Secular is good for us!

I’ve been fascinated to see a growing literature showing that religious beliefs, particularly beliefs about god, reduce social trust (examples here and here). Much of the work in the sociology of religion for so long has had a more or less explicit ‘religion is good for society’ thrust. I’ve published in that mainstream view myself, and usually the most you’ll see is ‘religion is mostly good for us, except for maybe fundamentalism.’

But, I’m starting to think this is because most survey data, particularly in the United States, has only allowed quantitative sociologists to study the very religious and the moderately religious, until recently. Now, with more and more seculars all the time, our samples are catching more people at the ‘not religious’ end of the spectrum, and it turns out they trust people too, and a paper I’m finishing up argues nontheists are more trusting than believers. So, it’s not ‘mainline’ versus ‘evangelical,’ but really it’s ‘very religious,’ ‘moderately religious,’ and ‘not religious.’And it turns out secular is good for you, and for us.

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3 comments

  1. My own personal view is that so much of organized religion is exclusionary. In that the world in general seems to me to being more inclusive, (or maybe that is the way I see it because I believe in inclusiveness) and therefore the idea of organized religions and their notion that this or that group ‘is not worthy’ to mingle with the holier than thou crowd that the younger folks are excluding religion as religion excludes others….. if that makes any sense to you… It makes sense to me. Re the question of God… I do believe in a ‘first cause’ kind of being and that there is something on the other side of death, but what it is and what it looks like is anybody’s guess and those who claim to know are just kidding themselves as far as I’m concerned. One need not profess to some particular religion to be an ethical and moral person. In fact, many with professed religious beliefs are those with the least ethics and morals…. in my not so humble opinion. Bob

  2. The evolution of social groups is something I’m probably not qualified to speculate on, being as introverted and anti-social as I am, but I always saw structured religion as something that will eventually fade. I consider myself to not be religious, but I always appreciated what I felt like was the neccessity of religion as a social support structure in humanity’s early years; it helped to unite people in the harsh and uncertain world, where survival for large groups was easier when they shared cosmic world-views. Today’s uncertainties are different than those of early man; we have insurance policies, internet, and a society that better supports individuality. Personal and private belief is slowly replacing structured and community belief. All speculations of course, but I suspect my generation would largely agree.

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