Are prayers answered?
Holy Saturday being Social Climate’s annual day off, my Holy Week column is always the Saturday after. Last year’s “The religiosity of Filipinos” (4/23/22) looked into “hard” versus “soft” belief in God, and into beliefs in the afterlife, citing the religion surveys of the International Social Survey Program (issp.org), where Social Weather Stations (SWS) has been a member since 1990. Each ISSP member finances its own survey.
This year, let’s look at the World Values Survey (WVS), the prime data source for the 2021 book “Religion’s Sudden Decline: What’s Causing It, and What Comes Next?” by Ronald F. Inglehart. This is the final book of political scientist Inglehart (1934-2021), founder of WVS and co-founder of the Euro-Barometer Survey.
The WVS covers over 100 countries. It is more “global” than ISSP, which covers about 40. The WVS’ subject matter is very wide, making it so expensive that it has had only seven waves since 1981, the latest being in 2017-22. On the other hand, the ISSP surveys are annual and comparatively affordable. SWS is likewise the Philippine implementor of the WVS, based on external funding.
The importance of God. Inglehart’s book points out that, from 1981 to 2007, religiosity rose in 33 out of 47 countries, but then, from 2007 to 2019, it declined in 42 out of 48 countries. “Religiosity” was primarily indicated by the average of answers to the survey question, “How important is God in your life?” on a scale from 1 meaning “not at all important,” to 10 meaning “very important.”
For Filipinos, the average “importance of God” in the latest WVS, fielded by SWS in December 2019, was 9.4, with 85 percent of the answers at perfect 10s. In the three previous WVS surveys, it had been 9.7, 9.6, and 9.5—thus not much decline in our case. How many times, after a sports championship, have you heard the winning team captain, before anything else, say thanks to God?
For our former colonizers, the latest importance scores were: United States 7.0 and Spain 5.4. It appears that Spaniards, whose ancestors brought us Christianity, now call God only “half-important” in their lives.
Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the latest scores are: Myanmar, 9.7; Indonesia, 9.7; Malaysia, 8.5; Singapore, 6.7; Vietnam, 6; Thailand, 5.1.
Other interesting scores: Ukraine, 6.9; Russia, 6.2; Taiwan, 6.1; Hong Kong, 4.8; Finland, 4.6 (the “happiest country”); Japan, 4.5; United Kingdom, 4.2; Macau, 4.1; China, 2.8.
The frequency of prayer. In the latest WVS, 55 percent of Filipinos said they prayed several times a day, 30 percent said once a day, 7 percent said several times a week, and 2 percent said only when attending religious services. Three other positive categories accounted for the other 4 percent; no one said “never,” and everyone answered.
Percentages of praying several times a day in some other countries: Indonesia, 83; Malaysia, 61; Singapore, 27; Myanmar, 28; US, 26; Spain, 20; Taiwan, 12; Thailand, 11; Ukraine, 10; Russia, 8; United Kingdom, 7; Hong Kong, 5; Japan, 5; Macau, 2; Vietnam, 1; China, 0.
Does prayer work? In designing multiple-choice questions on what course of action the respondent will take to solve a given problem, we’ve learned from experience that the choice of “pray”—for almost any problem—is so liable to dominate that it’s better to either leave it out or to allow the respondent to choose more than one answer.
It only occurs to me now that SWS hasn’t surveyed whether prayers get answered or whether the answers are favorable. Maybe there’ll be a chance to do this in time for next year’s post-Holy Week column?
Other WVS religious survey items are: belief in God; belief in life after death; belief in hell; belief in heaven; “whenever science and religion conflict, religion is always right”; “the only acceptable religion is my religion”; frequency of attending religious services; religious versus non-religious versus atheist; being religious means following religious norms and ceremonies versus doing good to other people; being religious means making sense of life after death versus making sense of life in this world. Excel files of all items by country across WVS rounds are at https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSOnline.jsp.
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