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Honesty most important to all religious groups, survey finds

07 July 2023

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FAITH groups share a common regard for honesty as a virtue important to their faith, while justice and kindness are also highly regarded, a new survey from the Good Faith Partnership and the University of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues suggests.

Members of the public from the backgrounds of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and humanism/no religion were asked to select, from a list of 24, the six virtues that they considered most important for their faith. Three thousand responded.

They could choose from charity, citizenship, civility, community, compassion, confidence, critical thinking, curiosity, devotion, gratitude, honesty, humility, integrity, justice, kindness, neighbourliness, perseverance, piety, reflection, resilience, service, teamwork, tolerance, and wisdom.

Honesty was the only virtue in the top six across all belief strands, but all religious groups had at least three virtues in common in their top six. The largest overlap was between Muslims and Jews, who had five of the top six in common (kindness, justice, devotion, honesty, and charity), and between Muslims and Sikhs, who had in common the virtues of justice, gratitude, devotion, honesty, and charity.

The biggest overlap between the humanist group and religion was with Judaism and Islam, with honesty, kindness, and justice in common across all three groups.

Of the Christian sample, 39.7 per cent (the largest group) put charity first, followed by honesty, devotion, civility, citizenship, and community awareness. Citizenship was first for Hinduism (35.6 per cent), with community awareness second, and compassion third, followed by devotion, gratitude, and honesty.

Islam (36 per cent) put kindness first, then justice, gratitude, devotion, honesty, and charity. Judaism put justice first (43 per cent), followed by devotion, honesty, kindness, integrity, and charity. Sikhs (44.7 per cent) had an equal regard for justice, with humility second, and gratitude third. Devotion, honesty, and charity followed.

The greatest divergence was between Christians and humanists, with only honesty in common. It was the most important virtue for people in the humanist/no-religion category, closely followed by kindness and justice. Then came the intellectual virtues of curiosity and critical thinking, and compassion.

The shared experience of being a religious minority in the UK may lend itself to prioritising some of the same values, the report — envisaged as a pilot study — suggests. The researchers now want to explore critical lines of inquiry around the meaning of charity, and whether the emphasis on virtues changes with time.

“There is a huge potential to craft a more inclusive and positive framework for collaboration, despite differences, around virtues in public life,” says the report.

“If policy makers are to tap into such a potential it has to be with greater understanding of how diverse cohorts of people approach such sensitive subjects and how they can find common ground amidst the hyper-diversity of life today. The data here indicates there is more in common than we may imagine.”

All the religious participants included devotion in their top six: a finding very much in line with the Bloom review published in April, Does Government “Do God”? (News, 28 April). That review concluded that faith was a force for good, and that more should be done both to understand it and to release its potential as a resource.

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