Half Of Brits Say Religion Does More Harm Than Good, And Atheists Can Be Just As Moral

Nov 7, 2014

By Jessica Elgot

More than half of Britons believe that religion does more harm than good, with less than a quarter believing faith is a force for good, the Huffington Post UK can reveal today.

Even 20% of British people who described themselves as being ‘very religious’ said religion was harmful to society, and a quarter of said atheists were more likely to be moral individuals than religious people.

The exclusive poll for the HuffPost UK reveals that just 8% of Britons describe themselves as very religious, with more than 60% saying they were not religious at all.

The eye-opening survey, that will reopen debate over the role and worth of religion to British society, found of the ‘non-religious’ people polled, more than 60% said they thought religion caused more problems than it solved.

The poll shows that more people believe being an atheist is more likely to make you a good person than being religious. In fact, one in eight Britons said atheists tend to be more moral, compared to just 6% who say atheists are less moral, challenging widely held beliefs that religion is one of the last remaining bastions of British morality.


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18 comments on “Half Of Brits Say Religion Does More Harm Than Good, And Atheists Can Be Just As Moral

  • I don’t know how to read this. On the positive it means half of Brits have some measure of common sense. Of course that means about 40% do not, that’s got to be a worry, but probably less so than some other countries. What I found interesting was that 60% claimed to not be religious at all but only 55% claimed that atheists could be just as moral as the religious. So 5% think they are less moral than the religious?

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  • @OP – Woodhead said the reasons for a retreat from religion are “numerous”, from sex scandals involving Catholic priests and rabbis, to conflict in the Middle East and Islamist terror attack.

    Not forgetting the decades of Catholic v Protestant terrorism in Ireland, which has polarised politics and denied many people proper medical services.

    “I’d add religious leaderships’ drift away from the liberal values, equality, tolerance, diversity, [which is] embraced by many of their own followers and often championed by non-religious and atheist people more forcefully,” she said.

    We only have to look at the palatial buildings in the Vatican, or the vast accumulated wealth of the Church of England, built on tithes from impoverished peasants and workers, to see the hypocrisy of organisations exalting the donating of wealth to help the poor.

    The UK has now had a couple of decades of a Science National Curriculum from primary school onwards, even though Xtian assemblies have continued with inertia from the past, so most children have had the opportunity to learn evidence based thinking.

    Young people are actually more likely to have a positive view of religion. Around 30% of 18-24 year old believe religion does more good than harm, compared to just 19% of 55-64 year-olds.

    That would seem to match the % of those young people indoctrinated in “faith-schools”, who have not had enough experience of life to shake off the false images which have been fed to them!

    “We need an inclusive shared society and an end to the privilege of religious institutions that allows a third of our state schools to be controlled by religious groups, unelected clerics to sit in our Parliament, and discriminatory religious organisations to provide what should be secular public services.”

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  • Ties in rather well with that other item on Remembrance Day being a Church Of England monopoly. Secularist call for changes there and with this reality changes seem to be in the wind for this country.

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  • 5
    Springbox says:

    ‘Half Of Brits Say Religion Does More Harm Than Good, And Atheists Can Be Just As Moral’ did you hear that Watson? Of course it is only a matter of time before the recriminations and labels will start flying about and I have no time to argue religion.

    That said I find the best way to approach these things is by targeting the issues and not the brand as it immediately puts them on the defensive and not you. Labelling is a tactic to put you on the defensive so as not to talk about the original issue – it’s a smoke-screen. It’s easily the most recognizable way to see someone who cannot defend their position.

    My grandfather, bless him, told me the best way to attack a bad idea is to give someone enough rope to hang themselves with – metaphorically speaking of course. Look at these Sharia clowns or the Fred Phelps clan for example, they are using free speech to destroy themselves. The more coverage they get the more people are repulsed as they learn more about them.

    Regardless, this is refreshing news.

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  • Good timing for a survey like this with an election looming next year. Too many politicians still like to campaign on “moral” issues as defined by the Church (i.e sex and marriage) in order to pander to the religious.

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  • Nice to see Andrew Copson being his usual urbane, articulate self.

    I’d like to know more about this HuffPost/Survation poll survey. Quite a large sample of 2,004 people, suggesting high veracity, but more detail would be useful, like that given for the clarificatory follow-up to the 2011 Census poll by Ipsos Mori, commissioned by RDF.

    What were the questions, collection methods, social and geographic spread etc?

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  • 9
    FrankMill says:

    On other pages… Pope gives evidence of being a Roman Catholic. Dolly Parton acknowledges she usually sleeps on her back.

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  • The results of the poll should be restated as “Half of Britons who read the Huffington Post”. They said the poll was exclusive to the Huf Post, so it makes sense that such a high number report a negative view of religion and a positive view of atheism considering that the Huf Post appeals to those left of center to begin with. I thought this sounded a little too good to be true for the whole population.

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  • For all that, and I live here, the poll is probably broadly accurate. If it had just been the innocuous old CoE, even Richard quite likes it, the poll might have been different. But with the violent Islamics, the reactionary Catholic Church, and the State of Israel bombing parts of Gaza to bits, the result is what it is.

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  • It’s both good news and bad news. From the article:

    Only a third of young people think religion is more likely to be a negative influence, but that rises to just under two-thirds in the 55-64 age bracket. Older people also dismissed the idea that atheists are less moral people, just 3% of over 65s believe that to be true. It is young people with a more negative view of atheism, with 12% of 18-24-year-olds believing that atheists are less moral people.

    It could be due to difference in life experience or renewed efforts by religion to capture the next generation. The question is where are the younger people getting the ideas that religion is less likely a negative influence and atheist are less moral. That is a halving of the former number and quadrupling of the latter.

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  • Hi Atheos,

    I wondered about that too.

    One reason is the national curriculum. Another is the Government funding of faith schools. Another is the targeting of older children by religions, as you concluded, particularly in schools. But I think the biggest factor is probably the relativist-centred atmosphere in State Schools – even the most secular.

    In addition, teachers themselves are monitored like never before. Teaching is no longer a trusted profession, they are treated like a semi-skilled trade, requiring numerous checks, regulations, standard procedures, set targets and administration.

    One of the rules that comes down from the Education Dept. is that all must be scrupulously treated as equal. In and of itself this rule is clearly benign, helpful – even praiseworthy. The rhetoric is that by treating all pupils and parents as equals we battle bigotry. But, and it’s a big but, the instructions from on high also tell teachers how this policy is to be applied in practice.

    Equality is taught in most British schools by avoiding the question of difference. Although the rhetoric is about celebrating diversity in practice diverse lives are presented through the lens of relativism. All differences are therefore not celebrated – rather, they are blurred until equally bland.

    If, as British children are being taught, all points of view are equally valid then religion arrives on a playing field that is peculiarly slanted in their favour. Relativism is almost the opposite of critical thinking – where the Critical Thinker asks questions, the Relativist sees that a ready answer is already available.

    Thus, many children need only be exposed to one strongly anti-atheist type (such as a visiting priest) to form a strong opinion on something about which they know precisely nothing.

    Some of the grosser mismanagement of education (for a brief period it was possible, for example, to pass through High School without studying any science or mathematics and thereby be excluded from any training in critical thinking and empiricism) have been addressed. However, faith schools remain, like an appalling carbuncle on the face of an old friend.

    In addition, comparative religion is not being taught properly even in some schools that lack a specifically religious bent, and if the reports I read are to be believed many – if not most – schools that have any connection with organised religion are not teaching comparative religion at all. For this very reason I’ve always been against any religion being taught in schools. It’s holding children’s development a hostage to outrageous fortune.

    The two sets of stats you quote may be a reason for hope. It may be that young people, given time to reflect, realise they were sold a pig in a poke. We can move them back from the Dark Side.

    I say this knowing that my High School Religious Education teacher was a dyed-in-the-wool Christian fundamentalist. He left to go and teach younger children because, in his own words, High Shool children ask too many questions, they don’t simply accept ideas.

    If the HuffPo re-does the survey for another two years and the generation split remains about the same then that would make me Mr. Smug. However, I’d like to think that we can do a lot more in education in the few years and get that young people figure down!

    The HuffPo’s opening remarks, by the way, are a masterclass in political spin. They’re definitely relativist fellow travellers. But that’s another discussion for another time.


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  • Hi Stephen, thanks for the reply and views from across the pond.

    If, as British children are being taught, all points of view are equally valid then religion arrives on a playing field that is peculiarly slanted in their favour.

    Yes, it would be a travesty if all points of view are automatically granted legitimacy without equal evidence. It enables fallacious arguments from assertion to prolong their hold on unsuspecting minds. Steven Pinker echoes your points here.

    This same indiscriminate “political correctness” has appeared in American universities and media recently, in places no more surprising than U.C. Berkeley, to silence the voices of dissent, the new dogma joining the old from religion. We saw evidence of this in the recent controversy from Prof. Dawkins’ remarks on tabooed subjects.

    I know American evangelical Christians have been expanding into developing nations especially in Africa. And I recall reading somewhere (or suspect) that the similar efforts are being applied to Europe. That they or local groups are making inroads is troubling. If the numbers for younger people remain the same, and the current 1/3 stay indoctrinated, this next, more religious population would tilt societies away from secularism yet again.

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  • I wish that governments, and in this case the Americans in particular, would listen to what those “Founding Fathers,” whose wisdom they profess to venerate, actually said, and paid attention to what they really stood for:

    “History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.”

    — Thomas Jefferson

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