Necessary to Believe in God to be Moral?

Chapel at William P Clements Jr University Hospital - UT SouthwesternIs it necessary to believe in God in order to be moral?

The Latest Research

Last month the Pew Research Center published the results of their latest survey on the topic.  The survey item asked American respondents to fill in the blank in the following statement: “It is ___ to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.” Respondents were able to chose from “is necessary” or “is not necessary.”

A majority (56%) chose “is not necessary” in 2017, which was up from about half (49%) in 2011.  Interestingly every subgroup of respondents showed an increase in the percent selecting “is not necessary” between the 2011 and 2017 survey including

  • Religiously affiliated = +3% (42% to 45%)
  • Religiously unaffiliated =+7% (78% to 85%)

Among the religiously affiliated

  • Protestant = +4% (37% to 41%)
  • Catholic = +2% (47% to 49%)

Among Protestants

  • White Evangelical= +6% (26% to 32%)
  • White Mainline= +4% (59% to 63%)
  • Black Protestant = +7% (19% to 26%

So What?

Today, about 1 out of every 3 white Evangelical Protestants thinks it is not necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values compared to about 2 out of every 3 white Mainline Protestants.

Think for a minute not about your own lived experience but the possible experiences of others.

  • Do you believe people must believe in a god (or gods) in order to be moral and have good values? Why or why not?
  • While the gap between white Evangelicals and white Mainline Protestants has closed a bit over the last six years white Mainline Protestants remain about twice as likely to affirm that people can be more and have good values without God when compared to white Evangelicals.  Does this surprise you? Concern you? Explain.


Disclaimer: I am not the author of the Pew Research article cited above. We do, however, have the same name.

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