Belief in angels is popular and widespread, although not universal. Italians and Croatians fall in line with 77% of Americans who believe in the existence of angels. However, Danes fall somewhere between 25-33%, and the English slightly higher at 36%, according to Gallup.
Why is this?
Some analysts feel the poll results roughly correspond with the general belief in God. Americans, Italians, and Croatians overwhelmingly profess belief in God, while less than half of Danes and barely half of Brits do so. Though not all who believe in God necessarily believe in angels, these facts add up to suggest we are looking at a cultural dividing line. On the one side live those who are open to the spiritual; on the other live those who are not. Survey data reveals the former are obviously more likely to believe in angels, and the latter clearly are not.
Junk in the Attic
Other analysts say that materialism, not religious belief, is the primary divide. In other words, they feel that materialistic, consumer-driven societies inoculate people against the spiritual. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox priest and popular blogger, often speaks of the two-story universe to explain things. Since the Enlightenment we have a tendency to divide the spiritual and the material and separate them off into distinct domains. By consigning the spiritual to the second story, in time we forget it’s there. Like a box of forgotten junk in the attic, it has little bearing on our daily lives. Angels become an afterthought in a two-story universe, if they’re ever considered at all.
Sadly, the spiritual and divine often get demoted to theoretical concepts rather than an active presence in our world. Spiritual experience gets confined to an ever-shrinking area, and angels are the casualties, such as for the Danes and Brits.
St. Augustine famously envisioned the world split into two camps, one of light and the other of darkness, one of love and devotion to God and the other of pride and alienation from the Creator. He termed these camps “the city of God” and “the city of the world.”
Note that there are just two cities in this scheme. Augustine said that we should not “suppose four cities, two of angels and two of men.” Rather, “we may speak of two cities, or communities, one consisting of the good, angels as well as men, and the other of the evil, men and angels.”
Angels, as Augustine and all the theologians of the early church recognized, share the world with us, whether we believe in them or not. Maybe it’s time we took a look at what’s in the attic that we may have forgotten.