"Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?" This was the question posed to 51,927 people in 57 different countries, in a recent poll conducted by Gallup.
The results show the world's population is becoming less religious, with a nine percent decline in believers compared with a similar survey conducted in 2005. The new survey also found a 3 percent increase of people who consider themselves atheists. Altogether, 59 percent of the world's population defines itself today as religious, 23 percent as non-religious and 13 percent as atheist.
Of the religions surveyed in the poll, Jews were found to be the least religious: Only 38 percent of the Jewish population worldwide considers itself religious, while 54 sees itself as non-religious and 2 percent categorizes itself as atheist. In comparison, 97 percent of Buddhists, 83 percent of Protestant Christians and 74 percent of Muslims consider themselves religious.
The poll, titled "The Global Index of Religion and Atheism – 2012," was conducted in five continents, and did not include Israel. China leads the list of countries with the highest population of atheists – 47 percent, followed by Japan, the Czech Republic, France, South Korea and Germany. Topping the list of countries with the highest number of believers is Ghana (96 percent), followed by Nigeria, Armenia, Fiji, Macedonia, Romania and Iraq.
Last January, the Guttman-Avi Chai survey in Israel found that some 80 percent of Israeli Jews believe that God exists - the highest figure found since this review of Israeli-Jewish beliefs began two decades ago.
The latest survey of the "Beliefs, Observance and Values among Israeli Jews" was conducted in 2009 but the results were released only in January, after a detailed analysis had been completed. The two previous surveys were in 1999 and 1991.
The study also found that 70 percent of respondents believe the Jews are the "Chosen People," 65 percent believe the Torah and mitzvot (religious commandments ) are God-given, and 56 percent believe in life after death.
Overall, the survey found an increase in attachment to Jewish religion and tradition from 1999 to 2009, following a decrease from 1991 to 1999, which was the decade of mass immigration from the former Soviet Union. Among other things, it found that less than half of Israeli Jews think that, in a clash between Jewish law and democracy, democratic values should always prevail.
The study, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute's Guttman Center for Surveys and the Avi Chai Foundation, is based on interviews with 2,803 Israeli Jews.
It found that only 46 percent of Israeli Jews now define themselves as secular, down from 52 percent in 1999, while 22 percent define themselves as either Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox, up from 16 percent in 1999. The remaining 32 percent term themselves traditional, virtually unchanged from 1999.