Canada’s National Post reports on new survey findings that religious believers are more likely than atheists to place a higher value on love, patience and friendship.
The researcher is reportedly claiming that the results could be a warning that Canadians need a religious basis to retain civility in society since those who are involved with religious groups are being exposed to a whole range of values that are not being propagated well by any other major source.
Although “he acknowledged that many non-believers still place a high value on morality and ethics” he attributes this partly to “a legacy from previous generations who held deeper religious views.
The smallest difference was in relation to the value of honesty (94% theists vs 89% atheists valued honesty) which the report notes is the least “emotional” virtue.
But as Justin Trottier, executive director of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario, points out the categories are not culturally neutral and are framed around Christian values ignoring other qualities such as “scientific thinking”, “Critical thinking” or [my own suggestions] equality, and respect for human rights.
Furthermore both Trottier and the study’s author acknowledge that claiming virtues is not the same as enacting them and so it rather than (or as well as) exposing people to the values themselves, religious organisations might merely be exposing people to the language and rhetoric of virtue. And as Trottier says “Religion tends to be very polarizing, so religious people always feel very passionately about those values. They always feel ‘very strongly.’ Religion always does this black-and-white thing. An atheist is a lot more temperate, a bit more hesitant. An atheist might be more nuanced in his or her thinking.”
We should instead look to people’s deeds. Of course we humanists should not be so defensive that we can never accept an unpleasant portrait of ourself (just as we would hope religious people can be accepting of their faults). These virtues are not things that we will ever have too much of but it does appear that this survey only tells part of the story.