WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — A clear majority of people in countries across the globe say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values – a viewpoint far more common in poor countries than in wealthier nations.
A new survey of 40 countries from the Pew Research Center finds that in more than half of the nations polled on their belief in God – 22 of 40 – clear majorities say it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person living by good values. Countries in Africa and the Middle East showed numerous countries hovering at or above the 90th percentile for people who see a belief in God as essential to morality.
The Pew survey of more than 40,000 people across 40 countries from 2011 and 2013 finds that people in wealthier nations see less of a connection between morality and a belief in God.
Indonesians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Malaysians almost unanimously think that belief in God is central to having good values. People in El Salvador, Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela overwhelmingly agree.
In the Middle East, Turkey and Palestinian territories, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said that a belief in God is inextricably tied to good values and morality, with Egypt and Jordan showing nearly unanimous agreement on the subject.
Across the Middle East region, only Israel showed a majority of those who do not think a belief in God is necessary to live a moral life.
In Asia and Latin America, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Malaysians nearly all showed unanimous support for a belief in God being central to good values. However, most Chinese took the opposite direction, instead saying that a belief in God is not tied to morality.
According to the Pew data, in North America and Europe, more people agree that it is possible to be non-religious and still be a person with good values. At least half of people surveyed in nearly every country take this view, including roughly eight-in-ten or more in France, Spain, the Czech Republic and Britain. In these regions, Americans are a bit of an exception – 53 percent say belief in God is necessary to be moral.
A recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute finds that younger Americans – Millennials—are more likely than their older counterparts to distrust organized religion. Nearly one-third of Millennials who have left their childhood religion cited anti-gay teachings as a major factor for such distrust, with 70 percent of young Americans agreeing that religious groups are alienating their generation. And recent studies also show that younger Americans feel much more detached from religious traditions.
China and the United States are both unique in terms of their economic wealth and belief in God being essential to morality. Americans are much more likely than their economic counterparts to say belief in God is essential to morality, while the Chinese are much less likely to do so.
And aside from wealth, another socioeconomic divide exists between age, education and belief in God.
The survey notes that in Greece, 62 percent of older adults say it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person, while less than one-third (29 percent) of 18-29 year olds agree.
A majority of Americans without a college degree (59 percent) say faith is essential to be a moral person, while less than four-in-ten college graduates (37 percent) agreed.