Are secular people more ethical?

Spiegel Online asks, Does secularism make people more ethical?. Then it veers off into talking about numbers. Hilmar Schmundt notes: “Non-believers are often more educated, more tolerant and know more about God than the pious.” A study at Boston University finds

  • They are more commonly opposed to the death penalty, war and discrimination.
  • They also have fewer objections to foreigners, homosexuals, oral sex, or hashish.
  • They are better educated.
  • Even when their higher education levels are factored out, they are better informed in matters of faith.
  • They tend not to humanize non-human factors.

Secularists make up some 15 percent of the global population, or about 1 billion people. As a group, this puts them third in size behind Christians (2.3 billion) and Muslims (1.5 – 1.6 billion).

Pie chart showing No Religion as the third-largest group

No Religion is the third-largest group


(Figures from adherents.com)

Barry Kosmin is the director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Connecticut, U.S.. He says

many believe that the US population is steadily becoming more religious — but this is an optical illusion. Many evangelicals have simply become more aggressive and more political.”

The article continues, “This heightened public profile may be contributing to the shrinking numbers of religious believers. Churches in the US are losing up to 1 million members every year.” Secularism is spreading from the more to the less educated, just as quitting smoking did.

In the former East Germany,

Nearly 67 percent of eastern Germans have no religious affiliation, compared to just 18 percent in the West. This trend isn’t likely to change in the foreseeable future, since children who grew up with non-religious parents are almost certain to remain secular. The mother’s beliefs have an especially significant impact on the children’s belief systems.

When the GDR ended its period of religious repression, no process of re-Christianization occurred. “After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the withdrawal of a church presence in the east actually sped up,” says Detlef Pollack, a professor in the sociology of religion at the University of Münster.

But the secular are not organized. Barry Kosmin tells of a meeting of secular groups last year in Washington. They were planning a big demonstration:

“But they couldn’t even agree on a motto,” he says. “It was like herding cats, straight out of a Monty Python sketch.” In the end, the march was called off.

3 Responses to “Are secular people more ethical?”

  1. patricemj Says:

    Yeah, the herding cats thing is so true. What’s a thinking person to do? Thanks for a thoughtful and informative post.

  2. Don Hutton Says:

    I note that the Jews don’t show up on the chart but then there’s only 13 million of them (tops) so they would only be a radial line.

    • monado Says:

      You’re right. The Jewish faith has abut 0.2% of the pie.

      One of the interesting things in a study described in the article is that people who are religious are more likely to attribute will and emotion to abstract shapes in motion. Thus, they are probably more likely to curse ‘hostile’ weather, bless ‘friendly’ sunlight, and attribute Divine Will to the working out of coincidence.


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