Poll: Atheists less likely to 'do good'
The survey by a pollster at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, found that adults who profess a belief in God are significantly more likely than atheists to say that forgiveness, patience, generosity and a concern for others are "very important." In fact, the poll found that on 11 of 12 values, there was a double-digit gap between theists and atheists, with theists more likely to label each value "very important."
The survey by sociologist and pollster Reginald Bibby examined the beliefs of 1,600 Canadians, 82 percent who said they believed in "God or a higher power" and 18 percent who said they did not.
The poll was released as an aggressive branch of atheism is getting increasing attention. Led in part by authors Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris as well as by the so-called Blasphemy Project, the new combative form of atheism argues that society would be better off in a "God-less world." The research -- while not addressing any specific authors or groups -- seems to claim otherwise. The poll was conducted in 2005 and released Oct. 8.
"To the extent that Canadians say good-bye to God, we may find that we pay a significant social price," Bibby said in a press release.
According to the survey, there is a:
-- 32-point gap between theists and atheists on whether forgiveness is "very important" (84 percent vs. 52 percent).
-- 33-point gap on patience (72 percent vs. 39 percent).
-- 30-point gap on generosity (67 percent vs. 37 percent).
-- 19-point gap on concern for others (82 percent vs. 63 percent).
-- 23-point gap on family life (88 percent vs. 65 percent).
Among the poll's other findings, there was a 13-point gap between theists and atheists on kindness, 16-point gap on "being loved," 11-point gap on friendship, 10-point gap on courtesy, 12-point gap on politeness, 13-point gap on friendliness and 5-point gap on honesty.
If the poll is correct, Canada has a higher percentage of atheists than does America. A Gallup poll of American adults this summer found that 6 percent consider themselves atheists. Also, most polls find that roughly nine in 10 Americans profess a belief in God, a higher percentage than in Canada.
The Ottawa Citizen took the poll results seriously, asserting in an editorial that "declining religious affiliation could be accompanied by a decline in civility."
"Clergy and theologians have long argued something similar, namely, that without formal religion it is hard for society to maintain and perpetrate ethical behaviour," the editorial stated. "Of course, clergy are not the most objective analysts in these matters. Bibby, however, speaks as an academic. …
"Bibby's research suggests that as religiosity declines, we start to travel blind -- and society pays a price," the editorial continued. "Religious affiliation, apparently, has a civilizing function. We become socialized at church. The fear, then, is that as we separate ourselves from these institutions, social harmony could suffer."
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.