Last year, my friend Professor Tom Arcaro launched a worldwide survey of atheists. The response was overwhelming with over 8,000 people worldwide completing the survey, including nearly 800 from Australia and New Zealand.
The beauty of the survey is that it allowed plenty of room for comments which means we now have the ability to publish material which allows atheists to speak with their own voices. Early results suggest that the survey comments will powerfully challenge the stereotype of the Christian-hating, militant, fundamentalist atheist!
We are planning a series of articles over the next 12 months or so and are also hoping to find a publisher so that we can publish the results in a book.
I’ve been looking at some of the results from the Australasian cohort and very interesting they are! So far, I’ve written two essays covering the first two survey questions on the Elon University (North Carolina) blog – Serving Atheists.
Here’s an excerpt from Religion – A force for bad or good?:
Is religion necessary?
While acknowledging that religion is not ‘all bad’, some respondents insist that the ‘good’ done by religion is not (or need not be) dependent upon religious belief.
The consensus is aptly summarised by an IT programmer from Australia:
“All good forces which stem from religious belief don’t need religious belief to come about, but many bad forces which stem from religious belief could not come about without it.”
“Religion has produced good,” concedes a female lawyer from Australia, explaining that:
“Many charities, et cetera are established and continued through religion, and possibly would not continue to exist in a non-religious world. However equally, religion has often created the problems which the charities need to meet in the first place (e.g. poverty caused by having too many children because of the ban on contraception). However, there is a great deal of evil perpetuated in the world because of religion. And none of the good things in the world rely on religion to exist, they could exist just as much without religion.”
This view is expanded upon by a 30 year old, unemployed Australian respondent:
“Human creativity in the form of say architecture or music does not require religion as a source, the people that create such art are talented regardless of their religion and could therefore have achieved their masterpieces anyway; the only thing religion provided that might otherwise have been difficult to obtain was funding. Other things such as community, charity, et cetera, are demonstrably provided by other organisations or pursuits independent of religion. Thus the positive aspects unique to religion are minimal, while I think the negatives such as war and ‘ethnic cleansing’ outweigh these by far.”
“While religion does give a lot of people hope, there are plenty of secular reasons for people to have hope for the future, and the air of intolerance that many religions create far outweighs any good they have done,” argues a 20 year old tertiary student from Australia.
The point is neatly summarised by another Australian student, “The good caused by religion would occur without it. The bad, in many instances, would not.”
Indeed, the consensus seems to be that:
“Actions which are actually beneficial to society are good whether or not done from religious motivation. But there are many harmful actions which are only done from religious motivation, and have no secular basis; so the net effect of religion on behaviour is significantly harmful.”
PS: Do you like the ‘new look’ Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear blog? One of my readers, Glenn Watson, inspired me by designing a new ‘Gladly’ Bear’ for me (see top right side bar). There are, however, some things I’d like to change to make the blog easier for you guys to read but, I regret, it’s beyond my limited technological capability. If any of my readers have a working knowledge of CSS and are willing to help me modify the blog theme, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d be very, very grateful.