Do you need God to be good? No say the rich, yes say the poor

Pew Research points to a link between the wealth of a country and how much its citizens believe morality and religion are connected.

Published 14 March 2014  |  
(AP)

New survey data from Pew Research's Global Attitudes Project reveals that richer countries are less likely to believe that religion is necessary to be moral.

In Ghana and Pakistan, only 1 per cent said it was possible to live a moral and upright life without a religious belief. Ghana came 82nd in the United Nations' 2012 gross domestic product rankings, while Pakistan is 43rd.

In Egypt and Jordan, which come 38th and 92nd in global GDP rankings, only 4 per cent of people think morality is possible without faith. In both El Salvador and the Philippines, this figure was 7 per cent. 

By contrast, France and China, the fifth and second largest global economies, have high percentages of people who believe it is possible to be righteous without religion (85 per cent and 75 per cent respectively). 

The figures are similar in the UK, the world's sixth largest economy, where 78 per cent believe that church and the Bible are not necessary to be a moral person.

The trend is however far from universal. The most notable exception is the United States, home to the world's largest GDP, which is split fairly evenly between those who think God is necessary to being moral (46 per cent) and those who do not (53 per cent).

South Korea, the world's 15th largest economy, is similarly divided between 44 per cent who think faith is not necessary to being good, as opposed to 54 per cent who think the opposite. 

Japan, the world's third biggest economy, and Chile, the 36th, are also both divided about the link between being good and believing in God. In both countries 55 per cent say God is unnecessary for morality.

Europe was far more likely to be sceptical than Africa, with 68.2 per cent across the nine countries surveyed by Pew saying religion and morality were unconnected, in contrast to 12.6 per cent across the six African countries looked at by researchers.

Within richer countries, other trends emerge. In the US, Canada, Israel, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic, people who had a university education were more likely to disagree with the idea that religion was necessary to be moral.

This was especially the case in the US, where 59 per cent of those without a college degree said religious faith was linked to morality, compared to 37 per cent of those with degrees.

Age was also a substantial factor, with younger generations more likely to feel they do not need God's help to be moral, while older groups cling fast to faith as a moral compass.

Overall, the research found that in 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, clear majorities said it was necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. This was particularly the case across Africa and the Middle East.

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