Is religion a good or evil force in society?

Americans and citizens of some of the most Islamic countries tend to agree that it is a force acting on the side of good. Many Europeans say the opposite. There is a rough correlation between the religiosity of a country and how much religion is revered (duh) as a primarily good thing.


This poll was conducted in connection with the upcoming debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blaire. The overall results, combining answers across countries, indicates that a slim majority of humans are rather suspicious of religion’s value as an ethical or moral compass.

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20 thoughts on “Is religion a good or evil force in society?

  1. I am quite surprised it’s as low as 65 for the US. I guess that’s encouraging, though for every encouraging stat there’s 10 discouraging ones.

    Saudis may have suspected the Mutaween were behind the polling and answered accordingly. They don’t take chances when it comes to the religious police.

  2. The value of “religion” depends upon the people who believe it and what they believe. People who believe power is more valuable than honor, or believe wealth is more important that humility, or any of a large number of “beliefs” common in the modern world, are just as bad for society as the worst “believers” in religion.

    Further, many who claim to be “believers” in a give religion are actually exploiters of that religion, e.g. “believers” in extremeist Islamic “religions” have far more in common with Nazi “socialists” of the WW-II era. They are not honest believers in the core principles of the belief system, but rather are opportunists who pick and choose between the elements of the faith to advance their own lust for power or greed.

  3. There is no positive value to religion Karl, or if there is any, it is heavily overwhelmed by the inherent evil in all religion, and that is, as Greta say, “it has no reality check”. To be a believer you have to learn to ignore reality -m to put what is right in front of your nose on the back burner and not pay attention to it. It is ultimately the reason there is no meeting ground between science and religion. Science is completely grounded in reality checks whereas religion is utterly antipathetic to reality checks. This is why religion is such a wonderful tool for tyrants and other abusers – why the GOP has been so successful over the past 20-30 years at moving America far to the right.

  4. @Karl #3: So the entire catholic hierarchy have more in common with Nazi “socialists” of the WW-II era. Hmmm. I can’t say I disagree with that. But if most authority figures in religious institutions have more in common with the Nazis, then surely religion is a force for evil? You say that it all depends on the individual – and yet, if that’s true then what has religion got to do with being good? That religion itself promotes good is a dangerous and wrong notion.

    Gee, Godwin’d by #3. Or maybe if Seethelightofgod were here it would be “God win!”

  5. @ Doug Alder

    “Science is completely grounded in reality checks whereas religion is utterly antipathetic to reality checks.”

    It appears to me that to totally dismiss the contributions made by religious persons to the field of science, both then and now, is well not fair. Surely Mendal would say his faith furthered his scientific exploration? What of all the faith schools and universities, that existed for centuries before any kind of state-sanctioned education system.

    Surely Mueller was a Christian man when he built his orphanages that surround Gloucester Cricket Ground. Surely Whitefield was a Christian man when he preached anti-slavery sermons – a hundred years before any other man. Or Wilberforce etc etc …

    However your sword has totally dismissed this reality, without being substantiated, or argued. Do you think it is for nothing that western governments pretty much give free entrance to ministers of religion, or that it is political cajoling or a historic hangover? A cynical, pragmatic eye would say that they recognise the contribution that they make to society, the same as scientists or other highly skilled migrants.

    It also seems a bit naive to lump all religions together as to there influence on society. Each religion has its own world view, incongruous with the next, not all roads lead to Rome. Each has a different influence on society.

  6. Evil. That was easy. Oh, wait…do I have to formulate that as a question? Uh – what is evil?

    …OK, do I get a prize?

    Seriously, though, I venture that most religions start out as a positive force on society when they first arise – I don’t think their often meteoric rise would be explainable if they would not in some form address an actually existing societal need at that point.

    But due to the extremely high potential for abuse (due to not being based on objective evidence) and intransigence to change (yesterday’s reasonably rules applied to completely different circumstances aren’t much reasonable anymore) they then become, sooner or later, more or less inevitably a force for evil. Furthermore, their great institutional clout and staying power practically ensures that they stay on long beyond the point where they stopped having any positive influence.

    In today’s world, I don’t see any function or role left for religion that could not be better addressed by a secular organization – or at least not for any one of the specific major faith traditions that are around. So in my opinion the default answer would really have to be, at this point, “evil”.

  7. @jd #7
    Why do you bring up Wilberforce? A pretty ordinary churchman for his time, chiefly remembered for debating Huxley on Darwin’s theory. Did not make much of a showing of it, but probably light years ahead of what modern religious apologists are capable of.

    The point is not that religious people can be good, it is that overall religion itself, and the closed-mindedness it engenders is harmful. And if you would like to point out individual religious people who have done good things as proof of your point, please also accept individual religious people who do terrible things as a counterpoint. They balance out: you have no point.

  8. @9:

    Bishop “Soapy” Sam Wilberforce, who debated against Darwin’s theories, was the son of anti-slavery campaigner and politician William Wilberforce, who was religious (evangelical Christian) but not a clergyman himself.

  9. Hm. It may yield interesting results to conduct a different study asking each test subject from each country how much they agree that religion is a good force in society on a scale of 1 to 10, then multiply each answer by 10, then average the numbers in each country, then average the averages to get the final number and see how it compares to the average of the percentages (47.07142857142857…%). I get the distinct feeling that this would be implausible, but I don’t know why, because I would’ve gotten the same feeling if I were conducting the study you cited in the original post, yet the study was obviously done.

  10. I’ve always (since infant school at least) thought that good people would be good despite religion, and evil bastards find justification in it, so the net effect is harmful. It annoys a lot of people who are both good and religious if you assume their goodness is innate 😉

  11. I think a better survey would be to ask individuals if each of the 10 most common religions/sects in their country were a force for good or not.

    What I think you would see is a lot of people saying that their religion was a force for good but everyone else’s religion was not a force for good.

  12. Religion is one of the most Anthropologically interesting of human social constructs. I’m a more grown up version of one of those young university students who read too much of the modernists in the early years. I’ve spent far too many hours re-re-re-evaluating my opinions on David Hume and Rene Descartes.

    Greg, you gave the class an exercise in a class I took from you. I won’t give up the secret here, but the result was the understanding of what the soul could be in a metaphorical or idiomatic sense. These are a couple of the influences on my firm belief that religion is a social construct based on metaphorical understandings of trends that people notice but can’t explain. There seems to be a basic way in which things work.

    This is why religious dogmatists seek union with G-d and why physicists seek a universal theory. They want to find a representation of the way things work.

    Unfortunately, religions are bastardized forms of the metaphors that are used to legitimately understand the world. Religion is a social construct abstracted from its social milieu. It’s a one way method of social control. The society making up the religion builds it and starts it in motion then completely loses control of it.

    I’ve rambled long enough 🙂


  13. My name is Christopher. I come from a Christian family. Way back, after finishing my schooling and when I was doing my Intermediate (junior college), I sensed a kind of emptiness in my heart. (This emptiness, which I later-on understood, was Godâ??s way of drawing me to Himself). In my desperate attempts to solve this problem, I found myself bunking college and attending Christian meetings and visiting Christian bookshop with the hope of finding a solution. During one such visit to a Christian bookshop, I came across a small book-let titled; Tell me plainly, how to be saved. Through this book-let (written according to the Bible), I have understood that every human-being is a sinner and is bound to go to hell after oneâ??s time on this planet-earth is over. But Godâ??s great love for man-kind made Him send His only son, Jesus Christ, into this world. Jesus, who lived a sin-less life, suffered an account of our sins and died on the cross in our place. He rose again from death the third day and is now in the midst of us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Whoever believes in Him will become a child of God and will skip hell to enter heaven, the presence of the Almighty God.

    The book-let went-on to say that the way of believing in Jesus Christ is by repenting of our sins and asking Jesus for forgiveness for our sins as only the blood of Jesus Christ has the power to cleanse us from every kind of sin. Then we should invite Jesus into our hearts. When I did all this, the emptiness in my heart left and the love, joy & peace which I never had till then filled my heart. Since then, the Lord has been wonderfully leading me and has never left me alone, as per His promise in the Bible for all those who come to him in faith. He gave a purpose for my living. Whatever I have been going through in life, I can say with all confidence, that there was never a time that I felt or was left helpless; this is so as one of the precious promises in the Bible says: â??Even lions go hungry for lack of food, but those who obey the LORD lack nothing good.â?

    This is how the Lord has sought me, forgave my sins, made me His child, gave me a purpose for living, has been meeting all my needs and put His peace & joy in my heart that no person or experience or circumstance or problem can take it away.

    Itâ??s a Biblical fact that every person has a heart with a God-shaped vacuum and nothing can fill that vacuum, except God Himself. This is why we need to invite Jesus to come into our hearts after repenting of our sins.

    The one decision I will never regret is, giving my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope and wish that you also will make a decision to make Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior. If so, please say this prayer meaningfully from your heart:

    Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that you are the Almighty God. Thank you for suffering on the cross for my sake. I now repent of all my sins. Forgive me of my sins. Cleanse me with your precious blood. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus and make me your child. From now on, I will read the Bible regularly and obey what it says. In Jesusâ?? name, I pray. Amen.

    If you have made a decision to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, please let me know the good news. Thanks. May you know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

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