Opinion: Global survey on Jews' increased secularism can teach us nothing

If the Gallup polling company is to be believed, Jews are the most secular people in the world.

Gallup's Global Index of Religion and Atheism carried out surveys in 57 countries on five continents, and found that since the last worldwide survey in 2005, nine percent fewer people around the world consider themselves religious, while outright atheism has risen by three percent. Even so, the majority, 59 percent, still see themselves as religious.

As usual, the Jews are early joiners, ahead of the curve: According to Gallup, only 38 percent of Jews describe themselves as religious, while 54 percent are nonreligious and two percent atheist. When compared to the figures for other religions - the various brands of Christianity, as well as Hinduism and Islam, all have double the religious proportion - Jews seem almost irredeemably secular.

This flies in the face of all we have heard for years about the Orthodox Jewish demographic ascendancy and rising levels of religious Jewish belief and practice. That is, until you have a closer look at the data.

The Global Index was conducted as a nation-by-nation survey, based on representative samples of each country's population. Thus the number of Jews in the poll was at best incidental: Nearly 52,000 people worldwide participated, among whom 106 identified themselves as Jewish. That's roughly one in 500, which is more or less the proportion of Jews in the global population.

But no statistician would argue that 106 Jews is a representative sample of a far-flung tribe with some 14 million members. Added to that is the fact that Israel, where 43 percent of the world's Jews live, was not one of the countries included in the survey.

So not only does it make sense not to read anything into the Jewish representation in the Global Index of Religion and Atheism, but it should serve as a warning to anyone trying to assess people's religious beliefs, affiliations and practices from surveys.


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