The BBC is currently running a festival of Religion and Ethics called RE:think. As part of the festival they have released details of a poll of 585 (not that many people when you think about it, not even a school’s worth) 16-24 year olds about their beliefs. Here’s an extract from the BBC article about this:
The poll undertaken by TNS BMRB among 585 16-24 year-olds asked them to rank the most important moral issue for them, from a list of eight options. These options were:
- Paying taxes
- Having religious faith or beliefs
- Caring for the environment
- Buying ethical products
- Being faithful to a partner
- Looking after family
- Playing a part in your community
- Putting others before yourself
Fifty-nine per cent of 16-24 year olds said looking after family was the most important moral issue for them. Only four per cent said having religious faith or beliefs was the most important moral issue. The same percentage listed paying taxes and playing a part in your community 12 per cent said putting others first, eight per cent said being faithful to a partner; five per cent said caring for the environment. One per cent listed buying ethical products as the most important moral issue.
Having ranked the eight issues in order of importance, religious faith or belief was considered to be least important by almost one third (32 per cent) of the respondents. This was followed by 22 per cent who said buying ethical products was the least important, and 15 per cent who put paying taxes at the bottom of their moral list.
The head of religion and ethics at the BBC called these results ‘startling’. I can’t understand why. If I were asked to rank the statements in terms of importance I think I’d put caring for others and family first too, despite being a ‘religious person’. It’s a case, yet again, of people thinking that religion is something abstract – something that sits over in its own category. My religion gives me the motivation and desire to put others first. Anyone knows that simply holding a religious belief means nothing if it doesn’t bear out in the person’s life. As James writes in the New Testament:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
- James 2:14-17
I don’t find the results too disconcerting. It’s true that religion is being put more and more to the boundaries of society but part of me is glad about that. It’s not religion I’m interested in, it’s the outworking of belief on our wider society that is important. If religion had come top in the poll with caring for others or family much lower down I think there would be much much more cause for concern.
This poll is the equivalent of saying ‘what’s the most important issue in society?:
- being a member of a political party
- providing free education to all
- having good roads
- having good hospitals
- building a strong economy
The likelihood is that no one would choose ‘being a member of a political party’ but those who were members of a political party would care very much about the list below that.
Still, the talks at the festival look pretty interesting anyway so I’m glad this has brought discussion of religion and ethics into the public sphere.