SAYit Blog
How many New Zealanders believe in God?

Reading through the many comments on last week's blog on evolution & creationism (available here), it occurred to me that I'd never written a full blog on the 'beliefs' questions I referred to in that blog.  Some of the overall stats have been available on the SAYit site, but I haven't provided the full information.  Although the questions are a couple of years old now (September 2011), I don't think there's reason to believe that New Zealanders' views will have changed markedly in that time.

Earlier blogs have referred to other beliefs questions - click on the links below to see them plus comments from SAYit members:

The specific questions I want to cover in this blog are:

  • Do New Zealanders believe in God?
  • Do people believe that Jesus was a real person who lived 2000 years ago?
  • Do people believe in life after death?

All these 'beliefs' questions are framed in a way that allows people to express some doubt but tries to get them to decide which way they lean.  People are asked to choose if they:

  • Are absolutely certain it is true
  • Are fairly certain it is true
  • Believe it's true but are not too certain
  • Believe it's true but are not at all certain
  • Believe it's not true but are not at all certain
  • Believe it's not true but are not too certain
  • Are fairly certain it is not true
  • Are absolutely certain it is not true

The first four are usually combined into a 'believe it' number, while the second four are combined into a 'don't believe it' number.  Usually with scale questions like these there are a lot of people around the middle, but on these questions there tend to be relatively high proportions at the extreme ends of the scale (i.e. those who say they're absolutely certain the statement is true / not true).

So, to belief in God.  As I said last week, 61% of New Zealanders believe that there is 'a God or some sort of universal spirit', which is well behind the 92% of Americans who said that they believed in God in a Gallup survey around the same time as our survey (see last week's blog for a link to that poll).  The full numbers from the SAYit survey were:

  • 28% absolutely certain it is true
  • 13% fairly certain it is true
  • 9% believe it's true but are not too certain
  • 11% believe it's true but are not at all certain
  • 6% believe it's not true but are not at all certain
  • 5% believe it's not true but are not too certain
  • 11% are fairly certain it is not true
  • 16% are absolutely certain it is not true

Note that I've capitalised the word 'God' not as an expression of my own beliefs (I'm staying out of this one!) but out of respect for the views of those who are religious.  The question also deliberately doesn't specify which God or universal spirit we're meaning - hopefully those who follow the polytheistic faiths would have felt that this applied to them.

One interesting point is that the proportion who believe in God (61%) is similar to the proportion who specified a religion in the 2006 census (59%).  While it's quite possible to believe there is a God or universal spirit without following an organised religion, it gives me confidence that our survey question is pretty close to the mark.

Incidentally while we're on the Census question: people who put 'Jedi' shouldn't kid themselves that it fazed Statistics NZ in any way.  Obviously irrelevant responses like that get automatically coded into a separate pile - there was never any requirement (as the rumour suggested) that they'd have to have a separate category for it in future. I'm sure they regarded it as a minor inconvenience (if anything) rather than as anything to get too excited about.  Click here to see how Stats NZ actually reported on the religion question.

For the demographics on belief in God:

  • 72% of women believe in God, compared with 52% of men.
  • There's little difference by age, with 30-44 year olds and 45-49 year olds (both 63%) being the most likely to say that they believe in God and over 60 year olds the least likely to (60%).
  • 65% of Maori and 72% of Pacific people believe in God.

The next question asked New Zealanders if they believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who lived 2000 years ago.  Again, it's quite possible to believe that Jesus was a real person and to not follow Christianity or any other religion - you don't have to believe that Jesus was the son of God as long as you believe that there was a person named Jesus preaching around that time.  The results show that 78% of us believe that Jesus was in fact a real person, with the full results being:

  • 29% absolutely certain it is true
  • 25% fairly certain it is true
  • 10% believe it's true but are not too certain
  • 14% believe it's true but are not at all certain
  • 4% believe it's not true but are not at all certain
  • 4% believe it's not true but are not too certain
  • 6% are fairly certain it is not true
  • 8% are absolutely certain it is not true

The demographics show few differences:

  • 79% of men and 77% of women think that Jesus was a real person.
  • 82% of over 60 year olds believe that this is true, compared with 75% of under 30 year olds.
  • 76% of Maori and 72% of Pacific people believe that this is true.

We're a bit less certain on life after death, with 57% of us believing that this is true.  The full figures are:

  • 20% absolutely certain it is true
  • 12% fairly certain it is true
  • 12% believe it's true but are not too certain
  • 13% believe it's true but are not at all certain
  • 7% believe it's not true but are not at all certain
  • 5% believe it's not true but are not too certain
  • 12% are fairly certain it is not true
  • 19% are absolutely certain it is not true

And the demographics:

  • 66% of women believe in life after death, compared with 47% of men.
  • Belief in live after death actually declines with age.  65% of under 30 year olds believe in life after death, compared with 49% of over 60 year olds.  
  • 56% of Maori and 72% of Pacific people believe in life after death.

Ok - to the comments.  Last week some of the debate got a bit too 'ad hominem' for my liking.  We only delete comments as a last resort and most of the time it's been pleasingly self-regulating.  It's great to have heated debate going on but let's keep the personal insults etc. out of it as much as possible - we want people to feel comfortable with joining in and having their say.

All results in this blog are based on a survey of a representative sample of n=1000 New Zealanders aged 18 years or older, conducted by UMR Research in September 2011.