Staunton, November 18 – The relationship between faith and declared religious identity is never simple, but the gap between the two appears to be especially large in present-day Russia where a significant number of self-described atheists say they believe in heaven and many self-proclaimed Orthodox Christians declare they don’t believe in God.
Those are just two of the findings of a new Levada Center poll released this week. Noting that the share of the population declaring itself atheist had declined from 36 percent in 1991 to 13 percent now, it found that the number of self-described believers had gone up from 14 percent to 34 percent over the same period (openrussia.org/notes/716124/).
The survey did find that the percentage of Russians identifying as Orthodox has declined since 2009 from 36 percent to 25 percent, an indication that other faiths, including Islam, account for the continuing growth in the intervening period.
But the most interesting finding of the new survey is that “almost every third atheist in Russia believes in the existence of hell and every fourth in the existence of the devil.” The optimists slightly outnumber of the pessimists in this regard. The center thus concludes that “faith and superstition can coexistence independently from one another in an individual.”
The same kind of split exists among Orthodox Christians, with 17 percent of them denying the existence of the devil, and 11 percent saying they believed in heaven but not in hell. Thus, every sixth Orthodox denies the basic doctrine of Christianity – life after death” without that constituting any problem for his or her saying they’re believers.