A recently released study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that a majority of the world the belief in God as essential to morality. The study surveyed people in more that forty counties and more than 40,000 individuals asking them.

Although some may consider this study to be reassuring for religious people who belief in acceptance of the belief in God as a guarantee for moral behavior-taking a deeper  look makes this study show quite the opposite. While a majority of people in a majority of countries do believe in the belief that belief in God is a necessary ingredient for moral behavior the list of what countries believe this gives the story a different spin. With the United States and China being the most noteworthy exceptions to this, the belief in the dependence of morality on the belief in God is very much a factor of wealth; the wealthier the country is the less likely they are to believe in the correlation between morality and the belief in God-America is the exception in that despite its wealth there is still a strong belief in this relationship and China is the exception to this despite its poverty. Another finding that takes away from the simple reading of this finding is the fact that, in a significant way, the more educated people are the more likely they are to believe that there is no relationship between the belief in God and morality. Finally, the study found, the younger people were the less likely they were to believe in this correlation.

As a young, educated, and Western religious individual this troubled me very much. Does one not need to believe in God to be a moral person? Is this belief which is stated clearly in the bible (Gen 20:11) an outdated relic of the past? A relic reserved for the uneducated impoverished and undeveloped people of the world?

Furthermore, why is it that we Americans fall behind our European counterparts who seem to follow the direction that wealth and education takes them to a decreased belief in God as a necessary imperative for morality?

To understand this we must realize there is a deeply fundamental question that was not asked by the Pew researchers and that is-what is morality? Participants in this study were presented with the question of whether or not they see a need to believe in God with the assumption that what morality actually means can be taken for granted. This missing detail holds the key to understanding and putting into perspective the findings of this study.

There is no question that civil and educated societies can live with each other in peace and harmony; the real question that must be asked is what is morality. The reason so many Europeans believe that there is no need to believe in God in order to be moral may just be because they are willing to accept the notion that morality is something assessed and reevaluated every decade and if all agree the standards are completely changed in way that just a generation ago they would never have imagined. The fact that is ancient cultures it was ok to sacrifice one’s children and burn them to death as offerings to their gods was is not due to the fact that all members of that culture got together and decided to be cruel, vulgar, and inhumane- it was because they came to an agreement that they all believe that under the current circumstances this was the right thing to do. And so when we look at a generation in which moral norms are changing in an ever faster rate than ever- a rate which would be thought to be unthinkable just a century ago- we must not wonder will people be moral but rather what will be moral? The reason many Westerners consider themselves to be the cutting edge of moral behavior despite the record high rates of euthanasia, abortion, post-birth abortion, and assisted suicide only highlights the need for an objective moral standard that will assure that what absolute standards we attach to morality and what of it is adaptable, if at all.

Asking people if they are moral people and if they need God to be moral does no good for the cause of morality; people ought to be asked what is it that they define as moral, what about it is unchangeable, and what they think it is that will give those definitions stability sustainability, and permanence so that we can seek confidence in a bright, safe, and moral future. And in the meantime, we all know with clarity that we are moral people, we just have no idea what that means.


Published in the News Examiner(Print)