Although formal religion is continuing to decline in this country, belief in the supernatural remains high. That seems to be the main conclusion to be drawn from a recent survey of New Zealand religious affiliations and attitudes carried out by Massey University as part of the International Social Survey Programme.

The survey of 1000 people found 40 percent of respondents said they had no religious affiliation compared with 29 percent just 17 years ago. Fifty-three percent said they believed in God, although half of those said they had doubts, and 20 percent believed in some form of higher power. Professor Philip Gendall, who led the study, said there had been no change in the proportion of those who say they believe in a higher power. “The survey shows that God is not dead, but religion may be dying,” he said. Fifty-seven percent believed in life after death, with 51 percent believing in heaven and 36 percent believing in hell, the survey showed.

Of particular interest to skeptics were the responses on superstitions, though these were only a small part of the overall study. A quarter thought star signs could affect people’s futures, 28 percent said good luck charms work and 39 percent said they believed fortune-tellers could foresee the future.

Perhaps we can take some comfort in the fact that those figures are all well under 50 percent, but they’re still high. It would be interesting to see reliable, up-to-date figures for attitudes in New Zealand towards alternative medicine, creationism, mediums, UFOs, and the various claims of the alternative archaeology crowd. Some of those I suspect would be really alarming.

I’m not aware of any formal attempt to carry out such a study. The closest would be last year’s Sunday Star-Times survey, of which the second half of Vicki Hyde’s response is printed in this issue. Respondents in that were a self-selected subset of the paper’s readership – hardly a random sample of the entire country. All the same, where comparisons could be made, results are fairly comparable with the Massey survey – eg 40 percent of respondents said they believed in God with another 10 percent not sure, which could be rephrased as 50 percent believing but 10 percent uncertain, quite similar to the Massey figures. About 44 percent thought it was possible to foresee the future, which is again close to what Gendall’s team found. So even though the Sunday Star-Times survey’s prime objectives were to entertain and to sell papers, it seems it may have provided a useful snapshot of New Zealanders’ attitudes to the paranormal.

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