Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Do You Have to Believe in God to Be Moral?

From the [PEW Global Attitudes Survey].
Is Faith Necessary for Morality?

Throughout most of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, there is widespread agreement that faith in God is a prerequisite for morality. For example, in all 10 African countries included in the study, at least seven-in-ten respondents agree with the statement “It is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.” In Egypt, no one in the sample of 1,000 people disagrees. Out of the 1,000 Jordanians interviewed, only one person suggests it is possible to not believe in God and still be a moral person.

In the four predominantly Muslim Asian countries – Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Malaysia – huge majorities also believe morality requires faith in God. Elsewhere in Asia, however, opinions are a bit more mixed. Majorities in Japan and China, as well as substantial minorities of Indians and South Koreans, reject the notion that believing in God is required for morality.

In Arab countries there is a strong consensus that faith is necessary, although in Lebanon there are substantial differences among the country’s three major religious communities – Shia Muslims (81% agree), Christians (65%), and Sunni Muslims (54%). In neighboring Israel, a slim majority (55%) think faith in God is not necessary for moral values.

In Europe, the consensus view is just the opposite: throughout Western and Eastern Europe, majorities say faith in God is not a precondition for morality. This is true across Europe, regardless of whether a country’s primary religious tradition is Protestant, Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. And it is true regardless of which side of the Iron Curtain a country was on.

Still, even within Europe there is some variability – Swedes, Czechs, and the French emerge as the most likely to reject the necessity of religion, while Ukrainians, Germans, and Slovaks are the least likely.

Meanwhile, in the Americas there are considerable differences among countries. While Brazilians, Venezuelans, Bolivians, and Peruvians tend to believe faith is a necessary foundation for moral values, Mexicans, Chileans, and Argentines are more divided on this issue. Only 30% of Canadians suggest morality is impossible without faith, compared to nearly six-in-ten Americans (57%).
What's interesting about these surveys is the difference between opinions in American and in Western Europe. Canada almost always falls somewhere between these two extremes.


  1. Yeah, the attitudes in the US continue to embarrass me.

    There are times when I doubt the validity of such surveys.

    Then I get some ignorant e-mail messages from those that I don't normally associate with (say, from a high school reunion list) and I am reminded that as an academic, I live a shielded existence.

  2. I'm not surprised, as AFAIU Europe exported many sects and fundamentalists to other parts of the world where they could be freer from major denominations.

    It is the unexpected examples that intrigues me. For example, why is Poland so liberal considering how influential the church have been? And why is freewheeling India and Brazil so moderate?

  3. I think the larger question is whether or not we can adequately measure whether or not religion makes any significant difference in people's behavior. I mean, there's always this underlying assumption that religion makes one a better person, that it functions for the social good, but I'm not seeing any actual proof of this. Just claims of it.

  4. It is just hard for me to think that such question is even valid at this time in history.

  5. The problem though with "evolutionary morality" is that I may say my desires and tendencies must be a fine moral standard, for evolution set this up.

    This means doing what I want is plausibly "moral," which is not actually what the word means.

    And if I decide that evolution is not to be my arbiter, then again I may justifiably set my own moral standard, since the only standard is a set of impulses.

    But again, this is not what is meant by morality, doing what you think best--you know everybody does this! but not everyone is to be considered acting morally.