What does God think of atheists?
Study on religion and value systemsForty-five percent of those surveyed consider God essential to morality
Do you need religion or some idea of God to be a moral person? The polling institute Pew Research Center from the USA investigated this question in a global survey in 2019 and presented very detailed results. Accordingly, roughly 45 percent of all respondents were of the opinion that religiosity and belief in God are necessary in order to be a moral, "good" person. The results have now been published under the title "The Global God Divide", which can be translated as "the global divine divide". Andreas Robertz spoke to survey manager Jacob Poushter about the results.
For almost half of all respondents, morality is inconceivable without God
"In 2019, we conducted more than 35,000 interviews in 34 countries in our annual survey. It was about international relations, an understanding of democracy and globalization. And we wanted to find out more about morals and values."
Says Jacob Poushter. The survey team wanted to know exactly how people around the world perceive the connection between religiosity and morality. The terms morality, "being a good person" or "having good values" were used synonymously and not further defined in terms of content. Everyone could understand what he wanted by that.
"From my point of view, the most interesting thing is that across the board, 45 percent of people in these 34 countries were of the opinion that belief in God is necessary for morality and good values."
(David Ertl) Philosopher Michael Schmidt-Salomon - "Enlightened religion dying out like men's choirs"
Michael Schmidt-Salomon sees religions as a root of authoritarian tendencies. "The more liberal a religious community appears, the more likely it is to lose followers," he said in the Dlf.
This also means that 55 percent believed that non-religious people can also be morally good. In addition to most European countries, the participating countries in the survey included such culturally diverse nations as South Africa, the Philippines, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Kenya, Israel and Indonesia.
"In some countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Kenya and Nigeria, more than 99 percent found that it is necessary to believe in God in order to be good. In Sweden, just 9 percent believe it."
Religion is more present in poor countries
In addition to the context of economic development, gross national product, access to education and the demographic development of the various regions, the pollsters wanted to find out how important belief in God and prayer as a symbol of a practiced faith is in the life of the individual. For 62 percent of those surveyed, belief in God was personally important and for 53 percent prayer played an important role in their lives. Jacob Poushter:
"In developing and emerging countries, a large part of the population says that God and prayer play an important role in the lives of individuals. In the economically advanced countries, in general, more people say that belief in God is important than prayer. That is because countries with a higher gross national product tend to be less religious. "
So far this is nothing new: people in poorer countries with less access to educational institutions tend to be more rooted in their religion and traditional morals, with older people more than younger ones.
The USA is an exception
However, the details of the survey are interesting. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a clear increase in religiosity has been observed in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. The comparison between Poland and Germany is also interesting: although in Poland many more respondents said that religion and prayer are personally important to them, just like in Germany, 62 percent of all respondents were convinced that atheists can also have moral values. This shows a much more tolerant attitude among Polish Catholics towards non-believers than is the case, for example, in Brazil. There, 82 percent considered religion to be indispensable for morality.
Basically, one can say that the more liberal and richer a society is, the less God and prayer play a role when it comes to justifying moral action.
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The USA is an exception among the rich countries: 44 percent of the people there consider belief in God to be essential in order to be a morally good person. This is where the so-called "God's moat" can be seen most clearly. Because morality, which is derived exclusively from religious practice, tends to be far less tolerant of other life plans than morality, which is based on a modern understanding of human beings. For example, with socially relevant issues such as homosexuality, same-sex partnerships and abortion.
"Ideology and politics also play a role"
A survey from 2014 shows how significantly the values differ between religious and non-religious groups. Jacob Poushter says:
"This is important to keep in mind. It is always believed that as the world becomes wealthier, so too will values change and globalization bring new ideas. One of the great realizations here is that there are still these fundamental differences when it comes to what's right and what's wrong. Ideology and politics also play a role. Those who see themselves more on the right-hand side of the political spectrum are also often more religious. "
If you look at further surveys by the institute, you come to a fascinating overall picture in which the culture war that so many are perceiving at the moment can actually be substantiated with data. The results of the survey do not show that religious people are generally less tolerant. But: If someone binds his or her values exclusively to religion, the probability is high that he or she will reject deviating ideas about life.
The institute does not offer any interpretations. That leaves it to others to draw their conclusions from the data. But the survey makes it clear that much remains to be done so that believers and non-believers can develop common guidelines for their behavior. This is particularly important today if one wants to resolutely face the great challenges of our time: the climate crisis, poverty and the injustice spiral between rich and poor.
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