Hell: Do you believe in it? How many Americans do?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Hell
ARDA quiz about Hell featured in OurValues

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT HELL? Click this image to visit the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) website and take the quiz.

Halloween is this Friday—a fun holiday with serious religious and pagan roots. Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, also known as All Saints’ Eve. It’s a time when the barrier between this world and the next thins and traffic between the two worlds is possible. To ward off evil spirits, people carved pumpkins or gourds into frightening images. Wearing a costume or mask disguised one’s identity and prevented hijacking by spirits or departed souls. (Want to know more about Halloween—or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain? Check out this report by Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton.)

All of which makes this week a good time to discuss a topic we haven’t covered on Our Values.org: Hell.

Do you believe in Hell? Do you believe absolutely in the existence of Hell? Are you at least probably sure it exists?

Our colleague David Briggs has mined the Baylor Religion Survey to uncover what Americans believe about the existence of Hell. He reports that a majority of Americans (53%) have an absolute belief in the existence of Hell, with an additional 20% saying it probably exists. This means that almost three of four Americans believe in Hell. (Be sure to visit David’s web site, where he has assembled a Hell Quiz—just click on the image above.)

Belief in the existence of Hell doesn’t vary much across age groups. Younger Americans are just as likely as older Americans to be absolutely certain in the existence of Hell.

But there are other differences. Over eight of ten (85%) Americans who attend religious services weekly or more often absolutely believe in the existence of Hell. Yet almost one of four Americans (23%) who rarely go to religious services agrees.

Political conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe that people go to Hell as punishment for their sins. Indeed, staunch conservatives are three times more likely than ultra liberals to have this belief.

Do you believe in the existence of Hell?

Are you absolutely sure?

Hell: Is belief in it good for business?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Hell
Heronimus Bosch detail

WORK IN HELL? This vision of labors in Hell was envisioned by Hieronymus Bosch around the year 1500.

Hell, as traditionally imagined, is a place of eternal punishment for sins and transgressions. There’s nothing positive about being in Hell.

But, while we’re alive, belief in Hell is valuable.

Who benefits?

According to research summarized by David Briggs in his recent column about the netherworld: Hell is good for business. (Visit David’s site to take his Hell Quiz.)

Americans who absolutely believe in the existence of Hell are much more likely to say that they are satisfied with their jobs, compared to those who don’t believe in Hell. Those who strongly believe in Hell are also more committed to their organizations.

Higher job satisfaction and stronger commitment are linked to positive business outcomes. As the Baylor Religion Survey (the source of this finding) notes, such these outcomes include more organizational citizenship behaviors, higher job performance, and lower turnover or intentions to leave.

Americans who believe in Hell are also motivated to pursue excellence in the work they do. In the language of positive organizational scholarship, they are more likely to perceive their work as a “calling” than just a “job.”

What do you make of the link between belief in Hell and positive business outcomes?

Why are they linked?

Hell: How do ‘our’ beliefs compare worldwide?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Hell
Lord Yama judging souls and sending some to Naraka

Beliefs in Hell vary widely around the world. Most Americans are familiar with Christian imagery of Hell, but a belief in Hell (Jahannam) is central in Islam and Hindus also have a traditional way of describing a cosmic Judgment and the possibility of being sent to a Hell (Naraka). This illustration shows Yama (the lord of death) deciding whether souls should spend some time in Naraka before they are reincarnated as higher or perhaps lower beings.

A large majority of Americans believe in the existence of Hell, as we discussed earlier this week. How typical is this belief? Is belief in Hell more popular here than elsewhere around the globe?

An average of 60% of the world believes in Hell, according to the latest wave of the World Values Surveys. The U.S. clocks in at 70%, according to this survey, which is very close to the 73% of Americans who say they believe in Hell according to the Baylor Religion Survey.

Belief in Hell is higher than the U.S. level of belief in 18 of the 46 countries surveyed by the World Values Surveys. For example, almost all (99%) of the peoples of Pakistan, Algeria, and Iraq believe in the existence of Hell. Virtually all of the countries with high levels of belief in Hell are poor or developing nations.

At the other end, very few people (fewer than 20%) believe in Hell in Japan, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, China, and the Netherlands.

Nations with levels of belief in Hell similar to the U.S. include Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Taiwan, and Romania. These are not the usual countries that come to mind when we think of those that are similar to the U.S.

Once again, the U.S. is exceptional—qualitatively different from other affluent democracies.

Are you surprised to learn that, comparatively speaking, the level of belief in Hell is high in America?

How do you explain it?

Hell: The ultimate crime fighter?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Hell
Comparison of crime rate and belief in Hell

WANT TO READ THE ENTIRE RESEARCH REPORT? This colorful chart is part of the full PDF from the study. Click on this image of the chart to load the entire PDF.

The threat of eternal punishment in Hell is often thought to deter bad behavior and motivate good behavior. Is there any evidence that belief in Hell has these effects? What are the effects of belief in Heaven?

Two social scientists, Azim Shariff (University of Oregon) and Mijke Rhemtulla (University of Kansas), set out to answer these questions, using data from global surveys of religious beliefs and national crime data from the United Nations. Crimes included homicide, robbery, rape, assault, kidnapping, drug-related crime, theft, burglary, auto theft, and human trafficking.

What they found might surprise you.

Nations with higher levels of belief in Hell had lower crime rates, the researchers report. The threat of “supernatural punishment” had the predicted deterrent effect on anti-social behavior.

But beliefs in Heaven had the opposite effect. Nations with higher proportions of people who believe in “supernatural benevolence” suffer higher rates of crime, compared to nations with fewer people who believe in Heaven.

The researchers also looked at the effect of the difference in the proportion of people who believe in Heaven versus believe in Hell. As fewer people believe in Hell and more believe in Heaven, the rate of crime goes up.

So, does this make Hell the ultimate crime fighter?

Hell: What about the satanic realm of demons?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Hell
Fresco of the Devil and the demon of Vanity

18th Century fresco from a church shows the Devil and the demon of Vanity being cast down by God.

Today is Halloween—a time when the veil between this world and the next fades and spirit traffic between the two is possible. Do you believe in spirits? How about demons? Or Satan?

This week, we’ve discussed a range of facts about Hell: a large majority of Americans believe in Hell, belief in Hell is good for business, how American beliefs about Hell compare worldwide, and the deterrent effect belief in Hell has on crime around the world. Today, we consider the triumvirate of what sociologist Joseph Baker calls “religious evil” in his article in the Review of Religious Research.

Baker uses “religious evil” to refer collectively to Hell, demons, and Satan. Many Americans believe in Hell; as we discussed earlier this week, 73% of Americans believe in its existence. But even more believe in Satan: 75%. Beliefs in demons are almost as high, with 70% of Americans saying they believe in them.

African Americans have stronger beliefs in the Hell, demons, and Satan than do white Americans, he reports.

Beliefs in Hell, demons, and Satan tend to decline as income increases and education increases.

Age also makes a difference. Younger Americans are more likely older Americans to believe in the triumvirate of Hell, demons, and Satan.

On this All Hallows’ Eve, what do you believe?

Do you believe in demons?

Do you believe in Satan?