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‘Belief not needed’ to live a moral life, say majority in attitudes survey

05 May 2023


Volunteers at a food bank in the north-east of England

Volunteers at a food bank in the north-east of England

THREE-quarters of respondents in the UK part of a Pew Research Center survey said that it was not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.

The global-attitudes survey suggests that in many of the advanced economies, the majority agree that faith is not necessary for morality. In the United States survey, 65 per cent said that it was not necessary; the UK’s figure was 76 per cent. Nine in ten people suveyed in Sweden thought that it was unnecessary to believe in God to be moral, while Israelis were evenly split over the question.

In Malaysia, however, only one in five in the survey considered that people could be moral without believing in God.

Even among those who profess a faith, most do not think that it is necessary to believe in God to have good values. In the UK survey, 63 per cent of people of faith believed that, compared with 95 per cent of those not affiliated to any religion.

The likelihood of saying that it was not necessary to believe in God to have good values was higher among people on the Left, the university-educated, and younger people. Only in Sweden were Left and Right similar.

The survey found that attitudes had shifted little in the past 20 years. In the UK, in 2002, 73 per cent said that it was not necessary to be religious to live a good life, and 25 per cent disagreed.

People from 16 countries were questioned for the survey, including 1300 in the UK. Pew has not carried out interviews in countries with emerging or developing economies since it suspended in-person polling during Covid.

Previous polling on the same question, however, found that, in countries with low GDP, more people tended to hold that belief in God was essential for morality.

In 2019, in Kenya, which had the lowest GDP per capita, 95 per cent of people saw believing in God as a necessary aspect of morality. In Sweden, which had one of the highest GDPs per capita of the countries surveyed in 2019, only nine per cent of people expressed this view. More than eight out of ten people also held this view in Brazil, South Africa, Tunisia, Nigeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines — all countries with emerging or developing economies.

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