More than half of Britons believe that religion does more harm than good, with less than a quarter believing faith of any sort is a force for good.
Britain has been becoming more secular for a while, but these statistics suggest that it isn’t only secularism that is on the rise, but also anti-theism. 20% of Britons who described themselves as being “very religious” said religion was harmful to society, with a quarter of those asked said atheists were more likely to be moral individuals than religious people.
This poll, which was conducted by Huffington Post, suggested that only 8% of Britons would describe themselves as “very religious” with more than 60% describing themselves as not religious at all.
This new poll has caused several raised eyebrows and outright anger from the religious and will likely reopen the debate on religions position in British society. Of the self-identifying atheists surveyed, 60%% said they thought religion caused more problems than it solved.
The polling data also appears to suggest that people believe that if you happen to be an atheist, you are more likely to be a good person. This is shown through 12.5% of people believing that atheists are more moral, with only 6% believe that being an atheist made you less moral. This data challenges the belief held by the major parties in British politics and also public opinion that religion is one of the last remaining bastions of British morality.
This argument has been raging between the religious and atheists since atheism became a more acceptable position to hold. The religious would argue that morality comes from the church and from believing in God, whereas the atheists would argue that if you require God to keep you moral then it is simply forced morality rather than a reflection of your character. Atheism also suggests that, humans, as a species, would not have been able to survive as long as we had without some morality prior to God becoming involved and presenting the 10 commandments to Moses. The idea that we needed to be told that killing was wrong, atheists suggest, is ludicrous and that the only reason to be moral was for a reward of the afterlife suggests nor morality, but self-interest.
Other major findings revealed that; of the 2,004 people surveyed in the HuffPost/Survation poll, 56% described themselves as Christian, 2.5% were Muslim, 1% were Jewish and the remainder were of another faith or none. The majority of those surveyed believe religion is not more likely to make you a moral person. With more than 55% of those surveyed saying that atheists are just as likely to be moral people as their religious counterparts. The survey also found that young people are actually more likely to have a positive view of religion. Around 30% of 18-24 year old believe religion does more good than harm, compared to just 19% of 55-64 year-olds
The large amount of people professing no religion or people of varying religions and backgrounds means that we must now re-examine the role of the Church of England in British life. Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, said she was shocked to see the number of people professing no religion whatsoever.
“This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK. What we are seeing is not a complete rejection of faith, belief in the divine, or spirituality, though there is some to that, but of institutional religion in the historic forms which are familiar to people.” Woodhead said. She also said that the retreat from religion is the result of multiple religions and as above not necessarily a retreat from God but a retreat from institutional religion. When pressed for what she thought these factors might be she responded by saying, from sex scandals involving Catholic priests and rabbis, to conflict in the Middle East and Islamist terror attack.
“I’d add religious leaderships’ drift away from the liberal values, equality, tolerance, diversity, which is embraced by many of their own followers and often championed by non-religious and atheist people more forcefully,” This appears to be one of the main focal points of losing one’s religion, a lukewarm support for ideas which you individually believe are important.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association said, “This survey just confirms what we know is the common sense of people in Britain today – that whether you are religious or not has very little to do with your morality. Most people understand that morality and good personal and social values are not tied to religious belief systems, but are the result of our common heritage and experience as human beings: social animals that care for each other and are kind to others because we understand that they are human too.”
When asked about the role of religion specifically and not just atheism he said, “Not only that, people understand that religious beliefs themselves can be harmful to morality: encouraging intolerance, inflexibility and the doing of harm in the name of a greater good. We only need to look around us to perceive that fact.”
Copson also responded to the idea that Britain should be considered a more Cristian nation with, “We need an inclusive shared society and an end to the privilege of religious institutions that allows a third of our state schools to be controlled by religious groups, unelected clerics to sit in our Parliament, and discriminatory religious organisations to provide what should be secular public services.”
Christianity is on the decline in Britain, the 2011 Census found 33.2 million people identifying with the religion, a decrease of 4.1 million from 2001, from 72% to 59% of the population. Islam has conversely slightly risen over the past decade, with the number of people identifying as Muslim growing from 3% to 5% of the population. But the 2011 census showed a huge increase in the number of people with no religion, currently 14.1 million people, an increase of 6.4 million since over the same period, which is a growth of 10%.
Around 45% of Christians thought religion was, on balance, a negative force in modern life; with around a third believing it does more good. Jews view religion even more negatively, with 70% saying religion does more harm than good, with only 27% believing the reverse.
The only growing religion, Islam, and its followers were most likely to describe themselves as very religious, around 20% of those surveyed. Almost 50% of Jewish people surveyed said they were not religious at all, compared to just 7% of Muslims.
Both Jews and Christians, on the whole, were of the belief that atheists and religious people were equally likely to be moral with 69% and 60% respectively. Only Muslims were unsure on this question with 53% saying they “didn’t know” if being religious made you more moral.
This poll seems to suggest that with religion on the decline that the people of Britain have turned to one another instead of towards their church, mosque or temple. The fact that people now believe that atheism, on the whole, is not inferior appears to suggest a more inclusive society is being built. Religion used to be the centre of moral teaching but now there are far more available avenues to find a morality. Provided that we as Britons to remain inclusive and do not allow religion to dictate the formation of laws we should be able to continue our growth. Religion might not be the place where morality comes from any more but as long as people of all faiths or lack thereof can coexist what will be the problem?