Must you be religious to be moral?: A worldwide survey, and its lesson

March 19, 2014 • 8:25 am

A post by C. J. Werleman at Alternet called my attention to a new study by the Pew Research “Global Attitudes Project” that polls people on the perennial (and already answered) question, “Do you need God to be moral”? Pew’s answer, however, is a general “yes,” but that answer is far more common in poorer than richer countries. Here are Pew’s data broken down by country:


The survey involved 40,080 people.

As you see, the wealthier countries of Europe and Asia have a fairly high proportion of people who don’t think it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral, while sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) show a much higher belief that goodness requires godliness. Much of Latin America is also in line with that view.

Note that the U.S. is higher than any surveyed European country in its view that you need God to be moral (53%), while our more sensible Canadian friends are much lower (31%).

Pew also published an interesting plot (divided by country) of the proportion of people who think belief in God is necessary for morality versus the wealth of that country (expressed as per capita GDP). As you see below, the correlation is strong, and undoubtedly highly significant. There are two outliers, though; as Pew notes:

Two countries, however, stand out as clear exceptions to this pattern: the U.S. and China. Americans are much more likely than their economic counterparts to say belief in God is essential to morality, while the Chinese are much less likely to do so.


What is curious here is that the report leaves out any mention of the correlation between religiosity and the belief that goodness requires Godliness.  For it is certain that there is another factor involved in the relationship shown above: belief in God. Those sub-Saharan African countries, and those in the Middle East, are the most religious countries in the world. The U.S. is the most religious of First World countries, and China, because of its Communist past and general lack of goddy religions, is notably nonreligious. Greece and Poland are more religious than Britain or France, and Canada is less religious than the U.S.

In other words, if you plotted religiosity of these nations versus the goodness-requires-God quotient, you’d get the same kind of relationship, but with a positive correlation.  That’s a no-brainer, because clearly countries that are more religious will have inhabitants that see religiosity as more critical to morality.

Curiously, though, that obvious fact isn’t mentioned, and neither is the finding (from other studies) that religiosity is negatively correlated with average income, and especially with indicators of social dysfunction like income inequality, lack of government health care, and so on. I’m willing to bet that if sociological indices of a country’s well being were applied to sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, one would find many of those countries to be deeply dysfunctional.

Pew gives one other finding:

There are also significant divides within some countries based on age and education, particularly in Europe and North America. In general, individuals age 50 or older and those without a college education are more likely to link morality to religion. For example, in Greece, 62% of older adults say it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person, while just 29% of 18- to 29-year-olds agree. In the U.S., a majority of individuals without a college degree (59%) say faith is essential to be an upright person, while fewer than four-in-ten college graduates say the same (37%).

And, of course, older Americans (I don’t know about Europeans) are more religious than younger ones, while more educated individuals in the U.S. are less likely to be religious.

All these data show, then, is that the more religious one is, the more likely one will believe that having faith is necessary for morality. I don’t know why Pew concentrates solely on average income, age, and education, ignoring a factor clearly involved in these relationships—religiosity.

At any rate, the question about whether one needs God to be moral has already been answered in two ways: philosophically by Plato’s Euthyphro argument, and empirically, by observing that countries that are largely godless, like those of northern Europe, are just as moral—if not more so—than places like the U.S. or Middle East. Further, as the West becomes less religious, it has become, as Steve Pinker argues persuasively, more moral.

I’d like to add some data mentioned by Werleman that confirm my suspicion that what breeds religiosity is social dysfunction. Along with some sociologists, I think that those who can’t get help or security from their government, or from a national ethos that citizens should be taken care of, may turn to God for solace and hope. In that sense, Marx was right to indict religion as the “sigh of the oppressed creature.” But I fulminate; let me instead quote Werleman, who cites data supporting the negative relationship between religiosity and social well-being:

Staying with the U.S., this correlation between a high rate of poverty and high degree of religiosity is supported by a 2009 Pew Forum “Importance of Religion” study that determined the degree of religious fervor in all 50 states. The study measured a number of variables including frequency of prayer, absolute belief in God, and so forth. Led by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 most religious states were southern. Oklahoma ruined the South’s clean sweep by sneaking in at number seven.

Not coincidentally, led again by Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas, nine of the top 10 poorest states are also found in the South, while northern and pacific states such as Wisconsin, Washington, California, New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont are among the least religious and the most economically prosperous.

Well spoken! Werleman concludes:

In an earlier piece, I wrote that the primary reason for abject child poverty in these Southern states is that more than a third of children have parents who lack secure employment, decent wages and healthcare. But thanks to religion, these poor saps vote for the party that rejects Medicaid expansion, opposes early education expansion, legislates larger cuts to education, and slashes food stamps to make room for oil and agriculture subsidies on top of tax cuts and loopholes for corporations and the wealthy. Essentially, the Republican Party has convinced tens of millions of Southerners that a vote for a public display of the Ten Commandments is more important to a Christian’s needs than a vote against cuts in education spending, food stamp reductions, the elimination of school lunches and the abolition of healthcare programs.

. . . While the Republican Party retains its monolithic hold on the South, the rest of America remains deprived of universal healthcare, electric cars, sensible gun control laws, carbon emission bans, a progressive tax structure that underpins massive public investment, and collective bargaining laws that would compress the income inequality gap. In other words, without the South’s religiosity, “America” would again look like a developed, secular country, a country where it’s probable for an atheist to be elected into public office, and where the other 50 million law-abiding atheists wouldn’t be looked upon as rapists, thieves and murders.

He’s almost calling for secession!

While I see no necessary connection between atheism and belief in social reform—the kind of reform that makes people more economically and socially secure, and provides government-sponsored healthcare—it’s starting to seem clear that if we want to eliminate religion’s hold on the world, we have to eliminate those conditions that  breed  religion. In that sense, Marx was right (and now wait for the Discovery Institute to start calling me a Marxist!).

This view, which is mine, differs from that of the so-called “social justice warriors,” who see a necessary philosophical connection between atheism and “social justice”.  I don’t agree—atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, and has no necessary connection with any social view. The connection I see is a tactical and practical one: if, as atheists, we’re interested not only in our own convictions, but in convincing others to believe (or, in this case, disbelieve) likewise, then we must deal with the factors that promote religious belief. If those include social dysfunction, as I think they do, then eliminating faith will require restructuring society.

Lack of government healthcare and income inequality are good places to start.

117 thoughts on “Must you be religious to be moral?: A worldwide survey, and its lesson

  1. There surely is a problem with the ambiguity of the word “moral”. Religious people are apt to define the word to apply to different behaviors than the non-religious would.

    In a debate with Christopher Hitchens, Rick Warren thought it was morally good for parents to pray with their children, which makes the non-religious immoral by definition.

    1. That would be an intriguing survey: ask people what they consider moral, then correlate the answers to their religious beliefs.

        1. Agreed! I think you can define it even more simply; anything you do which could potentially affect the experience of any conscious creature has a moral dimension.

    2. That lack of definition raised my antennae also, especially since some religions consider it “moral” to kill nonbelievers or those who believe in a different version of their religion. Genital mutilation, requirement to convert others with the sword, lying to nonbelievers-all considered “moral” under some belief systems.

      1. I am not so sure that there is any issue with the definition of the word “moral.” I think the most significant factor is that religiously derived morals really suck. Largely because they are retained from ancient cultures.

        Luckily many believers don’t actually behave as if they truly believe many of those ancient morals they explicitly say, or implicitly suggest, they are committed to.

        1. I think sexual morality is a big difference.

          Those no reason for nonbelievers to have the hangups with masturbation, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, contraception, accurate sex ed, etc., etc. that dominate religious speech about morality.

          1. Let’s face it, there is a lot of interest in what people are doing when they are naked and how that must be wrong. Also Republicans spend way too much time thinking about lady parts and how to control them.

            1. …and what’s worng with thinking about lady parts and how to control them?

              …oh…not that type of thought, not that type of control. I see your point….


  2. Frans de Waal, in his new book, The Bonobo and the Atheist, makes a very strong case that morality, ethics, sympathy, empathy and other emotions, are the evolutionary result of group living and come to us from our primate ancestors. Morality, he makes very clear, comes before religion even developed.

    And, he gives you, Jerry, a very nice thumbs up in the book.

    1. Not in any way a dig at you or de Waal, but it amazes me that anyone needs to “make a case” for that position 150 years after Darwin.

      Do we also need to “make the case” that orbits of planets are the result of gravity, and not of angels flapping their wings and carrying the planets along?

    2. “Morality, he makes very clear, comes before religion even developed. ”

      That in no way denies the existence of other sources of moral knowledge.

      1. It does kind of directly refute the claim that deity X is the objective source of morals though.

        But sure, believers will very likely play god-of-the-gaps with this as well.

        1. “It does kind of directly refute the claim that deity X is the objective source of morals though.”

          Arguably not. Just because we have an evolved sense of morality doesn’t mean that it provides accurate information into what is truly moral or immoral.

          1. I wasn’t talking about what things can or can’t provide accurate information about what is and isn’t moral. I’m saying that it does refute typical religious claims about the source of morality. Directly. That is exactly the intent of de Waal’s statement. He was not saying that we should therefore look to our evolved moral behaviors as the measure to judge what is an isn’t moral. He was simply saying “religion is wrong about morality and I present this evidence to back that up.”

            1. I think you’re talking about the moral sense, rather than morality per se.

              Even so, it doesn’t refute the origin, but only offers a different story. God could certainly have used naturalistic means to instill the moral sense.

              1. “Even so, it doesn’t refute the origin, but only offers a different story. God could certainly have used naturalistic means to instill the moral sense.”

                This begs the question of whether God exists. What evidence have you?

              2. “God could certainly have used naturalistic means to instill the moral sense.”

                Yes, and that is a god-of-the-gaps argument. That does not comport with the classic christian, for example, concepts about morality, or with the source materials of the religion.

              1. This is a reply to Ant but there was no reply button (is that because it indents too much).
                Anyway, I get the Joshua reference!

  3. Note that the error bars in each case are plus or minus 3-5% in most cases. And as I always tell my students, that is a lower bound on how uncertain we should be, as it only considers sampling variation, not bias.

    The result is of course mainly just telling us how the interviewees interpreted the word “moral”.

    I always wonder with international comparisons like this whether a large chunk of the apparent differences between countries are really between the different translations and different connotations of words which are not synonymous.

    1. I always wonder with international comparisons like this whether a large chunk of the apparent differences between countries are really between the different translations and different connotations of words which are not synonymous.

      It’s a tempting thought, but I don’t think this is a case of lost in translation/connotation. People have individual definitions to a certain extent, but the concept of a god and the subsequent moral code/dogma is universal.

      Despite differing religions/no religion there are certain ground rules most of us can agree on up front. Killing another human, to name one thing, is widely regarded as bad form even though our collective actions might suggest otherwise.

      To many people ( the majority it would seem ) that is clear cut proof of a god-given set of rules and as always it just happens to be their kind of god.

      For some it is a clear cut indication of common descent. We’re not alone in judging right from wrong, but we appear to be on our own in our quest for absolute morality.

      I don’t see this survey as a direct indication of their mistrust in godless people, but more as a confirmation of their own faith/religion.

      Exclusion and dehumanization is just a by-product that follows when you believe you have chosen the ultimate truth….ignoring for a moment that we’re really talking about indoctrination.

      The golden rule be damned.

      1. Passive aggressive demonization then. “I’m not saying atheists are evil, I’m just saying that morals come from recognizing the existence of God.”

        1. Aye. It’s tantamount to perceive non-belivers as essentially immoral without even thinking about it.

          I wonder how the religious response would be if a survey amongst non-believers showed that a majority checked the Yes-box to a question like “Is God essential to Immorality?”.

          Not that we would think such a silly thing, though….

  4. “we have to eliminate those conditions that breed religion.”

    I agree with this, but I also think there’s a vicious cycle at work in the U.S., where religious people are more likely to be intolerant, suggestible, and suspicious of education. A lot of them are fairly affluent and even educated, but they are willing to vote against their own self-interests and those of their children if the candidate’s sales pitch includes an appeal to “faith”.

  5. “If those include social dysfunction, as I think they do, then eliminating faith will require restructuring society.”

    I agree with your take on this. The general types of measures you, and Werleman, suggest to relieve social dysfunction are eminently pragmatic from many other points of view also.

    Aside from being the right thing to do from an ethics point of view, there is lots of data showing that investing in people pays well. Making it easy for as many people as possible to maximize their potential seems like a no brainer for improving just about every aspect of a society. But, Republicans, go figure.

    One of my favorite examples is the introduction of the GI Bill and the effects that had over the following generation. A concept for what later became the GI Bill came from FDR, but the actual bill that was voted on and passed after FDR was initially drafted by a Republican. Alas, the parties of that era are quite different from the current parties.

    1. Many people have pointed out that the US armed forces are a lot more socialistic than US society in general.

      They also tend to carry weapons less often…..

    2. You ain’t kiddin’. Nixon and Reagan both wouldn’t merely be far too liberal for today’s Republican party; they’d also be far too liberal for today’s Democratic party.


  6. Once people are poor, if their government does not help them, guess who does? A church. IIRC this has been presented in the US as a cheap solution to dealing with poverty but it inevitably leads to higher religiosity as those people are already vulnerable and then they are helped by the churches and those people begin to feel an allegiance to the church that helped them.

    If churches are removed from being the only source of help and secular governments help, that nips church influence in the bud (though of course this won’t completely eliminate religiosity). If you look at less religious countries, they are also the countries with more government social assistance.

    1. But Diana, as our Libertarian friends are so quick to point out, “taxation equals theft”, donchaknow, so helping poor people (or veterans, or children) with government money is evil at its core. Won’t anyone PLEASE think of the poor besieged one-percenters!

        1. Well, of course! It was called the Union of Soviet SOCIALIST Republics, after all. If those dammed Ruskies liked it, it must be bad (except for persecuting gays, of course).

        2. I sometimes describe myself as a Socialist with Libertarian tendencies.

          I love taxes and hate bureaucracy.

          1. Canada is actually a socialist country whether people like that word or not. It is. Why do you think American Republicans call us Kanuckistan. They know. They can smell a socialist in their backyard. 😀

          1. Yes but, public schools are evil doncha know. Forcing kids to go to school, forcing everyone to pay for it, even folks without kids?!

            I can’t really relate to people who genuinely think that way, but there sure seems to be a lot that do. As the OP said, people with such views are more often than not those that stand to benefit the most from such socialist largesse.

            1. It’s always interesting to note that these same anti-socialists are always stoutly in favor of our socialized military protection and our socialized police system, and are generally quite supportive of our socialized motor vehicle transportation infrastructure and our socialized food and drug safety insurance programs.

              As far as I’m concerned, it’s godamned fucking insane that we can all agree to socialize police and fire departments, but we won’t socialize the hospitals. What the fuck? So you’ve got a problem with people holding you up at gunpoint and your neighbor’s burning house catching fire to your own, but you’re just fine with your neighbor sneezing on you and getting you sick or forcing you to spend all that money on hiring and training somebody else because he can’t come to work any more? Not to mention what it does to poverty rates and thus the incentives for crime. Damn, but we’re a country of idiots.



              1. As one acquaintance I met overseas said: Many countries do stupid things; but in America, we go for the BIG stupid!

              2. To be fair, they are also hypocritical about “big government”. They don’t want the government to do all those things you mentioned because legislation is a hassle but at the same time they tend to be in favour of government legislation when it comes to sex and lady parts.

              3. Wonder how long it will take for the anti-big-governmenters to think of turning road maintenance over to the auto insurance companies? Its parallel is working out so well for healthcare. (Note–avoid bridges in poor areas.)

              4. Too late; infrastructure is already crumbling and on the point of collapse. American capitalism is all about privatizing profits and socializing risks, and there’s no profit to be had in being saddled with maintenance.


              5. In response to Diane G just above, I think that all roads *should* be privatised.

                In Britain the whole transport system is distorted by the fact that the state has systematically rigged the market in favour of roads and cars.

              6. Same thing in the States. Los Angeles used to have an impressive public transit system, including a subway, until Standard Oil bought it up and trashed it so people would buy cars and oil instead….


            2. It’s funny that these people can’t follow their ideas to their logical conclusion – an uneducated tribal society. Sort of like the Middle Ages. We really need to draw it out for them I think. Connect the dots from the measles that they will contract after vaccination is stopped. 😉

              1. As you point out in a later post, sadly, even connecting the dots wouldn’t make them give a fuck, and we’d all suffer from their disease.

                I’m still in favor of involuntary vaccination (with, of course, medical exceptions granted for those with verifiable allergies or other contraindications) for that very reason.

                Home schooling I’m a bit conflicted about; public schools have practically turned into prison camps, and standardized testing makes a mockery of pedagogy. But if our public schools weren’t so fucked up, I’d not grant any exceptions to public schooling, either. Sure, supplement all you want with private or at-home instruction (and please do!), but that kid’s butt would be somewhere on school grounds during school hours.

                Some things are too important to leave to amateurs, even well-intentioned amateurs with a personal interest in the matter. Public health and safety and the competence of future generations of the citizenry are at the top of that list.



              2. These people scare me so much, I’m going to my doctor next week to make sure I’m up to date with every vaccine known to man!

              3. No joke. I make it a point at every physical to ask if I’m due for anything…this next time, I’m going to explicitly say that the growing disdain for vaccines has me particularly worried and perhaps it wouldn’t be such a terrible idea if I went through the full trip-to-third-world-country routine?


    2. Several denominations’ worth of congregations ( in the Midwest, at least, and most prevalently, within roman catholic ones ) hold .regular. social – hall meetings inside their parish basements and conference rooms complete with potluck or all – provided meals plus child – caretakers and activities for the kiddos —- in order to explicitly ” teach ” the poorer community residents as well as its various immigrant populations on the ways in which they can use the systems (forms to fill out, documents necessary, signature – types necessary, time frames and deadlines for all sorts of applications, etc), … … whether those systems be federal, state or municipal / governmental ones or any other social organizations’ giveaways, … … particularly.


      1. So thus: these entities of religions ?

        From these so – called “ social humanities’ meetings ” regularly held for the poorer and the immigrant populaces of The Churchlies then, these religionists not only gain
        i) more allegiant congregants AND their wee – to – adult kiddos as well … … but also
        ii) EVEN MORE $resources$ — YOUR TAX DOLLARS for THEIR RELIGIONS’ USES — THAN they already get through their religiosities’ taxation exemptions !

        Hardly “ separation of state FROM church ” is this “ disguised ” usurpation of YOUR $s ? !


      2. Yeah, I’ve seen this here too – free church turkey dinners and such. I know cheap people that go that aren’t poor that aren’t converted. 🙂 Maybe I should go and keep asking annoying questions.

            1. Done right, you could turn so many tables on them. What’re they afraid of? Not very “Christian” to turn somebody away from the table, is it? Is their faith so weak that it can’t stand up to simple scientific observations?

              …you know the drill full well, I’m sure….


  7. “He’s almost calling for secession!”

    Yep, I think the worst mistake Lincoln ever made, both for the nation as a whole and for himself personally, was to win the Civil War.

    1. Well, losing would not have been much of an improvement. I’d say the mistake was not letting the South leave peacefully.

      Near as I can tell, the current situation in Ukraine is somewhat similar. Economically, letting Crimea leave is bad. For the country to progress politically, it might be necessary. Why fight to keep the people who are holding you back?

  8. Definitely the case that the older generations are more religious in Europe, at least in the UK. Personally I don’t know a single Christian under 35 (at least “out” Christians), although I know several Muslims.

  9. I would submit that, not only can you be moral without being religious, but that religious thinking presents an impediment to thinking clearly about moral issues. Religious people today are moral in spite of the content of their holy books (which most don’t read anyway), and the more closely one hews to the commandments of their favorite magical tome, the more likely they are to hold and act upon immoral beliefs, such as the belief that homosexuality is a sin or that capital punishment is ever justified.

    1. Yes; if you confuse morality with obedience and then bring in a lot of supernatural facts, you can with clear conscience endorse almost anything as “good.” It doesn’t have to make sense on secular grounds to an objective person. In fact, it’s even HIGHER ethically speaking if it doesn’t and can’t.

    2. I was thinking something similar. I wonder if we’ll ever get to a day where you can turn the question around to, ‘Does belief in God make you more immoral?’

  10. I’m honestly surprised that the “need religion to be moral” side isn’t higher in the US. The reason I hear most often from my non-believer, but accomodationist friends is that religion gives people ethics and morality.

    1. I agree. It is always depressing that the US is not 100% secular. However it is optimistic to understand that there are far more people who believe in God than there are who require religion to be a necessity for morality.

      Whether the religious are aware of their own hypocrisy is not clear. But the fact that people are not making that connection is fundamentally good. It implies that religious people are more willing to give credit to a fellow human to behave morally, regardless of religion. If that trend continues, which I think it is, there is hope for a 100% secular society.

      1. I cannot imagine a USA that is 100% secular. Literally, I cannot imagine it. The idea just doesn’t fit into my brain.

  11. Gratified to see that my fellow Canucks are 2/3 sensible. Now to work on the recalcitrant third. My bet is that the highest no god in morality rate comes from Quebec, that one-time bastion of Catholicism.

    1. Most probably an influence from France… once “Fille aînée de l’Eglise (catholique)” (Oldest Daughter of the Church) and now look at us… youpiii ! 🙂

      Apparently this term was used as recently as 1996 by John Paul Deux, although it was a kind of despair:
      —France, fille aînée de l’Église, es-tu fidèle aux promesses de ton baptême ?
      — NON !

    2. Quebec is über secular. They don’t even have a separate school board there for Catholics. It’s where all the atheists live too. It’s also why maintaining the Catholic school board because of our past agreements is stupid.

  12. I’m not a stats person, but that doesn’t look like the best fit for the data. Most of the low GDP per capita countries are above the curve, and most of the high GDP per capita countries are below the curve. Are the two big outliers affecting the fit? If so, I expect that their exclusion would make the correlation in the general case even more pronounced.

    1. I think you’re right. For most of the points a straight line fit looks better, and its probably just USA and China making it curved.

    2. I digitized the plot here:

      removed US and China and god 0.76 Correlation for a straight line. Slope (-0.0018) would predict that a GDP/capita of 52,700.00 where 0% of the population thinks god is necessary for morality. All the more depressing, since the US exceeds that value.

  13. Americans are much more likely than their economic counterparts to say belief in God is essential to morality, while the Chinese are much less likely to do so.

    Likely because in both nations it pays to tow close to the party line.

  14. The Euthyphro dilemma doesn’t show that you don’t need god to be moral, only that what is right isn’t determined by god’s will. That’s consistent with belief in god being a prerequisite for being moral.

    1. The Euthyphro Dilemma is then just moved on another step and asks whether God’s Nature is determined by what is good, or whether what is good is determined by God’s Nature.

      1. I’m not sure where you’re going with that, but I don’t think that goodness can be a candidate for a determinant of God’s nature, at least if God is taken to be a necessary being, and the nature of goodness is taken to be independent of God (as shown by Euthyphro).

  15. When I have been asked why I don`t believe in the past I`ve always answered who needs God when you`ve got TiVo.I`m not being wholly facetious if you have a roof over your head,food, free education,free healthcare and 24 hour entertainment what do you need God for?The only thing left is a fear of your own mortality,once you get over that there is no need for religion at all. Get rid of poverty and desperation and you get rid of religion.

    1. You’re inspiring me.

      Them: “Why don’t you believe?”

      Me: “I’m not poor. I’m not desperate. I’m not ignorant.”

      Hmm, I’ll work on that.

  16. When the South wanted to separate in 1861, we should have let them. It would have been better for both sides.

    1. They didn’t just want to separate. They wanted to separate and expand slavery to the west.

      Oh.. I imagine that the descendants of slaves in the US probably don’t agree with your sentiment.

  17. Poverty & Religion

    There are those Christians who believe God will take care of them and it’s not the role of Government.

    “In today’s United States with high levels of unemployment and vastly expanding wealth inequality, belief in
    God’s plan sustains belief in the fairness of our economic system and our ability to eschew government assistance
    to stem the tide of our economic woes.”

    1. There are a bunch of people who think that in Chilliwack, BC whose religious leader told them not to vaccinate:

      We leave it in God’s hands. If it is in his will that somehow we get a contagious disease, like in this case the measles, there are other ways, of course, to avoid this. If we get sick, he can also heal us from it.

      You can imagine what happened – an outbreak of measles which spread outside the church population and into the rest of the population.

      When will they learn?! I know. They don’t want to learn. 🙁

    1. Yes, they bother me too. I’d like to know how they translated “Do you need God to be moral?” into Japanese.

  18. the perennial (and already answered) question, “Do you need God to be moral”? Pew’s answer, however, is a general “yes,” but that answer is far more common in poorer than richer countries.

    What I would love to see (and as far as I know has not been done) is surveying the reasons behind people who believe that yes, you need God to be moral. What sort of assumptions does this correlate with? And do the answers differ with the other group, which does NOT agree with “you need God to be moral?”

    Ask questions like this:

    God’s existence is obvious: Yes/No

    God’s existence is hidden and obscure: Yes/No

    It is possible for a reasonable person to not believe in God: Yes/No

    It is possible for a good person to not believe in God: Yes/No

    Faith involves love: Yes/No

    Faith involves duty: Yes/No

    All good people believe in God: Yes/No

    Without God there is no way of knowing right or wrong: Yes/No

    If there is no divine punishment, then there is no reason to avoid doing evil: Yes/No

    Atheists don’t believe in God because they are too analytical: Yes/No

    Atheists don’t believe in God because they don’t want to accept the consequences: Yes/No

    Atheists believe in God but pretend they don’t because they are liars: Yes/No

    I’d love to see how all that breaks down — partly because I’m not sure how it would.

    1. Atheists believe in God but pretend they don’t because they are liars: Yes/No

      Haha…but of course!

      Check and Mate heathens.

    2. You’d have to be careful to segregate out the answers from the faithful and the rationalists on that one. A rationalist could very easily answer that, yes, faith involves duty…but what have you learned from that answer? And many of the other questions devolve into “When did you stop beating your underaged prostitutes?” territory.

      Good to ask of a subset of those surveyed, but a good survey would entirely avoid that branch of questions for rationalists (and go down a parallel and relevant one instead).


    3. The more well defined the question, the more taxing it is for a religious person to answer. They have to prioritize all of their doctrines and dogma in order to minimize the least amount of contradiction.

    4. Or, if you stopped believing in god, would you go out and kill that guy at work that annoys you?

  19. Hurray for Spain!!! Recently there was also a Pew Poll that said over 85% of the population here doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality.

    It’s interesting because technically almost everyone is Catholic- but as my mother explained to me when I was a boy: “It’s not a ‘real thing’, it’s just tradition and we play along.”- it seems the rest of the country agrees…

      1. I never do this, i swear, but this deserves one “Viva España!”.

        I disagree with your comment about almost everyone being technically catholic, though. The latest polls show that not to be the case even if self-identified catholics are still a majority. Younger demographics are a different story, plus as you mentioned, even if people self-identify as catholic, it doesn´t mean they are.
        Personally, all of my friends are atheists, all of them, and it´s not by selection, it´s just what´s dominant in my generation and area. Finding a catholic my age is like finding a very silly unicorn (ok not that rare, but you get the idea. Mind you, it gets a similar reaction “wait, is that…is that a catholic? i can´t fucking believe it!!”).

  20. I was surprised to learn that the per cap GDP of China is about the same as El Salvador, and about half that of Mexico> Wow!

  21. Goodliness more likely without godliness has been the rule based upon laws designed to enforce goodliness against those who do harm to others, a point gladly given over to governments for prosecution.

    Given what government does, and what God does, secular morality is far more effective than religion.

    Religion is merely a money making machine by that standard theoretically competing with government, but not actually. Religion and churches still work to marry, to bury, and to baptize; beyond that, they are mostly useless to orderly functioning of society.

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