You can be good without God, say 56 percent of Americans

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Two polls conducted this summer by Pew Research Center indicate that more than half of Americans believe it is possible to be a good person without having a belief in God. That includes a three percent uptick in Catholics and Protestants, and a six percent increase in white evangelicals. From Religion News Service:

“God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality,” Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, said in a post about the findings. ” … [T]he public’s increased rejection of the idea that belief in God is necessary for morality is due, in large part, to the spike in the share of Americans who are religious ‘nones.’”

From Pew:

This increase reflects the continued growth in the share of the population that has no religious affiliation, but it also is the result of changing attitudes among those who do identify with a religion, including white evangelical Protestants.

Surveys have long shown that religious “nones” – those who describe themselves religiously as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – are more likely than those who identify with a religion to say that belief in God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality. So the public’s increased rejection of the idea that belief in God is necessary for morality is due, in large part, to the spike in the share of Americans who are religious “nones.”

Indeed, the growth in the share of Americans who say belief in God is unnecessary for morality tracks closely with the growth in the share of the population that is religiously unaffiliated. In the 2011 Pew Research Center survey that included the question about God and morality, religious “nones” constituted 18% of the sample. By 2017, the share of “nones” stood at 25%.

But the continued growth of the “nones” is only part of the story. Attitudes about the necessity of belief in God for morality have also changed among those who do identify with a religion. Among all religiously affiliated adults, the share who say belief in God is unnecessary for morality ticked up modestly, from 42% in 2011 to 45% in 2017.

From Newsweek:

A modest uptick the results are a reflection of a changing religious landscape in America. White Christians once the dominant religious demographic here PRRI is now a minority. The Public Religion Research Institute —a nonprofit nonpartisan research group—reported in September that white Christians now account for 43 percent of the population which is a plummet from the 81 percent they represented in 1975. PRRI also reported that non-Christian religious groups in America were growing but at a modest rate.

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Jon White
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As the other commenters have noted, it is obviously true and easily observable that one can be good without a belief in God. Of course, Pew's questions were related to values and morality and that, I think, is a little more difficult to surmise. Values and morality are rooted in systems of belief and I think it is an open question whether or not a society (as opposed to an individual) can be "good" without reference to an overarching value system rooted in something that transcends the world and culture. Looking around, it doesn't appear that our retreat from religiosity in America has resulted in a more peaceful, more just, more civil, or more generous society.

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Vincent Harris
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Vincent Harris

Without a doubt one can be good without belief in God and, if truth be told, some non-believers put some of us Christians to shame in doing good. Theologically speaking, we as Christians attribute our good works to our relationship with Jesus who is the Christ. We do good not for the sake of goodness but for the sake of Jesus in response to his grace, mercy and goodness to us.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Well of course you can. Has this been in doubt?

God isn't about being good, and of course if that was our life goal, it would meet with relative success.

God is about a different level of life and good and doing and trying.

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