Interactive showed that 68% of Americans believe in "the devil." A

Gallup poll

, also released this week but based on surveys conducted in 2001, came up with the same 68% number, the highest figure they've recorded since they started asking the question in the 1950s. The previous high for Gallup was 1994 (65.5%); in some years, the numbers dropped as low as 51% (1991) and 60% (1968). In most decades, the rate hovered between 55% and 62%.

Both surveys found that while belief in the devil is higher among those with less education, most highly educated people also share that belief. A staggering percentage of people with postgraduate degrees believe in the devil--55% according to Gallup and 52% according to Harris--as do 66% of urban dwellers (Gallup).

Neither of the polls attempt to define what people mean by "devil." Gallup did try to dissect that question in 1978, when they found that 34% of respondents believed in the devil as a "personal

being

who directs evil forces and influences people to do wrong." In the same poll, 36% of people said they believed the devil was an "impersonal

force

that influences people to do wrong."

The Harris poll also covered a variety of other issues, such as angels, miracles, and reincarnation. Here, too, the results tend to shatter some of the stereotypes held by New York media types, who tend to think only uneducated Southerners believe in the really hardcore aspects of religion.

Although the analysis accompanying the online Harris survey stressed that religiosity increased as education decreased, that misses the far more interesting point--the strong religiosity of even the well-educated. Specifically, most people with post-graduate degrees believe in:

  • Hell (53%)
  • Miracles (72%)
  • Survival of the Soul After death (78%)
  • The Virgin birth (60%)
  • The resurrection of Christ (64%)

    The percentage of those with postgraduate degrees believing in God was 85%, compared to 92% among those with high school or less--not an enormous chasm.

    The other fascinating finding buried in the Harris poll is the huge size of the spiritual gender gap, which is much greater than the gap based on education. 89% of women believe in survival of the soul after death compared to 78% for men. 89% of women believe in Heaven; 75% of men do. 58% of women believe in ghosts, while 45% of men do.

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