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Churchgoers Less Likely to Believe in Ghosts

In honor of Halloween, the Pew Research Center has published an interesting post highlighting its 2009 findings about Americans’ belief in ghosts. Not surprisingly, regular churchgoers are less likely to say they they have seen or been in the presence of the apparition of a dead person:

Does going to church help keep ghosts away? It’s impossible to say, but people who often go to worship services appear to be less likely to say they see ghosts. Just 11% of those who attend religious services at least weekly say they’ve been in the presence of a ghost, while 23% of those who attend services less frequently say they have seen a ghost, the Pew Research Center survey found.

The survey also found that the share of Americans who said they had seen ghosts had doubled between 1996 and 2009—a period during which religious affiliation declined sharply.

These figures support a view we’ve expressed before—that humans inherently feel connected to something beyond their visible day-to-day reality, and that, in the absence of organized religion, that feeling tends to be expressed through superstition. A world without God is unlikely to be a more “rational” world in the sense that Richard Dawkins and Co. would like.

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  • Andrew Allison

    One might argue that organized religion is also superstition. Could it be that superstition is inbuilt in the human psyche?

    • FriendlyGoat

      Yes, absolutely IMHO. A curious thing about your first sentence is that I agree with you on the point that “organized” is the key word that makes superstition be superstition.

    • Matt B

      Ahh, now that great Stevie Wonder song is going through my head…

      Belief in the supernatural seems to be inbuilt in the human psyche, and manifests either as superstition (fear of the unknown) or religion (reverence for the divine).

      Of course atheists have learned to keep their imaginations in check, which is precisely what makes them so much fun at parties.

      From my ghost-repellent abode, Happy Halloween all!

    • Boritz

      Yes, I think most people are with the Cowardly Lion on this one. ” I do I do I do believe… “

    • Jim__L

      I’ve always though this argument was like trying to prove light does not exist because we have eyes.

      • Matt B


      • Andrew Allison

        Religions clearly exist, the question is whether they are superstition. Given the impossibility of proving (as opposed to taking on faith, as it were) the existence of God or the deity of your choice, the answer appears to be self-evident.

        • FriendlyGoat

          I like to remember that it’s hard to prove that God exists but nearly everyone, including secular historians, believe Jesus existed.

        • Jim__L

          I beg your pardon, I didn’t express myself clearly. Where I said “religion” I meant “God”. Fixing it now…

  • FriendlyGoat

    1) When I was a kid, I thought that the popularity of both Halloween and tattoos would probably fade over time. That was over a half-century ago and my expectations not only did not materialize, the USA has become more distracted with both.

    2) With respect to the substance of this article, we have to assume that people who EXPECT to see ghosts are the ones reporting to have seen them. Same with Bigfoot.

    • Andrew Allison

      The superplacebo effect?

      • FriendlyGoat

        Perhaps. And aided by some rituals like seances, ouija boards, various mediums, candles, incense, mysterious-looking women, reading novels about the supernatural, you name it.

        Just happened to see yesterday an old episode of the Andy Griffith show where Barney was scared to go to a reportedly-haunted house which—-it turned out—- had a guy operating a still which lubricated America’s favorite alcoholic, Otis. Mainstream TV was making fun of ghost stuff in the 1960’s, and now some have since forgotten what we then seemed to know.

  • factoidlover

    Not sure I can agree with the conclusion. One could argue from the data set provided in the link that the most rapid rise of feeling connected to supernatural phenomena has occurred during the years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. With such a limited data set one could then argue a counter conclusion – a world without war might be less supernatural.

  • Angel Martin

    Churchgoers are less likely to have seen or been in the presence of ghosts.

    Not surprising as the Bible expressly forbids necromancy.

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