Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Do People Need God to be Good?

A sociologist from the University of Lethbridge conducted a nationwide survey of 1,600 Canadians, asking them, "Do people need God to be good?" The study found that Canadians who believe in God are "consistently more likely than atheists to highly value a range of characteristics that includes courtesy, concern for others, forgiveness, and patience. God-believers are also more inclined than those who don't believe in God to place high value on friendship, family life, and being loved."

The author of the study, Dr. Reginald Bibby notes, "There obviously are times when religious beliefs and religious groups do not contribute to the social good. However, if they were to disappear tomorrow, we would have to find functional equivalents in Canadian society that are equally effective in promoting good interpersonal traits...To the extent that Canadians say good-bye to God, we may find that we pay a significant social price."

The primary reason for the values differences, Bibby suggests, are as follows:

"People get their values from groups and people who believe in God are far more likely than atheists to be part of groups that work hard to instill values about being good to other people, and having good relationships. That's not to say that God-believers always translate their values into action. But they at least are inclined to hold the values. Atheists, on the other hand, do not have as many explicit support groups that are committed to intentionally promoting positive interpersonal life."

49 percent of the respondents also said they definitely believe God exists and 33 percent said they think He exists; 11 percent have doubts and don't think there is a higher power; and 7 percent say they definitely do not believe God exists.

The Christian Post ran an article on this study and highlighted a recent debate between Alister McGrath and Christopher Hitchens. The article noted, "Rebutting Hitchens' argument that knowing right from wrong is innate and doesn't come from a higher being, McGrath, who said he is a former atheist, asked how one can have a viable moral system without some sort of transcendent basis of morality. 'There are some forms of religion that are pathological, that damage people. For every one of these atrocities which must cause all of us deep concern, there are 10,000 unreported acts of kindness, generosity, and so forth arising from religious commitment,' McGrath argued."

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