Once, I did a ranking of life in the States vs life in Europe (in my case Spain) along 100 different categories, and surprisingly the result was basically even. There were significant differences in the quality of life in both sides of the Atlantic but USA exceeded in some and Europe in others. Let me give you some examples. In America justice works faster than in Spain, but in Spain it is much less likely that anyone will ever sue you. Or that America and Spain are equally safe, but America requires much more policemen per capita to achieve the same results. Or that America is much better than Spain as an environment in which to start a business, but in Spain there´s much less competition. And I could go on and on, but I would like to pause on one subject in which Americans and Europeans are significantly different, and that is what I would call a likelihood to believe in things not proven. Americans are believers, Europeans are cynics.

The first substantial difference in believing relates to religion. There is an enormous division between Americans and Europeans on this subject. While most Americans are religious, Europeans are mostly non believers. As you can see in the linked articles, almost 80% of Americans consider themselves religious, while just 52% of the Europeans believe in a god. But not only do most Americans believe in religion. From my personal conversations with people on both sides of the Atlantic I have found that in America there are more people willing to believe in all sorts of things that few people would defend with a straight face in Europe. Now, being a big believer, or almost a gullible person to European eyes is not always bad. On the positive side I think that the best belief that Americans have is actually in themselves and in the American dream and, regardless of the failures of America, America´s leading economic indicators have been outperforming those of Europe for decades. On the negative side, being an overall trusting culture lacking in self criticism can be a bad thing. Spaniards, for example, quickly realized that the Iraqi invasion had gone wrong and that it was likely to increase rather than reduce global terrorism, so President Aznar was voted out. Americans instead reelected Bush and took them much longer to conclude that the US Middle East policy has been a failure. The ability to change your mind, which is seen as a virtue in Europe, is frequently seen as a lack of values in America. Kerry, for example, was defeated on a campaign in which he was accused of flip flopping, a trait that should be positive in a politician, namely the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, something that President Bush clearly failed to show. But for Americans, being driven by circumstances can be perceived as worse than being driven by beliefs. Now, going deeper into these issues, not only do I much more frequently run into people in America who believe in organized religion than in Europe, but I run into people who believe in all sorts of what I would call weird things.

Here´s a random list:


-Previous lives. I have tried to argue with success with many Americans about how unlikely it is that we all had previous lives, considering that there are as many people alive now that ever died in the history of humanity (did we share past lives?).

-Creationism, only in America do a significant group of people doubt evolutionary theory.

-a literal interpretation of the Bible. I have spent time with Americans debating that the world is actually older than 6000 years or so as the Bible literally says. Fossils, dinosaurs were of no help in those conversations.



And I could go on and on, but here´s a Dictionary of weird beliefs that does a great job at listing them all.

Now, of course there are also Europeans who believe in those things too. They are just much less common, and moreover they don´t tend to be the Presidents of our nations.

Conclusion? A nation built by self believers is a great nation but there´s a limit to this and without enough self doubt citizens of this nation can end up acting on beliefs that can cause tremendous harm to others. One thing, for example, is to believe that the US government is overextended, the other one is to blow up a government building and kill a lot of innocent people as it happened in Oklahoma City. Or one thing is to believe in God, the other is to believe that God has you on some religious mission that involves killing others.

Is it bad to believe in weird things? Personally I think that so long as those beliefs are harmless to you or others it is acceptable, but maybe just boring. I have many times simply ran out of patience debating Americans at dinner parties on subjects such as the power of pyramids, alien abductions, the existence of the devil or the interpretation of past lives.

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Kenny on August 27, 2006  · 

“only in America do a significant group of people and their president doubt evolutionary theory.”

I predict this will change sooner than you think. Not that theory as a whole, but I think there will be greater acceptance of Intelligent Design by more non-Americans is coming in the next decade. It’s already starting to get noticed in places like Australia.

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Reincarnation on August 27, 2006  · 

Reincarnation is believed to take non-human form as well as human, so the “number of people” argument may not be very accurate. On the other hand, as it is believed that human life is a “lucky” reincarnation (relative to animal life) one wonders why so many souls got lucky these days… 😉

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John on August 27, 2006  · 

I would be very surprised if many Europeans would fall for creationism as a valid theory, even if it has been given a new name in a lame attempt to try to circumvent US laws.

Europeans have just had many more centuries of religious crap thrown at them, and have worked out for the most part that it is just a way of guiding people to be nice.

I see the US as an adolescent nation. It is full of its own beliefs because it hasn’t had the time to learn about those of others. It is over confident, much like a teenager who believes they are invincible. And it tends to annoy more mature nations with brash displays and inappropriate behaviour.

As Martin says though, that young can-do culture does have some benefits, especially in the fast moving world of technology. The US just needs someone to guide it – a mentor if you like. It is a shame that the current UK government is too weak to do this as they are probably the only one a US administration would listen to nowadays.

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Marcelo Levit on August 27, 2006  · 

It is worth posting this article in spanish.

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killy-the-frog on August 27, 2006  · 

I believe USA should read more about Descarte ?

A message to my american friends…
Please stop asking foreigner (including europeans) if we have “Fridge, CD player, helicopter, and various other stuffs like that”. I, personally, and many of my friends have been ask these kind of questions in USA. It is really annoying.
Remember not only USA have experience industrial revolution and the consequence of it.

See you !

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Martin Varsavsky on August 27, 2006  · 

Concerning reincarnation and passed lives somehow when I go to dinner parties in America nobody tells me that they used to be a fly, or a dog, the stories tend to go around mayan princesses and medieval kings. I would imagine that being a reader of a passed life and telling somebody they were a sheep would not somehow lead to a lucrative passed lives reader practice.

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XL on August 27, 2006  · 

I think is a problem of culture an education, that’s show how to fail the american education system…

Unfortunatly Spain an other countries are adapting the same system…

And #5 Is rigth, I can put the example of ATM machines , they asked me if in Spain we have it, something funny for any american or spanish who has visited both countries, because in Spain you have one each 100 meters… and in USA you need 5 minutes in car…

Also is the same for the machines for clean dishes, clothes…

But I should recognize that thanks to CNN the level of questions is being more acceptable…

On my uncle times they asked by water in the house, electricity, heat system…

Personally the most ridiculous question that I recived was if “bandidos” assault trains…

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XL on August 27, 2006  · 

Being honest, the question about “Bandidos” was in Regina, Canada… Not in US…

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Eric on August 28, 2006  · 

I would agree that Americans are more gullible in many ways than Europeans. Americans oten take things at face value, are direct in their business dealings, and don’t expect people will cheat them. In Spain, for example, you need to be pícaro to survive.

Nevertheless, Europeans lose to the US in one important aspect of naiveté. Europeans actually believe everything they see about the US and Americans on TV and in the movies. We do NOT all have guns, we do NOT all support the death penalty, we are NOT all ignorant, and we do NOT all go to that same fictious high school. Europeans also lose in another important area: they actually believe that the world’s problems can be solved by popular peace rallies and the UN.

I won’t even touch on Catholoic sexual taboos, religious icons, the evil eye, widespread xenophobia and antisemitism, and ethnocentrism (including the widespread and undeniable belief that Americans are ignorant).

In terms, of the Protestant “sola fide” vs. the Catholic “sola scritura” methodology of biblical interpretation, the Protestant version was revolutionary at a time when Catholic priests had the sole monopoly over God. But, American protestants lost all right to interpret the Bible when Republicans called for publishing the 10 Commandments in public schools as their cure for gun violence. That’s not gullible, its insane.

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XL on August 28, 2006  · 

Eric, we should admit that you’re quite rigth.

But when you said that the catholic church is only based in the principle “Sola Scriture” It means that you doesn’t know too much well catholic church.

Bassically because you forget the other 2 columns that sostains catholic rules:
Sacred Tradition
Eclesastic jerarchy.

Catholic church doesn’t believe in the bible as history book, they consider as story book, so your comparation is based in protestant point of view that isn’t really.

The Big Bang theory was discovered by a catholic priest. It means they don’t believe on the bible version, but some protestant and specially evangelist churches did it…

But you’re rigth that the european believe all that we watch on tv (but americans too) and that we have a lot of prejudices against US, in Europe or you’re an american lover, or you hate it.

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Killy_the_frog on August 29, 2006  · 

>>>We do NOT all have guns, we do NOT all support the death penalty, we are NOT all ignorant< American people do not all have guns, but there is around 5-10 times more people dying by guns (per capita) than in Europe, American do not all support Death penalty but it is the democratic country who use it the most, American are not all ignorant, but it is the only place of the world in which you can find many many people to ask stupid questions to someone coming from a developed countries. By the way, in this blog, nobody said "ALL Americans are..." 😉 But I agree there is a big gap between USA coast and inside USA. And American people are very welcoming, and were very nice with me when I stayed there (I believe more welcoming that what you can find in Europe) It was before 9/11 and Iraq War... Now I hope it is still the same. ...

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Eric on August 29, 2006  · 


Sorry for the mistake. You are correct that the Church believed in a combination of tradition and Biblical interpretation. I meant do say the sola scriptura debate belonged to the Protestants. I know this isn’t the place for a discussion on the Reformation, but one must recognize that the Reformation was revolutionary in its time. The Protestant contention that the individual had the right to interpret scriptures himself and to read the scripture in his own language was ground breaking. Not until Vatican II, hundreds of years later, did the Church ever permit masses in the vernacular, thus alienating individuals (especially those who could not read Latin). The other revolutionary debate centered around the relationship between faith, acts, and scripture — the Proestants holding that Faith was more important than deeds. Nonetheless, as with most revolutions, the Protestant one also fell (in my mind) into a slippery slope of moral relativism typical in most fundamentalist movements…with doctrines of predestination and permitting all actions to be justifiable if based on faith.

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XL on August 29, 2006  · 

Honestly I think that protestantism was more a political problem than a religous. As the “Orient cisma” that was caused by the interest of the Emperor of constantinopla that his “patriarca” had more power, they didn’t accept that the Roman Pope was a “primus interpares”

I think Protestantism, and specially his expansion was based in the war of some german princes against Spanish hasburgs, and to obtain more power. As anglicanism was the wish of a person (Henry VIII) to control the church…

That was caused by catholic church that is a human institution as an a human institution has human problems, corruption, covets…

Roman Catholic church was pro Spanish Hasburgs, so the princes against them decided to change of religion.

And the problem is that after each prince wants to be like Henry VIII and decided to have his own protestant sect, so on that way they had control about religion, instead that religion has control over them…

As consequence of that you have a lot of different ways inside protestantism, from be rich and enjoy the life, to be poor and suffer to recive a price in the next life…

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XL on August 30, 2006  · 

Eric I have thougth in you because in the magazine of senior alumni of my school it was written an article been critic with the protestantism (only puritanism movements)

They were been critic that those people do a big distintion between the people who is god an the people that is bad, and that they forget that the message of Cristh is the redention and the pardon…

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Barney on August 31, 2006  · 

After reading these comments, I am very confident to say that Americans are NOT more gullible than Europeans. Europeans, read carefully the incredibly ignorant and generalized comments that you have written about Americans to Martin’s interesting post. You are judging yourselves on what you see on TV and in newspapers.

Some comments are ethnocentric and assume that Europeans are superior, in particular the British for whom the US has plenty to learn. For example? How to colonize? Thankfully, the US is trying and following your example. I have read Descartes who essentially proved the existence of God just by imagining his existence. Sounds like a redneck in Nebraska seeing Aliens in Space.

I live in Europe and am always asked about whether I know the US president or did I have to take a plane to get here. Only Americans ask stupid questions?Did you know that Americans only eat pizza and hamburgers? I get that one literally a few times a week. Try being Asian, Muslim, or Jewish in Europe. Europeans are incredibly knowledgible about those cultures.

Although I can’t quite follow why a discussion of Protestant arose, I am sure that a Catholic publication is completely unbiased in its interpretation of the Protestants.

Some Americans may believe in Aliens and other weird, gullible stuff. But, in the Europe that created the Inquisition, Colonialism, Napoleon and the Nazis in the past, present day Europe has its own degree of gullible people: those that believe in the romanticism of Fidel Castro and Hamas. Heck, Europe still has communists!

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XL on August 31, 2006  · 

Sorry Barney, but we are speacking about modern time, but if you want do comparations Inquisition could be like Patriot Act and Death penalty today…

As I said beafore I’m agree that a lot of european are against USA, only for be USA, and with that I’m agree.

But you can not said that for have people who believes in comunism, or Fidel Castro, or that consider Hamas as a Figthers for the independence of Palestinian we are wrong…

In USA you have people who believe on all this thinks too, Oliver Stone did a documental About Fidel call “COMANDANTE” where he try to dygnificate his figure, You have groups like “Cristian identity” and others fanatics of nazism, and a big part of the population believe that his life is more sure if any way can have a weapon on his house…

Both continents has his particularities, and any of them is better than the other, the big difference is that Europe is more pending of europe than USA of Europe, and that is because USA is the world leader and we should care about what they do, and also because european contries are so small and in a big contact with others so we use to have more interest in international actuality because it’s importan for us…

But that’s doesn’t mean that USA are better only that they are the leader of the world, and have a big country… and the people of nebraska care about New York, Hollywood as Europeans do.

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Killy_the_frog on September 1, 2006  · 

To barney:
You said: “Heck, Europe still has communists!”
USA believe in liberty…. right ?
So, why should not some poeple be communists ? They are free to do it! And have some communist people can help us to see some problem that our capitalist world has.
Have a different point of view is always interresting 😉

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JP on September 1, 2006  · 

Thank you XL for at least recognizing that people from Nebraska care about New York and Hollywood as well as many other things in fact. Actually many people in both places come from all over the country including a large portion of them from Nebraska! It really is not the “Redneck Olympics” out here as most of you might be willing to believe. Remember, the 2nd richest man in the whole world (Warren Buffet) does live here. In fact, my father used to work for him at one of his companies. The argument of “which place is better” or “who has better understanding of whatever” is largely a moot point in my eyes. Yes, the U.S. is very large. Yes, U.S. foreign policy is of great concern to most people everywhere. But remember our president as well as our congress and senate (the two other entities that create policy here) are all ELECTED offices, members voted in by a majority (51% or higher just to make the math simple). All Americans do not think alike. And why is this? Because we are YOU! We are the largest melting pot of world culture on this planet. A country made up of representative examples of all of YOUR countries. When I was very young, The city in Nebraska, where I live, used to be made up of distinct ethnic neighborhoods. I myself have ethnicity from German, Irish, Moravian and Bohemian descendants and I am proud of every part! My wife is Italian,Irish and German. Our neighborhoods were segregated in this way because most people are more comfortable with others like themselves. People that shared values and beliefs. As I and my contemporaries matured and grew up the lines of segregation went away as we learned,worked and played together. Nebraska, as most of you know or may not know, is centrally located, almost the center of the U.S. A great place to build a railroad empire, process cattle and livestock for food, grow corn, or start an insurance company empire (Mutual of Omaha for example). The main point being, none of this would have been possible without the emigrants from other countries who were willing to come together for the greater good. The BIG picture! People willing to put aside their differences of culture and religeon to get the more important job done. This is what America means to me! Not just Nebraska. Not just New York, Hollywood, but all over the United States. In my opinion America is where people come when they “grow up”! It was for all of my relatives anyway. Since FON is a new “community” I’m sure it will do well here! And if ever you happen to be in Omaha, you are ALL welcome to come by my hotspot! So long, JP
Posted by JP at September 1, 2006 08:41 AM

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Barney on September 1, 2006  · 


I believe that my subtle, sarcastic sense of humor was lost on you (by the way, communism is not illegal in the US, neither is terrosist apologetics). Americans have people that believe in Aliens and even some that still support the antiquated capital punishment. Similary, Europeans may not have as many weirdos believing in Aliens, but does still have retrogressive commies. We all got our share of freaks.

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XL on September 1, 2006  · 

I didn’t want to be critic with Nebraska, I tried to said that a lot of european people said that in europe we know more about what happen in US than americans know what happen in Europe. And this point in my opinion is totally rigth (of course you have millions of exceptions) because New York and Wasingthon are like the capitals of the world and Hollywood is the movie makers and culture designers, but not just for US, If you go to cinema in Spain you will find 10 USA films, 2 or 3 spanish and the rest european http://www.cinesa.es/cines/cines2.aspx?id=120 (exceptionally you can find from other part of the world) The major Stock exchange is New York, and economy depends from Wall street…

So of course everybody knows what happen there, but that’s doesn’t means that europeans are more intellectual, more clever or more cosmopolitan, it just means that US is the world leader and has a big influence over the rest of the world…

Ask to europeans who is the president of China, India, USA, and Indonesia, and we will see who knows… And this are the 4th largest countries in the world (by population)…

I never stayed in Nebraska but sure that is a Nice place, the closet states that I have visited are Minnesota and Illinois and I cross Iowa by train…

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JP on September 1, 2006  · 

Please don’t get my meaning wrong, You have not offended me. My statements are aimed more at the whole theme of this blog. The situation is more like the tale of the three blind men that encounter an elephant, The first one has the elephant by the tail and describes the elephant as resembling a SNAKE. The second man has only the side of the elephant to go by and desribes it as being like a WALL. The third has the trunk of the elephant and states an elephant is quite flexible and muscular. Whereas all three blind men are right in their own way, none of them are COMPLETELY right. My point is, generalizations can be bad in some ways and it really depends on who you are asking the questions of. To make a completely accurate immpression of what Americans,or anyone else for that matter, are really like, you would have to poll every member of that group. As I said before, Americans are just people from everywhere else, living under the same roof. It is quite a complex society.

Anyway, no harm done and no offense taken. ‘just adding my two cents worth to the discussion!


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XL on September 2, 2006  · 

OK, JP, I just tried to clarify, to don’t offense you.

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Antoin O Lachtnain on September 11, 2006  · 

It is a celebrated fact that the word ‘gullible’ is missing from most American dictionaries.

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JP on September 15, 2006  · 

Does that mean Americans don’t know what it is ? Most people that can read would use the net to find the meaning anyway

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