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02/25/2005 Archived Entry: "Depressing stat on god and morality"


I was reading a Pew Center analysis of the 2004 presidential election, "Politics and Values in a 51%-48% Nation." It contains a lot that's interesting, a lot that's not happy-making, a lot that shows how similar Ds and Rs really are.

But about halfway down the linked page is a boxed poll question with this result reported:

It IS necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values.
Yes: 51%

Now, in this day and age, I find that both astonishing and disgusting. Some of the most moral people I know are atheists and agnostics, because they have to answer to themselves every day of their lives. They know there's no magical incantation to gain forgiveness and salvation when they do wrong. They don't believe they must behave well merely because some powerfully punishing Other might be watching them. They behave well because it's the right thing to do.

I know some highly moral god-believers, too. But it's a mix. Some individuals probably do need a deity to enforce or inspire good behavior. Others I've seen actually behave worse because they know they're "saved" and expect to be forgiven at their next prayer session or confession. Ditto, some atheists are skunks. But not solely because they're atheists.

The sheer ignorance displayed by that 51% isn't the only problem. If that poll result reflects reality, then 51 percent of Americans are openly, blatantly bigoted against non-believers. They're saying we're inherently not good, decent human beings, every last one of us.

If you said that all blacks, Jews, gays, name-minority-of-your-choice were inherently not good, decent human beings, you'd be rightly nailing yourself as the ignorant, ugly bigot you are. But say it about people who live their lives cleanly because of their own internal ethics ... and apparently that's just dandy.

By this standard, 51% of Americans believe that George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden are both inherently more moral (and presumably more worthy of respect) than H.L. Mencken or Carl Sagan. Or Wendy McElroy. Or me. I'd like to see somebody try to prove that.

Posted by Claire @ 09:50 AM CST

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