Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Spiritual or More Stupid?

Much is made of the fact that we are 'more spiritual but less religious' - it was one of the things raised at Spring Harvest last week, and research seems to show a greater tendency to believe in a spiritual world, such as this, published last week by Theos:

The poll of over 2,000 people, conducted by ComRes on behalf of Theos, shows that 70% of people believe in the human soul, 55% believe in heaven and 53% believe in life after death.

Almost four in 10 (39%) of people believe in ghosts, 22% believe in astrology or horoscopes, 27% believe in reincarnation and 15% believe in fortune telling or Tarot, the research reveals.

The comparison with the 1950s is especially striking. In 1950, only 10% of the public told Gallup that they believed in ghosts, and just 2% thought they had seen one. In 1951, only 7% of the public said they believed in predicting the future by cards and 6% by stars.

A regional breakdown of the latest research finds that:

• London has the highest proportion of people in the UK who believe in ghosts (50%) astrology/horoscopes (26%) and heaven (69%).
• Scotland has the highest proportion of people in the UK who believe in fortune telling/tarot (18%).
• Wales has the highest proportion of people who believe in reincarnation (32%).

On one level, this is good news - many people don't need persuading that their lives have a spiritual element. But my question at the moment is, does this mean that people are more spiritual, or just more foolish? Are we into Chesterton 'if people stop believing in God then it's not that they believe in nothing, but will believe in anything' territory here? Comedian Stewart Lee made the point a few weeks ago that someone who read our most popular celebrity books would end up being more stupid than someone who'd never read them in the first place. Are we dealing with the same kind of inability to think properly about religion and spirituality which Richard Dawkins despairs of in creationists?

After all, these aren't groups of Athenian philosophers who debate the spiritual world on a regular basis, who would relate to a sermon on the Unknown God (Acts 17), but people who watch Derek Acorah on TV and read horoscopes in the Sun. Is this 'spirituality' a manifestation of curiosity, or of credulity?

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