Category Archives: Religiosity

Gallup survey finds religiosity highly correlated to poverty

Gallup survey finds religiosity highly correlated to poverty

The complex picture of belief

Measuring the number of people who are religious is a bit of a tricky job. We can be pretty sure that there are people who don’t believe in God or myths or any supernatural business. We can also be sure that there also people who, say, believe in the literal truth of the Bible, that God has stuck around after the creation business and intervenes in our lives now and then. But what about the rest – the majority of people? Continue reading

Bishop implies UK gun crime is a result of secularism

Rhys JonesThe Church of England website Religious Intelligence reports that the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev Graham Dow, (yes he who blamed Britain’s floods this year on pro-gay legislation) is now suggesting that the tragic murder of Liverpool schoolboy Rhys Jones is the direct result of the country’s low religiosity.

In an open letter to his diocese he wrote that

“the Government has highlighted respect as a key issue which our society faces in the hope that this will bring about change. But respect will not come just by talking about it….I was in discussion recently about these issues with someone who declared herself to be an atheist. Her answer to the problem was education. Proper education, she insisted, will direct people in right paths.

Note that he specifies that she was an atheist

When I said to her that she was ignoring the Christian history from which our values have come, I could see her anger was beginning to rise. Many people think like her – that better education will solve the problems.

But that ignored the fundamental Christian truth that we are by nature sinful and need to be changed – on the inside, says Bishop Dow.

And to ignore the Christian faith is to ignore the way to inner change….People do not like to hear that so much of what we cherish in our society has come with our Christian history and that by ignoring Christian faith we are undermining the very values we want to keep.

Not only does this opportunism make the Bishop sound like he’s playing the worst political games with a terrible event but it’s untrue – religious belief actually correlates with high murder rates (not to mention abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published in the Journal of Religion and Society in 2005).

Black History Month

Black History Month has been celebrated across the UK every October for over 30 yearsand serves as a time to highlight and celebrate the achievements of Black communities. Although I am not Black I will be using this opportunity to highlight Black and other humanists with a non-European heritage.

Secular humanism today is very much rooted in Christian European culture and the most famous humanists today and in history – Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Grayling, Russell, Bradlaugh and Holyoake – are White, male and – with the exception of Harris- fairly old.

But humanist experiences are more diverse than this as we shall explore this month. Let us begin with the picture of religion and belief in the UK. The 2001 Census revealed that 15 per cent of the British population reported having no religion (although subsequent diffenetly worded surveys have revealed the proportion to be much higher). Just over half of all Chinese people (53 per cent), and just under one quarter of people from Mixed ethnic backgrounds (23 per cent), stated they had no religion. Asian, Black African and White Irish people were least likely to have no religious affiliation. Around 1 in 200 Pakistanis and Bangladeshis reported having no religion.

But as we shall see, in the UK and abroad there are plenty of notable Black, Indian, Chinese and other non-European people who are part of the story of humanism..

Religious Composition of Ethnic Groups in the UK April 2001

2006 poll of USA and European countries reveals Britain is tolerant, not very religious but also not very secular

Belief Graph

An old poll from December 2006 I’ve just come across conduced by Harris Poll and the Financial Times into the religious views and beliefs  in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the USA. Key results for the UK (sample size 2090):

  • Ony 35% believe in any form of God or any type of supreme being (only France was lower with 27%)
  • 35% are agnostic and 17% atheist
  • 7% Not sure; the largest percentage of all the countries
  • 39% do not share the same religious beliefs as either of their parents; the largest percentage of all countries and the only country for which this is higher than those saying they have the same religious beliefs as both of their parents. Suggesting a strong generational shedding of belief.
  • 70% people believe in the separation if church and state (although that isn’t defined) the lowest of all the countries. It is probably worth noting the different charcteristics of the different churches in question. It could be that Britain’s rather laid back churches are less intrusive as much as British people being less secular on principle.
  • 56% people thought religion should be taught in state schools, 29% saying no. Only Italy was more in favour of religious teaching and less opposed.
  • Only 23% thought the EU was predominantly Christian club – the lowest of the European countries and a testament ot the UK’s multifaith credentials?
  • Only 10% would object to their child marrying someone of a different faith and 73% would not. France and Spain indicated a slightly higher level of tolerance, both with 7% and 74 respectively
  • Worryingly the UK matched France with 39% believing that Islamic veils should be banned in all public places (higher than the other countries polled) but at 48% were ahead of France and Spain in feeling that children should be allowed to wear a religious sign or article of clothing at school which is representative of their beliefs. Taken together these suggest a particular anti-Muslim dimension to British secular thought.

Freud recognised “the poetry and promise in religion.”

Sigmund FreudMark Edmundson writes in the New York Times that while remaining an atheist, Sigmund Freud in his last completed book, ‘Moses and Monotheism’, “began to see the Jewish faith that he was born into as a source of cultural progress in the past and of personal inspiration in the present. Close to his own death, Freud starts to recognize the poetry and promise in religion.”

“He argues that Judaism helped free humanity from bondage to the immediate empirical world, opening up fresh possibilities for human thought and action. He also suggests that faith in God facilitated a turn toward the life within, helping to make a rich life of introspection possible.”

Exclusive: Bad poll reveals little

Moral decline?A poll of 1,000 adults for the BBC finds that four our of five people say UK is in ‘moral decline’ and only 9% disagreed that moral standards were falling.

62% said religion was important in guiding the nation’s morals, while 29% disagreed that faith had a role to play.

People aged 16 to 24 were more likely than those in older age groups to agree that religion had a key role to play in guiding the nation’s morals.

Another stupid, badly conceived poll for a TV programme (at least for a change it’s not trying to ask how loyal Muslims are or similar).

Best view I’ve seen was in resposne to Simon Barrow’s commentary in Comment is Free from someone called Margin:

“Can you name five moral standards that have declined? five that you have evidence of both change and of decline? I can’t….[M]y argument is not that nothing changes, but that the verifiable changes are not conclusively decline or incline, while changes percieved as moral decline are often not verifiably changed. eg.I can conclude that the unwillingness to tackle homosexuality, with fewer prosecutions and many more openly gay people in society as evidence of change, is a form of moral decline. I can likewise conclude that tolerance towards homosexuality, with fewer prosecutions and many more openly gay people in society as evidence of change, is a form of moral incline.

What I can’t do is decide that some one spitting in the street is a form of moral incline or decline because I don’t know if he spat in the street before, or how many other people did. “

“as such I will ignore this poll that considers one instant in history (now) and compares to to all past instances without looking at them.”

And it’s not really controversial for most people to think religion plays a part of guiding our morals (we do have a religious heritage after all) – it’s not the same as saying religion is necessary for morality (although many people do think that as we all know).

28% Britons believe in God but only 17% Britons think religion is beneficial

The Sunday Times reports that 42% of 2,200 people taking part in a poll carried out by YouGov considered religion had a harmful effect. 17% thought the influence of religion was beneficial.

16% of those polled called themselves atheists; 28% believed in God; 26% believed in “something” but were not sure what; and 9% regarded themselves as agnostics.

43% said they never prayed, 31% hardly prayed, and 10% prayed every night.

When we asked which of the main religions was ‘most effective’ in getting its message across, 32% said Christianity and 10% cited Islam.

Religion works, but at what price?

This interesting post by Lawrence Boyce on the wall by of the New Humanist group on Facebook : Jonathan Edwards“A question which often arises in the many religious debates to which we have recently become accustomed, is: does religion make people good, or at least better than they would have been without religion? Typically, the believer brings up the case of someone who was inspired to do tremendous good on account of their faith. The sceptic responds by saying that the good deeds would have been performed regardless, because the person in question was fundamentally honourable in a humanistic way. The believer maintains that, au contraire, the good stuff would never have happened without religious belief as the prime motivator. The sceptic then questions the integrity of doing anything merely in response to divine fiat, and so it goes on.

I would like to advance a metaphysical proposition to the effect that religion does indeed make people better, but that this is nothing to be proud of, rather it should be a matter for concern. I was particularly struck with this notion while reading about the athlete Jonathan Edwards in a recent article from the Times . Edwards, as I’m sure you know, was an international triple jumper. He won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics and has held the world record for the last twelve years. He was also a committed Christian, and it was a regular occurrence for him to come off the track and speak to the waiting reporters about his faith in God and his local church.Wonderful stuff. The only fly in the ointment being that on retiring from athletics and finding himself with a little time to think things through, he promptly lost his faith. Oops!

But what struck me is how Edwards, both then and now, acknowledges the crucial role that religion played in his life. “Faith was the reason that I decided to become a professional athlete, in the same way that it was fundamental to every decision I made. . . . Looking back now, I can see that my faith was not only pivotal to my decision to take up sport but also my success. . . . Believing in something beyond the self can have a hugely beneficial psychological impact, even if the belief is fallacious.” These are just a few choice quotes from the article. So if somebody who was once a true believer is still telling us that faith was a prerequisite for his sporting success, then I really think we ought to sit up and take notice. The plain fact of the matter is that without God, he would never have triple jumped further than any man had triple jumped before. But how can this be if God does not even exist? Where does the extra “energy” come from, if it does not come from the famous tin of sardines which Edwards carried everywhere in his kitbag as a symbol of the power of Jesus in his life? In short, how can a delusion change anything at all?

The answer is that religious belief is not something which may be maintained in isolation. Instead, the believer is part of a sprawling and diverse community which spreads all around the globe, as well as forwards and backwards in time. In order for Edwards to be buoyed up in his faith, it must be shared by millions of others, essentially so that he doesn’t feel a complete idiot. But such a proliferation of religious belief is not without cost, as any casual inspection of a newspaper will reveal. Put bluntly, Edwards’s gain is somebody else’s loss. There is a cost to the faith-based component of his success, but it is not one borne by Edwards himself. Rather, the cost falls upon the countless numbers who have suffered at the hands of religionists throughout history and in the present day. So the next time you hear someone claim that their faith has inspired them to perform great works, or to lead a happier and healthier life, don’t think, “that’s nice.” Don’t even think, “that’s bollocks.” Just think, “somebody’s paying for that, quite possibly in blood.”

Study shows religious freedom for others benefits us all

The Hudson Institute recently released the initial findings of the Center’s forthcoming book, Religious Freedom in the World 2007. This survey describes and analyzes 100 countries, especially those where religious freedom is most violated. It ranks them comparatively, includes scores and charts of freedom, details world trends, correlates religious freedom with measures of economic freedom, social wellbeing, civil liberties, and political rights, and features essays by experts explaining relevant issues. Continue reading

American atheists appear to be less likely to vote and volunteer and give less to charity

The Stars and StripesA new study by American Christian research organisation the Barna Group has found that nine percent of Americans (20 million people) openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or specifically said they have “no faith” – a proportion that has grown over the last decade amongst all age groups.

Only about 5 million adults unequivocally use the label “atheist” and staunchly reject the existence of God. The rest have doubts of God’s existence but do not outright reject a supreme being.

Most atheists and agnostics (56 percent) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. Two-thirds of active-faith Americans (63 percent) perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.

Atheists and agnostics were found to be largely more disengaged in many areas of life than believers. They are less likely to be registered to vote (78 percent) than active-faith Americans (89 percent); to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20 percent vs. 30 percent); to describe themselves as “active in the community” (41 percent vs. 68 percent); and to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41 percent vs. 61 percent).

Additionally, when the no-faith group does donate to charitable causes, their donation amount pales in comparison to those active in faith. In 2006, atheists and agnostics donated just $200 while believers contributed $1,500. The amount is still two times higher among believers when subtracting church-based giving.

The no-faith group is also more likely to be focused on living a comfortable, balanced lifestyle (12 percent) while only 4 percent of Christians say the same. And no-faith adults are also more focused on acquiring wealth (10 percent) than believers (2 percent). One-quarter of Christians identified their faith as the primary focus of their life.

Still, one-quarter of atheists and agnostics said “deeply spiritual” accurately describes them and three-quarters of them said they are clear about the meaning and purpose of their life.

When it came to being “at peace,” however, researchers saw a significant gap with 67 percent of no-faith adults saying they felt “at peace” compared to 90 percent of believers. Atheists and agnostics are also less likely to say they are convinced they are right about things in life (38 percent vs. 55 percent) and more likely to feel stressed out (37 percent vs. 26 percent).

According to study results, 81 percent of the no-faith group say they adapt easily to change compared to 66 percent of active-faith Americans. “It is important for Christians to understand the environment and the perspectives of people who are different from them, especially among young generations whose culture is moving rapidly away from Christianity,” said David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group. “Believers have the options of ignoring, rejecting or dealing with the aggressiveness of atheists and those hostile to the Christian faith. By their own admission, Christians have difficulty handling change, admitting when they are uncertain of something, and responding effectively to divergent perspectives. These characteristics make the new challenges facing Christianity even more daunting.”

Hat tip:

39% of Britons have no religion. 76% adults do no attend church even once a year

Empty church pewsNew research by Christian charity the Tear Fund finds that 39% of Britions have no religion and 76% adults do no attend church even once a year.

The BBC’s coverage of the findings reports that “the church says the results challenge the UK’s secular image, proving not everyone has embraced consumerism as their modern-day god.”

This seems a bit of an insulting assumption that shopping is the only alternative we have to religion! Of course these kinds of reports will be taken to support whatever the reader already thinks – the findings challenge the much-touted view that the 70% of Britons are religious (according to the 2001 census) as much as the UK’s ‘secular image’.

But according to the report other research “challenges the findings that many non-church goers in the UK still think of themselves as Christian. People are shedding their religious beliefs even faster than churches are losing their congregations, according to a study by Manchester University.”

The reality is that we need to understand the picture is more complicated than ‘a nation of faith communties’ or a secuar state that has turned it’s back on God, that we need a more sophisticated model.

“Some sort of ‘vague Christianity’ acts as a way for people to keep their options open, they don’t have to think too hard about life and aren’t pushed outside their comfort zone, says philosopher Dr Julian Baggini. It’s easier than going in the other two directions.

If you take religion fully on board you have to believe some strange things. Discarding it totally means you have to really think through the consequences, that death really is the end and many people find that worrying.”

But it is possible to do away with the middleman, not attend church and still be a Christian, he says. ‘Often the key messages in religion are social, like loving your neighbour. You don’t have to go to church to be nice to people and help them.’ 

Two thirds of Americans believe you can be moral and an atheist

Newsweek coverA Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International finds that half (49 percent) of Americans know an atheist, two thirds (68 percent) believe someone can be a moral person and be an atheist, and nearly half (47 percent) think America is more accepting of atheism than it was in the past.Other results. More than 90 percent of U.S. adults say they believe in God and while one in 10 said they have “no religion,” only 6 percent reject belief in God and 3 percent are self-described atheists. Higher percentages of respondents than in earlier polls reported knowing an atheist and being more accepting of atheism, but 67 percent said they would not vote for a political candidate they knew to be atheist.

The survey found a deep divide on whether religion plays too great a role in politics, with 31 percent saying it does and 32 percent saying it should have a greater role. Democrats are more likely to hold the first view and Republicans the second.

Almost half of those surveyed said they do not accept evolution. Evangelical Protestants are the most likely to believe in Biblical creation at 73 percent, while 39 percent of non-evangelical Protestants and 40 percent of Catholics agree

Two-thirds of Britons do not belong to a religion

Union FlagThe British Social Attitudes Survey confirmed the major decline in religious identity in the UK, with more than two-thirds of people (69%) saying they do not belong to a religion or have never attended a religious ceremony, compared with just 26% in 1964. Read Guardian article

More people in Britain think religion causes harm than believe it does good

Union FlagMore people in Britain think religion causes harm than believe it does good, according to a Guardian / ICM poll published today. It shows that an overwhelming majority see religion as a cause of division and tension – greatly outnumbering the smaller majority who also believe that it can be a force for good.The poll also reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. Read article here

17 Million Humanists

An Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and released today has found that:

36% of Britons (equivalent to 17million people) prefer humanist answers to religious ones on key questions of morality and understanding the universe, with large majorities also preferring individual statements of humanist belief.

‘Religious Groups and Leaders’ tops the list of domestic groups that the British public believe have too much influence on Government, coming second only to ‘Leaders of other countries’.

View full results at