Category Archives: Research

Gallup survey finds religiosity highly correlated to poverty

Gallup survey finds religiosity highly correlated to poverty

We should be careful about drawing rash conclusions from the correlation between religiosity and societal breakdown

In the Guardian Susan Blackmore takes a look at new research by Gregory Paul that compares ‘popular religiosity’ for developed nations against the ‘successful societies scale’ (SSS) which includes such things such as homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births and abortions, corruption, income inequality, and many others.

She writes that we should be careful about drawing rash conclusions from the correlation between religiosity and societal breakdown

Hope for non-believers – many American Christians believe atheists will get into heaven

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life carried out a survey of 3,000 Americans in 2008 about whether people thought beliefs other than their own can lead to ‘eternal life’.

The survey was designed as a follow-up to their 2007 Religious Landscape Survey which reported that 70 per cent Americans who claim a religious affiliation saying that many religions can lead to eternal life. (This earlier survey by the BBC found that 51 per cent of Americans agreed that ‘My God (Beliefs) is the only true God (Beliefs)’ compared with 31 per cent of people in the UK who agreed with the same statement)

The 2008 survey asked those who say many religions can lead to eternal life whether or not they think a series of specific religions (including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism) can lead to eternal life, as well as whether they thought atheists or people who have no religious faith can achieve eternal life.

The survey found that most American Christians are not thinking only of other Christian denominations when they say many religions can lead to eternal life – strong majorities believe that both Christian and non-Christian faiths can.

Although a majority who say that many religions can lead to eternal life believe that people with no religious faith also can achieve eternal salvation (56 per cent), far fewer (42 per cent) say this about atheists.

White evangelical Protestants are least likely to believe various non-Christian religions can lead to eternal life although the numbers are still significant – nearly three-quarters (72%) of evangelicals who say many religions can lead to salvation name at least one non-Christian faith that can do so.

Actions or beliefs?

Respondents expressed a variety of views on how people can achieve eternal life. When asked to describe in their own words what determines whether a person will attain eternal life, nearly 30 per cent said that a person’s actions are most important. 30 per cent said that belief is the key factor in achieving everlasting life. 10 per cent referred to a combination of belief and actions as necessary for eternal life, and almost as many (8 per cent) cite some other factor as most important. In addition, 14 per cent indicated they are unsure of what leads to eternal life, and another 7 per cent volunteer they do not believe in eternal life.

White evangelicals looked mainly to faith as the key to salvation, while white Catholics tend to look to actions.

Unsurprisingly those people who believed there were many ways to salvation were more likely to say actions are more important than beliefs.

The survey doesn’t appear to control for factors like ethnicity, age or religous practice though – it could for example be that White evangelicals are more narrowminded in their outlook because they are more devout rather than any core doctrinal reasons.

What do these results tells us? That there are huge numbers of people open to the idea that other beliefs (including non religious ones) are legitimate and valuable and that co-operation between different belief groups can be built on far more than a grudging pragmatism but on some form of real respect.

Also that the opportunities for co-operation are not equal and some religious groups will be more ammenable than others. But amenable there are and across all traditions offering hope that none of us are as feared, despised or condemned for our beliefs quite as much as louder voices might have us believe.

Research suggests generosity is in the genes

The BBC reports that an Israeli study involving 203 people revealed those who had certain variants of a gene called AVPR1a were on average nearly 50% more likely to give money away in an online task.

Lead researcher Dr Ariel Knafo said: “The experiment provided the first evidence, to my knowledge, for a relationship between DNA variability and real human altruism.”

The gene AVPR1a plays a key role in allowing a hormone called arginine vasopressin to act on brain cells. Vasopressin, in turn, has been implicated in social bonding.

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

Australian research finds religious youth more likely to volunteer

Andrew Singleton of Monash University, Australia previews some findings from The Spirit of Generation Y his study of spirituality among 1216 young Australians which revealed that religion is strongly associated with many positive life outcomes.

We found that one in five 13-to-24 year olds are actively religious, while about one in six could be described as atheists. The rest are religiously or spiritually disengaged but tend to either secular indifference or a superficial interest in the New Age.

…The religiously active are more likely to have positive civic attitudes, display high levels of social concern and be actively involved in community service. Active Christians, for example, do much more hours of volunteer work per month than secular youth. On a measure of the extent to which a person holds positive human values — favouring an ethical life, justice for all and having an orientation to the common good — we also found the religiously active to be streets ahead.

These findings make sense when we consider that regular attendees at religious services are encouraged to lead altruistic and ethical lives and given ample opportunities to partake in community service.

What about the young atheists? Most secular-minded youth are more self-oriented because there is no widely understood or shared ethical alternative paradigm on which to model their lives. Despite recent commentary about “generation Y” being community-minded, our evidence suggests that the prevailing ethos of the past decade — individualism and consumerism — afflicts young people in spades. And the secular humanists and rationalists do not seem to be putting up a credible, earthly alternative way of life.

Christian Today reports further that the study found 71% of Gen Y are not involved in any kind of community service in a typical month – whether fundraising, office work, signing a petition, collecting for a charity or coaching a sporting team. The study found that 77% of those whose spirituality type is Secular and 51% of Active Christians are not engaged in community activities in any way and do nothing for others apart from close family and friends.

However, a significant proportion of Gen Y go against that trend. They demonstrate strong community values and are actively involved in their communities in ways that assist the marginalised and disadvantaged. Some do hard-edge volunteer work that requires both initiative and courage. This type of service takes them outside their comfort zone and provides them with new skills and confidence.

Those who engage in voluntary work are likely to have a strong commitment to community values and be actively involved their faith. Active Christians and those New Agers who were brought up Christian demonstrate high levels of community involvement and altruism.

Spirituality type is also correlated with generosity: although 25% of Seculars and 8% of Active Christians give nothing to charity in a year, those Active Christians who do donate are generous in their giving.

Raising children in a religion – abuse or stability?

Next up to take on Richard Dawkins is the Guardian’s Anne Karpf. She begins:

If Richard Dawkins had his way, a fair number of you and, as it happens, me, would be had up for child abuse. According to him, that’s what religious indoctrination of children by their parents is. And if you can sue for the long-term mental damage caused by physical abuse, he argues, why shouldn’t you sue for the damage caused by mental child abuse?

If you accept Dawkins’s characterisation of religion, you’d probably agree. Religious parents, to him, are Mr Dogma and Mrs Bigot: they terrify their kids with tales of eternal hell, fire and damnation, when – that is – they’re not carrying out female circumcision or coercing them into forced marriages. Flat-earthers the lot, they’re brainwashers, fanatically opposed to science and rationality.

Isn’t it curious that we tolerate the stereotyping of religion in a way we’d never abide with race, religion [sic] or gender? I certainly don’t recognise myself in this caricature.

Hmmm in fact Karpf is the one doing the misprepresenation here. Continue reading

Virtues linked to faith?

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.

Social virtues graph

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.

Non-believers and the arts

This is the first of a number of postings about the cultural particpation of non-belivers in the UK, based on the Governement’s Taking Part survey (2005/6 results).

Art is often described as one of the great contributions that religions have given to the world, and is even used as a proof of God. It’s certainly impossible to deny the strong link between art and religion. But art galleries have also been describes as secular cathederals and temples.

So are in modern day Britain, is there any difference in how religious and non-religious people engage with the arts? Continue reading

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.

Non-religious doctors just as likely to care for poor

Doctor and Child

Doctors who said they were “spiritual, but not religious,” also ranked high in caring for the poor.

“We can say a lot of doctors are doing a lot of good, whether religious or not,” said Dr. Farr Curlin, one of the authors of the study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Most studies show religious people more likely than others to help the poor, according to Dr. Harold Koenig, director for the Center for the Study of Religion, Spirituality and Health at Duke University.

“But nobody has looked at this question in physicians,” he said. “It’s the largest and most systematic study of U.S. physicians. The fact that there weren’t large differences is interesting.”

…Curlin, who attends a nondenominational church, said the findings disappointed him.

“Caring for the poor is an expression of faithfulness and commitment,” he said. “But many religious physicians don’t make the connection.”

Other organisations could learn from churches in rebuilding social capital

Robert PutnamThe Guardian has a feature on American social scientist Robert Putnam his first paper “on his five-year study of social capital in the US – the biggest survey of its kind – which concludes that ethnic diversity does reduce social capital. He found that the higher the diversity in a neighbourhood, the lower the levels of trust, political participation and happiness between and within the ethnic groups, and he called it “hunkering”. But what has prompted criticism is not his analysis of hunkering, which the right has seized upon with delight, but his optimistic assertion that this is a short-term problem that, with “intelligence and creativity”, can be overcome. …[His] Harvard/Manchester research programme has identified four initial areas of social change on which to focus: immigration; the changing workplace and the consequences of women moving into the paid workforce; the changing role of religion in society; and inequality, particularly the mounting evidence of the inheritance of class and how it restricts social mobility.

…What fascinates him is tracking where the new forms of social capital are developing and why they are successful. One of his key areas of interest is religion – religious affiliations account for half of all US social capital. He cites US megachurches which, typically, attract tens of thousands of members, as “the most interesting social invention of late 20th century.” Continue reading

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

Research reveals deep divisions within ‘tolerant’ Netherlands

Paul SnidermanJohn Grace interviews Paul Sniderman in the Guardian today about his research with Louk Hagendoorn When Ways of Life Collide which found that deep divisions between locals and Muslim immigrants existed much earlier than anyone had previously suspected in the tolerant, democratic Netherlands.

“There was this feeling,” Sniderman says, “that because the Dutch government was so openly committed to pursuing a policy of multiculturalism, and because there had been no trouble between Muslims and the Dutch, then that policy must be working.

“Yet we discovered something quite different. While any society will always have its fair share of bigots, we also found that governmental multiculturalism made the problem worse. By arguing that all groups in society should be allowed to live according to their own beliefs and customs, they were encouraging people to see themselves as different from one another. And not just a little bit different, but fundamentally different. So it fostered a them-and-us attitude to politics.”

At one level, this is all very obvious. The more value you attach to questions of identity, the more reaction you are likely to get, with the result that people who don’t normally care very much about ideas of national identity can be provoked into extreme attitudes. But there are ironies and nuances at work. For one thing, Dutch policies of multiculturalism had their origins in racism rather than liberalism: the idea that minorities should maintain their traditions stemmed from the belief that their presence would be only temporary and that sooner or later they would be going “back home”. So the idea that multiculturalism might backfire shouldn’t be quite as shocking as it seems.

But what also emerges from this study is the thinness of the line between difference and prejudice. “We found that views typically held by otherwise tolerant Dutch people – that Muslims treated women badly and were too authoritarian with their children – were counterbalanced by Muslim attitudes towards the Dutch,” says Sniderman. “Muslims believed the Dutch were disrespectful towards women and failed to discipline their children properly. So this wasn’t about prejudices held by religious fanatics on both sides; it was a genuine conflict of values between two communities. It was the focus on these differences, through the pursuit of multiculturalism, that tipped the balance towards prejudice in some cases.”

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.’