Half of U.S. Catholics say belief in God is not necessary to be a good person

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For the first time, a majority of Americans—56 percent—say it is possible to be a good person without religious belief. And about half of all U.S. Catholics agree.

Those are the findings from a new Pew Research Center report drawn from two polls conducted among about 5,000 American adults in June and July.

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The majority of Americans now believe that “God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, 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,’” he explained.

The majority of Americans now believe that “God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality.” 

“In the 2011 Pew Research Center survey that included the question about God and morality, religious “nones” constituted 18 percent of the sample. By 2017, the share of ‘nones’ stood at 25 percent,” the report notes.

But even some believers have changed their opinions on the matter during the past few years. According to the report, among white evangelical Protestants, 32 percent now say belief in God is not necessary to have good values and be a moral person, up from 26 percent who said this in 2011.

About half of all U.S. Catholics—or 49 percent—agree that it is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. But there is a sharp difference between Hispanic Catholics and white Catholics. Fifty-seven percent of white Catholics say God is not necessary for morality, but just 38 percent of Hispanic Catholics agree.

Material from Religion News Service was used in this report.

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1 month ago

I find that the language used in this report is very sloppy and makes credibility in the writing hanging. Firt it says "Belief in God is not necessary...' AND THEN, "...God is not necessary..."
Make up you mind. Does the question revolve around "Belief in God" or "God, period." Make up your mind, or change pollster.

Robert Oliver
1 month ago

I agree with botongpapa when he says that Greg Smith is sloppy by not distinguishing "God" from "Belief in God". I wonder if this is spillover from a culture that fails to distinguish belief from reality in many cases.

Don't we all know good people who don't believe in God? I'm surprised that we only agree a little more than half.

Doug Hammerich
1 month ago

As long as the Church tells me and my fellows that I am "objectively disordered" for being born gay, I will continue believe in God and call myself Catholic but follow the Church at a discreet distance. Further, I have no problem with participating in and communicating in my local Episcopal cathedral where I am accepted with love as I am.

Patty Bennett
1 month ago

We're all sinners. It's true--God loves each of us; He loves me just the way I am, but He loves me too much to leave me that way. It's not right to be attached to our sins. Remember that Vatican II teaches a Universal Call to Holiness. We must all strive to become saints. I must work to change anything about myself that is not of God. We all have struggles. When the dominant culture approves of certain varieties of sin, it does make it more difficult to convert, but we all have something about ourselves that we must be willing to let go of in submission to the Lord.

Patty Bennett
1 month ago

Just noticing--VERY often I have heard people say they're hurt because the Church "calls THEM objectively disordered." There is a correction of just one word that makes an enormous difference: It is not the person that is objectively disordered; it is the same-sex DESIRE that is objectively disordered. Same-sex attraction is not the TYPE of arrangement that can possibly be ordered toward procreation. This is much different than those older married heterosexual couples who cannot bear children, or those who have some type of physical condition/limitation that causes infertility. That TYPE of opposite-sex union is still intrinsically complementary, and is ordered toward procreation, even if it is not always successful.

Henry Smith
1 month ago

"Credo" can mean I believe or I trust.

If that many Catholics really hold that you can be good either without
there being a God or believing in God - that is being thankful for the
Graces God has bestowed upon you - then the Chickens of Misunderstanding set loose by Vatican II have come home to roost.

If you have no idea what the Sanctifying, Efficacious, Habitual, Sufficient,
Prevenient, Charismatic graces are - will you believe, as the poll seems
to indicate, that can be good and even save yourself without God's assistance ?

Franklin P. Uroda
1 month ago

If the question dealt with "The Blessed Trinity: Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit" instead of "God," IMO, the responses would have been different. Or maybe the 5000 Catholics polled do not realize that there is a Blessed Trinity, or have objectively apostatized from Catholicism. The idea that human beings can depend on their own inherent goodness to live a good life is repugnant both to Roman Catholic Dogma and to a reading of the New Testament/Old Testament as well, and may indicate the recent empty pews.

Dc Cole
1 month ago

POTUS Trump appears to have no belief in religion and God, yet he feels he is a good person-actually, the best. Without an anchor in a sound belief, we are adrift at sea, and we are too absorbed with the uncluttered view. Only when a hurricane bears down on us will we become believers. At that late point in time, we may not know how to dial the number to talk with someone in heaven. The last minute desire for help may fail due to no previous preparation.

Franklin P. Uroda
1 month ago

"may fail"? No, that would mean the Death Penalty and God is against the Death Penalty.

Jon Hagenaar
1 month ago

Surely, the question should not have focused on the necessity of belief in God as the enabler of good and morality, but rather on the necessity of belief in God for salvation, which has far greater eternal consequences.

rose-ellen caminer
1 month ago

"God's laws are written in our hearts." So all people have a sense of the ethical, i.e., some sense that there IS a right and wrong, good or bad. behavior. No one, no group or religion or ideology professes that it is right to do anything at all at any time towards anyone for any reason. We all have some moral codes. We are ethical beings, made in Gods image. Whether we believe in God as creator, God as good, or not. That morality varies across time. place , and societies , and for individuals, is the result of the fall; a break with God, the good; original sin, But we are all ethical beings even if our ethics is disordered and wrong., we all have a sense that somethings are right or wrong, good or bad.
Religion for me is not really about learning right from wrong. Though Jesus's "love your neighbor as yourself" is the epitome of ethics, Jesus's ethical admonition and the commandments, could have been said by many good people. Religion for me is not essentially about ethics. Faith in God, in Jesus Christ and his love for his creation, is for me an existential orientation. My Christian faith is a response to the mystery of existence , of human love, of suffering, of death and eternity. It encompasses the ethical but also transcends it.
When Jesus says that no one is saved except they come through him. I take that to mean that all people ,whether they consciously believe or not, whether they are conscious Christians or not, can say yes to Jesus, in their encounters with others, in their ethical choices["not all who say Lord, Lord are pleasing, but those who do God's will", says Jesus. And "what you do to the least of these you do for me"]. So anyone can be saying yes to Jesus, without consciously believing. Faith is a gift, not all have. The church as earthly institution is a gift not all share in. That is not essential, to be saved.. Anyone can be saying yes to Jesus , to His mystical Church, to His saving grace, whether ones knows it or not, believes it or not. We can't help what we believe or don't believe, but we can be Christians who say yes to Jesus by how we live or try to live. God know His own.

Henry Smith
1 month ago

Rose,
Perhaps I have misunderstood you, but if what you say is correct then why was Jesus incarnated and why did He die ?

rose-ellen caminer
1 month ago

Jesus had to suffer and die if he was[truly] incarnated; becoming fully human,as all humans suffer and all are mortal.It is a mystery why there was a fall of creation, but we believe there was; a break with God who is all good occurred. It is also a mystery why salvation history is as it is, but we have faith that the incarnation is part of salvation history, meaning that God chose to share in our humanity ; our suffering and death, and by doing so has transformed our human condition. By doing so, he has revealed God's love for his creation, his creatures, us, and made us children of God once again, heirs to his holy eternal life. This is true for all humanity; all are saved by Christ. Jesus' incarnation is an act of of Jesus' solidarity with us as much as Jesus' unity with unconditional essential holy[good, loving] Being; the Father. Jesus is the bridge, the mediator between essential[Holy] Being; Father, and created beings; humanity].
In addition to his incarnation and death which has saved humanity from eternal death and separation from essential being; God/Father] who is life and goodness, Jesus has given the world the gift of His Spirited Holy Church to help us grow in knowledge of the Lord. The church is open to all, but not all are professed Christians, for whatever reason. Still, though there are people who don't partake in the life of the Church or lack faith in our Savior the savior of humanity[ not just of formally baptized Christians] they may be true sheep of Christ too. They may be saying yes to Christ, not cognitively but in other ways outside cognition. They may in fact be be baptized too. God's knows His own, we don't necessarily.

Randal Agostini
1 month ago

This is an accurate American statistic, which is a reflection of what we believe as a society - that we are creatures of self, creating our own God image, which may or may not be good. "Beware the yeast of the Pharisees." Being selfish or self serving is worshipping a craven image and therefore a sin against God. That is why we have a religion to teach us the truth and "The Way." Heaven is God's creation not ours. We do not slip into sanctification, there is no free ride. We are called to be saints.

Anne Chapman
1 month ago

I'm surprised at the results of the poll - that so few realize that it's quite possible to be good, moral, and even "holy" without "believing in God". There are countless examples of people in the world, in our nation, in our own communities and families who are good and who lead mora, generous and loving lives, who don't believe in God. Why do so few realize this? Have they hidden themselves in their own religious ghettos to the point where they are totally ignorant of the goodness of others? Many agnostics and atheists and members of non-christian religious communities are living out Jesus' teachings in the gospels better than many christians I know.

Henry Smith
1 month ago

Anne,

Is it not a failure of those who do not believe in God to give thanks to God for
the Grace He sends upon all of us ?

Lisa Weber
1 month ago

That it is possible to be a good person without believing in God is obvious. Good people who do not believe in God are everywhere.

Bruce Snowden
1 month ago

How can it be that Belief in God is not necessary to be a good person? Here’s how I understand it.

To make it simple, or as some may say, “simplistic” God is the Only Good, the Most Perfect Good, the Supreme Good as Francis of Assisi might say, and nobody can be good apart from God. Even Jesus said to a man who called him "Good," "Why do you call me Good? Only God is Good." Good heavens, if we can't call Jesus Good, certainly we can't call ourselves Good!

I suggest People often confuse benevolence with goodness, and therein is the reason why some think Belief in God is not necessary to be a good person. Benevolence is an efficient route to follow where the Only Good, Almighty God, resides. Factor into that some may Believe without actually aware of it!

The only requirement is a willingness to Believe even if flawed, like the Gospel example of the man who said to Jesus, “I do Believe Lord, help my Unbelief!” The man’s willingness to Believe showed Goodness of the Will recognized by God as a human process granted in reaction by Him Who is All Good. Goodness of the Will is the absolute prerequisite to Belief.

Does this mean that that those who deny the existence of God feeling that Belief is not necessary for Goodness are destined to Hell? What is Hell? It is Everlasting death, no Resurrection, absolutely dead as if they never existed! This is Hell to me. No, because we have His Word for it, “Mercy is above all His Works.” It is only through Divine Mercy that all are saved. Somehow if we’re wiling, God finds a way. The GENEROSITY OF God incalculable! Interesting, isn’t it?

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