The most peaceful countries are a mixture of both religious and less religious countries. For instance, 3 out of the 10 most peaceful countries in the 2013 GPI are more religious than the international average. At the other end of the scale 2 out of the 10 least peaceful countries have some of the lowest rates of religion attendance in the world, notably North Korea.
Countries with more atheists are not more peaceful. The countries with the first and third highest percentage of atheists, North Korea and Russia, performed in the bottom ten for the 2013 GPI. If a country has greater than five per cent of its population as atheist then it’s likely to be either a communist or former communist state or from Europe. Of the 10 most peaceful countries in the 2013 GPI, only 2 countries have greater than 10% atheists. These countries are New Zealand with around 32% and Belgium at approximately 20%.
Rather than religious similarities, the least peaceful countries have political and regional similarities. The least peaceful countries are on average authoritarian countries and are located in the three least peaceful regions in the world: the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For example, Malaysia is considerably more peaceful than neighboring country Myanmar. A major difference between these countries is that Malaysia is more democratic, whereas Myanmar is in its early stages of its democratization process. The government type therefore, appears to be a more significant distinguishing characteristic of peace, with full democracies and especially member states of the European Union having the best measures in peace, regardless of the levels of religion beliefs.
There is not a significant correlation between levels of religious belief and peace, with an r=0.14. Generally IEP considers a measure of at least r=0.5 to be significant. All correlations in Table 2 are extremely low, to the extent that no relationship was uncovered. Furthermore, the results are in divergent directions meaning that a linear connection between the presence of religion and peace is highly unlikely.
While 15 of the 20 most peaceful countries in the world have less religion than the international average, it does not follow that all peaceful countries have low religious levels. Iceland, for example, is the most peaceful country in the 2013 GPI but has relatively high levels of religious belief. In fact, 11 of the top 20 countries on the GPI have more than 90% of their population identifying with religious beliefs.
The overwhelming majority of people in most countries, including the most peaceful, have religious attendance rates of over 80%. Atheists are a small minority globally, and only a majority in five of the 162 countries analyzed, thereby limiting any explanatory effect on a society as a whole.