Or so says the headline at the National Post (don’t blame me, I didn’t write the headline). The article begins:
A new Canadian survey has found that believers are more likely than atheists to place a higher value on love, patience and friendship, in findings the researcher says could be a warning that Canadians need a religious basis to retain civility in society.
For some time atheists have been saying that they can be just as good and moral as anyone – and according to folks like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, even better. However, prominent Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge has published the findings of a survey of 1600 Canadians about twelve different social values to see if this is actually true. According to a similar article on Digital Journal:
In each case, theist ranked these values (honesty, kindness, family life, being loved, friendship, courtesy, concern for others, forgiveness, politeness, friendliness, patience and generosity) more highly then proclaimed atheists.
Bibby’s conclusions (taken from his own paper) are:
- 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.
Both articles include comments from atheist Justin Trottier, executive director of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario, who says the problem is in defining what is meant by values: ““To me, scientific thinking is a value. Critical thinking is a value. Open inquiry is my biggest value. If he made those values – the way atheists would – he would have gotten different responses.” A very perceptive response, which also makes the point that apparently without religion, things like honesty, kindness, forgiveness, patience and generosity cease to be considered values. But, who needs those when we have open inquiry.
What I find really intriguing is the suggestion that the non-religious folks are “borrowing moral capital” from a generally religious society. That is, society values goodness and so on due to its religious heritage, and so these values are still to some extent held in common by most people, atheists included. If we ever were to take away that Theistic moral witness, arguably society would go to hell in a handbasket over time.
However, the current disparity between values held by Theists versus atheists is quite notable, especially when it comes down to forgiveness, which ranked as 84% for the Theists (a bit low, actually – concerning in itself) and only 52% for atheists. Apparently, atheism means never having to say you’re sorry. And, forget feeding the poor; only 37% of atheists believed generosity was a value. Oh well, perhaps critical thinking will solve the problem before the Theists all die off.
But, what can we really tell from this survey? Basically, it would seem that Canadians as a whole are an honest bunch, but are generally stingy and impatient. This survey is, of course, limited to Canadians, so I’m not drawing any conclusions whatsoever about American Theists and atheists. I’m sure we’d all fare much better.